Thursday, April 2, 2015

Daily Times Editorial April 3, 2015

Parties’ call A meeting of leaders of the PPP, ANP, MQM, JUI-F and BNP-Awami held in Karachi on April 1st to discuss the Yemen crisis has called for an all parties conference and a joint session of parliament before the government takes a decision on what role Pakistan should play on the issue. The meeting expressed grave concern over the situation in Yemen and its implications for Pakistan and the region. They called for resolving the crisis through dialogue and negotiations and rejected the notion that one person, as often happened in the past under military dictators, should take a decision of such far reaching import. The concerns of the parties are genuine, and it is comforting to note that the government does not seem oblivious of this or the apprehensions amongst commentators and the general public about Pakistan jumping into a foreign adventure of untold risks. These risks include Pakistani forces, if at all they are sent to Yemen as the Saudis seem implicitly to want, getting bogged down in a multi-faceted, complex war without clear lines or end. An intervention also runs the risk of alienating Iran and impacting negatively the already fraught sectarian situation in Pakistan itself. After the high powered Pakistani delegation has returned from discussions in Riyadh and briefed the top civil and military leadership, it appears that the wisdom of the political parties’ call has sunk in. That is why after reviewing the brief the delegation came back with, the government announced a joint session of parliament on Monday, April 6. This is both wise and timely. All indications point to the government not wanting to offend either Saudi Arabia or Iran or being seen as partisan in the Yemen context. That is why the option of sending a limited number of troops to secure the soil of Saudi Arabia from any attack seems the best choice. This way the commitment to close friend Saudi Arabia to reciprocate its help through the years can be satisfied without getting embroiled in a conflict that is complex and uncertain. Iran too, whose foreign minister is arriving in Pakistan on April 8 for discussions on the Yemen issue amongst others, will feel Pakistan has not strayed into territory it may consider hostile to it. While King Salman has briefed the Kingdom’s ministers on his interactions with foreign heads of state and government, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is about to embark on lightning tours to Turkey and other Muslim countries in the region for consultations on the crisis. Pakistan is desirous of bringing Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table under the aegis of the OIC, although the move has invited a great deal of scepticism at home because of the perception that the OIC is a toothless and ineffective tiger. Similarly, the call by King Salman for all parties in Yemen to agree to talks on resolving the crisis under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council seems a non-starter since the Council groups the very Arab countries that are either actively militarily involved in the Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthis and other rebels or at the very least sympathetic to or even part of the Arab coalition in support of deposed president Hadi. Absent from the emerging scene is the UN, with nary a statement of concern let alone diplomatic efforts to bring the fighting to an end or addressing the humanitarian crisis that stems from this latest major war. On the ground in Yemen, despite the air strikes by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, the Houthis and their allies are driving relentlessly on Aden, the major southern city and port from where Hadi fled into exile in the face of his rivals’ offensive. A Houthi column with tanks is said already to be in the centre of Aden and it seems only a matter of time before the city falls to the Houthis. Calls for a ground invasion by Saudi and other Arab troops are growing in response, but uncertainty surrounds the former’s capacity and the latter’s willingness. The Saudi intervention in the Yemen civil war may yet prove to be its biggest blunder if the paranoia about Iranian influence in its backyard translates into deep hatred by the so far advancing rebels for ‘Big Brother’ in Riyadh.

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