Saturday, April 4, 2015

Daily Times Editorial April 5, 2015

A pledge too far Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s quick trip to Turkey yielded a joint statement at a press conference in Ankara with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu pledging both countries’ intent to stand by Saudi Arabia in defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This mantra echoes what Pakistan has been saying publicly since the news broke of Saudi Arabia asking Pakistan for military help in the context of the Yemen crisis. Repeating a mantra interminably, even in consort with close friend Turkey, does not necessarily establish its verity. From day one, it has been obvious to all but the purblind that it is not Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty or territorial integrity that is threatened but that of the target of its aerial bombardment on the side of deposed president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, neighbouring Yemen. It would take incredible mental gymnastics to convince any reasonable person that the Houthi and allies’ rebellion represents, in a massive oversimplification of a complex crisis, the advance of Iran’s alleged ambitions to expand its influence in the region in what only paranoid minds can describe as the resurrection of the ancient Persian Empire. Further, informed observers may have been tickled by the fine irony of Turkey joining Pakistan in condemning the overthrow of the Yemeni government by non-state actors. Is that not what Turkey has been backing in Syria since that civil war broke out? Is what’s sauce for the goose not sauce for the gander? Hadi of Yemen must not be overthrown by non-state actors like the Houthi and supporters of former president Saleh, even if they are less threatening to mankind as a whole than the Islamist opposition to Bashar al-Assad of Syria, which by now includes the rampant Islamic State (IS). Turkey has taken the hardest line of most states in the region in its opposition to Assad, preferring even to turn a blind eye reportedly to IS fighters traversing Turkish territory to attack the Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria. Surely it is not an inappropriate question to ask whether only expediency and partisan interests are to dictate high sounding ‘principles’ of international politics or are there actually some principles such as ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity’ at work? Turkey cannot have its cake and eat it too, supporting the overthrow of Assad by non-state actors, including arguably the greatest threat to all states in the region, IS, and in the next breath oppose the overthrow of Hadi of Yemen by non-state actors. We will labour the obvious contradiction no further. Let us instead turn our attention to Pakistan’s anomalous stance on the Yemen crisis. Reservations about the contradictory policies of Turkey in the region notwithstanding, it is a matter of some satisfaction that Islamabad’s penchant for a political solution to Yemen’s civil war is shared by Ankara. Pakistan has refrained from taking sides in the Syrian conflict. That is entirely in line with Pakistan’s interests. The same advice would serve Islamabad well in the Yemen context. Keep out of regional conflicts, particularly the growing trend of wars taking on sectarian hues. Both prime ministers were right on the button when they said the Yemen crisis could endanger the unity of the Muslim Ummah and had implications of great turmoil for the whole region. Arguably such a divide is already in existence and the fissures can only widen unless better sense prevails, diplomacy and negotiations replace gung ho military interventions, and all parties in the Yemen conflict are persuaded, difficult as this seems at the moment, to approach the negotiations table for a political solution. The reason for stating that diplomacy and negotiations will struggle to assert themselves is the rapidly developing situation on the ground in Yemen, particularly in the south around Aden. The Houthi advance on the city has received a setback after the defenders were resupplied with weapons and medical aid through Saudi airdrops. Whether this is only a temporary and tactical retreat by the Houthis will become clear in the next few days. But the intensity of the fighting leaves those advocating a turn from the weapons of war to the weapons of diplomacy wondering if they are not talking pie-in-the-sky.

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