Sunday, April 12, 2015

Daily Times Editorial April 13, 2015

Unacceptable threat UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash needs to go back to school to relearn the appropriate manner of conducting foreign relations, particularly with friendly countries. The worthy minister of a country Pakistan regards as a friend has attempted a ‘diplomatic’ intervention against the Pakistani parliament’s unanimous resolution to stay out of the Yemen conflict while being ready to come to Saudi Arabia’s assistance should its sovereignty or territorial integrity be threatened (so far it is not, despite the latest reports of ground clashes on the Saudi-Yemeni border because of Yemeni retaliation against the Kingdom’s air strikes). In what can only be termed unprecedented undiplomatic language, the UAE minister has seen fit to criticise the Pakistani parliament’s resolution as unacceptable neutrality in a conflict in which the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Arab countries are, according to their narrative, combating the spread of Iran’s influence (a charge that Tehran denies, despite the latest report that a couple of Iranian officers have been captured by the militias fighting against the Houthis and their allies). It is in fact so unacceptable to Dr Gargash that he issues a not even thinly veiled threat to Pakistan that it must either do what Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies want (send fighter aircraft, naval ships and ground troops to Yemen alongside the Arab coalition) or be ready to “pay the price”. Dr Gargash goes on to interpret Pakistan and Turkey’s calls for seeking a political solution to the Yemen conflict as reflecting that Iran is more important to Islamabad and Ankara than the Arabs. Interestingly, the UAE’s ‘senior’ partner, Saudi Arabia, has dispatched its foreign minister to Islamabad for discussions. On arrival, he said the parliamentary resolution is Pakistan’s internal matter and although he hopes for a better response from Pakistan, he is here to conduct an exchange of views. What a difference! Saudi Arabia is leading the 10-member Arab coalition and is in the forefront of the air strikes on Yemen but the junior foreign minister of the UAE seems to have diplomatic niceties lost on him. While the Pakistan foreign office has maintained a ‘diplomatic’ silence, pleading no such official message has been received from the UAE so far, Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has weighed in by calling the threat unacceptable. Certainly no self-respecting country can accept such diktat or language, even from a friend. Dr Gargash’s undiplomatic outburst aside, which may well reflect partially the GCC’s frustration at not being able to turn the tide of battle in Yemen despite continuous air strikes, the ground situation in Yemen both reveals the limitations of air power alone in any war as well as the risks of entering the war on the side of deposed president Hadi and against the Houthis and their allies. Informed analysts who know Yemen well are warning that any such intervention, far from defeating the Houthis and their allies, promises to turn into a protracted war that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy of the war spilling over the border into Saudi Arabia itself. Interestingly, what has largely gone unnoticed is the US’s support to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Not only are there now reports of Washington opening its intelligence sharing a crack wider to assist the Saudi bombing campaign, it has now admitted mid-air refuelling of Saudi jets to strengthen the bombing campaign. Thank God for the collective wisdom of our parliament that scotched any notion of Pakistan getting entangled in another proxy war in the region (the ones in Afghanistan and Indian Held Kashmir, in case anyone needs reminding, have yet to end). Not only would any Pakistani acceptance of the Saudi request for a military intervention have drawn armed forces personnel and resources away from our own struggle against terrorism (though some may drool at the possibility of being richly rewarded by our Arab friends), it had the potential of alienating neighbour Iran and pitching Pakistan directly into the maelstrom of a regional proxy war that is being painted in sectarian colours despite the complexity of the situation and forces fighting in Yemen. Additionally, it is worth reflecting on the US backing to the Saudi campaign opening the door in Yemen to al Qaeda and Islamic State, just as its ill thought through intervention in Iraq and Syria did. The law of unintended consequences is fully at work in the region. Lessons must be learnt from past such mistakes and Pakistan should first and foremost look to its own house on fire, then play a wise and reconciliatory role in its own interests.

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