With friends like these (The Express Tribune (Pakistan))

The scenes are by now familiar. Big growling vehicles will halt in front of waiting cameras and regurgitate Ray-Ban clad elected luminaries. Some will wave to the media, others will shuffle across and mouth inanities into microphones while the rest will sweep into the luxurious confines of the parliament building to speak on behalf of the people who hurled them into these hallowed chambers.
Tomorrow especially this megawatt wisdom will be on full display as parliament debates whether to send Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia and join in the Yemen conflict. The government of Mian Nawaz Sharif has wrapped itself in a cloak of ambiguity on the Yemen issue ever since the House of Saud summoned him over for sentry duty. The Sharifs are beholden to the Saudis for obvious reasons, but clearly the decision is not just theirs to take. The leadership of the armed forces will have the final say after parliament, party heads, cabinet ministers and all and sundry have exhausted their lung power on the issue.
So how do we cut through layers of ambiguity, duplicity and unvarnished untruths to reach a conclusion that is not poisoned by rhetoric, emotions or state-to-state blackmail? This Yemen affair is in the process of exposing more than we could have bargained for, and by the time the conflict dies down (pun intended), most of the countries involved directly and indirectly including us will be worse for it. So fine, let us start with us. The arguments against Pakistan getting involved in this Saudi-Yemeni-Irani mess are plain and simple: it’s not our fight, therefore, not worth getting involved in, and certainly not worth dying for. But it is the logic given for not saying no to the Saudis that is the real and final insult. Here goes then:
Insult #1: Saudi Arabia is a friend and a benefactor and has helped us in times of need. Insinuation: if we say no to them, they will feel betrayed (jilted?) and will not give us money. Really? So essentially this means that a nation of 180 million has accepted that it’s an international beggar, and like beggars, cannot be a chooser. So when the Saudis tell us to jump, we ask ‘how high’? Makes you feel nice and dignified, doesn’t it? I wish the Quaid could hear this.
Insult #2: More than a million Pakistanis work in Saudi Arabia and if we do not do Riyadh’s bidding, the Saudi royal family will throw out Pakistani workers from its kingdom. Charming. Blood brothers we, but one disagreement and throw ’em out. Real nice. Consider this for a moment: a national decision which can lead to precious lives being lost, may be based on a fear that we may lose foreign remittances. That’s how poor we are. That’s how helpless we are. That’s how vulnerable we are. That’s how exploitable we are. A nation of 180 million armed with one of the largest armies in the world that boasts a fearsome nuclear arsenal, and we prostrate like spineless cowards in front of richer countries and grovel disgracefully with our gilded begging bowl in hand. Sweet.
Insult #3: Having spent more than $90 billion on weapons in the last four years, Saudis still want our army troops to defend them because, err the lives of our soldiers are cheaper? Here’s what Middle East expert Robert Fisk wrote yesterday:
“Pakistan is a nuclear power ‘Saudi Arabia’s nuclear bomb outside Saudi Arabia’, as one conference delegate bleakly put it in Kuwait. There are 8,000 Pakistani troops based in the Saudi kingdom. And Pakistan is one of the most corrupt and unstable nations in south-west Asia. Bringing Pakistan widely believed to have shipped second-hand weapons to anti-government rebels in Syria via Saudi Arabia into the Yemen conflict is not adding oil to the fire. It’s adding fire to the oil.”
Insult #4: Every Pakistani will fight to defend the Holy Places in Saudi Arabia. Fine. Except the Holy Places are not under threat. Yemen is. Except it is manipulation of the highest order to mix the Holy Places with the State of Saudi Arabia which is essentially the House of Saud. Every Muslim on the planet has an emotional attachment to the Holy Places. But not to the House of Saud that happens to have become the custodian of the Holy Places at this particular moment in history. To insist otherwise is to insult the intelligence and the religious sentiments of every single Muslim on the planet.
It is a travesty that we shamelessly begin to not just believe in our own rhetoric, but also to base key strategic decisions on it. There’s no friendship among states, just interests. We are not a fortress of Islam, as our ‘friends’ would have us believe. We are a very large nation being led by very small men who have reduced this potential geostrategic regional powerhouse into a grovelling beggar. No, Islam has got nothing to do with it. Instead, rhetoric seeped in religious brotherhood has got everything to do with it. Saudi Arabia may have doled out mega-dollars to us as rich people toss coins to beggars on traffic signals, but it has also contributed generously to the rise of militancy in Pakistan. It is a friend that has taken full advantage of our own idiocies to bankroll its ideology at our expense. So let’s get real.
Iran may be our fellow Muslim brotherly neighbour but it has continuously and consistently undercut our interests in Afghanistan and many other spheres. We may spew forth emotional rhetoric laced with religious brotherhood when talking of ‘brotherly’ ties with Iran, but at every turn Iran has practised the art of hard politics, pushing its own interests, its own ideology and its own agendas at the expense of us idiots who get washed away in the debris of our own empty and meaningless slogans.
If Saudi Arabia and Iran could just leave us alone
So tomorrow when you hear the revolting emotional rhetoric reverberating across the plush walls of parliament house, do remember that what you are witnessing could possibly be the sights and sounds of Pakistanis yet again digging their own graves for the greater glory of the Ummah. Meanwhile, the Ummah will keep treating us like a big brawny cousin who can lift heavy weights and bully the neighbourhood kids, but is dumb as nails and eager to be used, abused and manipulated by the richer, smarter cousins. Yes, there’s a name for such pea-brained hulks:
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2015.
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