Friday, March 27, 2015

Daily Times Editorial March 28, 2015

A bad idea In response to the Houthi rebels’ advance on Aden, the southern port city of Yemen where embattled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled when the capital Sanaa fell to the insurgents and who has now left the country to appeal for support from the Arab League meeting in Egypt, an Arab coalition put together by Saudi Arabia has intervened through air strikes. The move has evoked responses along expected lines in the region, with Iran condemning it and its Shia allies such as Iraq and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon joining in. The escalation of the civil war in Yemen has set in motion an international/regional dynamic as well as widened some old and other relatively new fissures internally. On the external front, it is by now clear that Saudi Arabia is counting on Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan to join its military intervention in Yemen. On Thursday it was revealed that Pakistan too has been asked to contribute to the effort. Whereas the Pakistani foreign office has been at pains to deny that any decision on the request has been taken just yet, high level civil-military meetings indicate a disturbing rush to get involved. A ministerial level delegation including senior military officers was due to travel to Saudi Arabia for discussions on the issue on Friday, but that visit has been postponed because of the Arab League meeting being attended by all Arab stakeholders. The statements emanating from the government disturbingly hide behind the mantra that any threat to Saudi Arabia would be met with a strong response. It is questionable however, whether any such ‘threat’ exists. The fact that Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour Yemen is going through the trauma of a bloody struggle for power does not, by any stretch of the imagination, threaten Saudi sovereignty or territory, unless one buys the notion that Yemen has always been Riyadh’s ‘backyard’ and therefore not beyond Saudi whims and wishes to control events in that country. For Pakistan to insert itself into the middle of a largely sectarian Sunni-Shia conflict in Yemen would be foolish adventurism. Pakistan has enough problems of its own on its plate, including but by no means confined to a life-or-death struggle against terrorism. To offer Pakistani troops for the war in Yemen would place us unnecessarily at loggerheads with neighbour Iran, and cause complications for our relationships throughout the Middle East. It is by now also clear that the purpose of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent unscheduled dash to Riyadh to meet King Salman was tied to the request that has now broken water. For our rich Arab friends to regard the Pakistan army as a mercenary force available for fishing in their troubled waters, including siding with one side in a sectarian-tinged war, is insulting to the dignity and respect of our fighting men. Yemen has had a troubled modern history. Once two states, North and South Yemen, it merged into one country after the North’s civil war between royalists and nationalists ended in the former’s victory and the communist government in the south was removed in 1990. The merger broke down into a civil war between north and south in 1994, in which former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh crushed the south brutally. Saleh himself fell to the winds buffeting the region in the shape of the Arab Spring in 2012. His deputy and successor Hadi has steadily lost ground of late to the Houthi rebels, backed by former president Saleh and his son Ahmad’s supporters, whose ranks boast military units loyal to Saleh. The Saudi air strikes followed the deployment of 150,000 Saudi troops on the Yemen border and were carried out by 100 aircraft. Other Arab countries such as the UAE are said to have supplied aircraft and pilots for the mission. In the midst of this Sunni-Shia divide and conflict, the old resentments and separatist sentiment in the South have re-emerged. Whether it finds traction in the present circumstances or not, it does show that Yemen is fracturing along sectarian and internal regional lines. For an already troubled Pakistan with more than its share of problems to get involved in this complex and potentially explosive war sounds like a thoroughly bad idea.

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