We should stay away from Yemen (The Express Tribune (Pakistan))

Today, the Middle East is divided it is in turmoil and is engulfed in multiple conflicts. Long before the Arab spring, the fault lines of the state formation process had become visible. The glue of Arab nationalism that tied many diverse tribal, religious and sectarian communities together had become dry, empty of promise and a failed strategy mainly because of the way political dynasties, personalised rule of dictators and tyranny replaced the dream of a common state for all. The regimes in Syria, Egypt, Yemen and many other states that started as reformist and revivalist, lost legitimacy and popular support, and the strategy of relying on use the of force to hang on to power for decades was emploed. The template of power structure they created was primarily designed to let them rule in arbitrary fashion than govern with the people’s consent. The will of the strongmen, donning the uniforms, replaced the ideal of democracy and peoples’ right, and made for the ideal of Arab nationalism.
In the absence of the normal politics of democracy freedoms, political parties, genuine elections, activists tribal, sectarian and religious identities were used to mobilise resistance against these governments. It is natural in closed systems for resistance leaders to stay in the safe zones of narrow communities because of a fear of persecution and state violence. The dictatorial regimes have been fascist to the core and used some of the most cruel means to silence their opposition. This has produced widespread resistance which has taken many forms, leading to a collapse of state authority and the capturing of many parts of states by militias. The only exception is Egypt where the armed forces stepped in and recaptured the state in the name of stability and order.
The conflict in Yemen has been simmering for almost a decade, and has now gathered combustible elements in it: tribal, sectarian, religious and power factions. The most dangerous development is that all civil conflicts have morphed into regional conflicts with there being rivalry and a power struggle between two resourceful states: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Their interventions and counter-interventions have led to the development of two rival regional alliances around them. At the moment, the Saudi-led regional coalition, with strong backing from the United States and some European powers, appears to be aggressively inclined towards reshaping the Middle East according to its imperatives of stability, order and security.
There is yet another dangerous dimension to the evolving Middle East conflict, and that is the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in parts of Iraq and Syria as well as the emergence of other similar groups. These are mostly organised along sectarian and religious lines showing allegiance to the IS. There is fierce struggle throughout the region to recruit fighters for the rival religious militias. Pakistan, with a large number of unemployed and unemployable youth, might be fertile ground, as it has been for decades for many militant organisations.
Pakistan has, over the decades, drifted closer to the Middle East power blocs, as it has stayed close to the pro-West security architecture. Our relationship with monarchies have remained strong in defence matters, trade and in the export of manpower. With the departure of the Shah regime in Iran, it has been difficult to maintain a balance in our relationship between the two regional rivals. There is much greater need today to stay away from the Middle East conflicts than ever before. There is a danger that Pakistan because of the personal connections of PML-N leaders with the Saudi monarchy and traditional security ties with monarchies in the region may get involved in the Yemen conflict. That will be internally divisive and will not serve our national interests.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2015.
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