Yemeni crisis and Pakistani factor (The Frontier Post (Pakistan))

For the past few years, there has been instability in Middle East, mainly because of domestic factors, though external connection cannot be ruled out. The volatility and uncertainty is still continuing in some of the states, Yemen has been affected much more than other countries. There is a civil war like situation in Yemen, whose repercussions are being felt not only in Yemen, but other countries of the region as well as across the global. In the backdrop of Yemen civil war, there is an ongoing controversy in Pakistan, whether to provide military support to Saudi Arabia or otherwise.
The debate started once Saudi Kingdom asked for Pakistani military assistance in its actions against the Houthi fighters, who now controlled bulk of Yemen. Yemeni President, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, fled the country and after Arab Leagues meeting inSharm el Sheikh, he went to Saudi Arabia.
In Pakistan the ongoing debate is whether to be part of the Saudi led Arab coalition, which is fighting against the Houthis or stay away from it. The dithering Federal Government initially through a hasty move decided to support Saudi Kingdom and even prepared a team of ministers and top officials to visit Riyadh to analyze the needs of Kingdom for a military assistance. Their visit was delayed, over the reservations by some political circle, civil society and even religious groups. Now, it has been decided that, they will be visit the Kingdom in next few days.
Although Saudi Arabia has long border, 1770 kms with Yemen, but, there is no direct attack on the Kingdom, nor the Houthis so strong to invade Saudi Arabia. The infighting in Yemen is between the Shia Houthis and Government forces. Even now, many military units have also become part of the Houthi offensive against PresidentHadi. More so, it is said that, former President Ali AbdullahSaleh, who was dethrone after Arab uprisings in 2011, is also supporting the Houthi rebels. He ruled Yemen for over 32 years and was given immunity after President Hadi, his former deputy took over the rule. There is a complex situation in Yemen.
Indeed, Yemen has a history of internal conflicts and infighting. Besides Shia-Sunni divide, now pronounced, there is tribal divide in Yemen, which is more dominant in its history. Before its unification in 1990s, there have been many conflicts between North and South Yemen. It was after wars and infighting Yemen was united. These conflicts continued even after May 22, 1990, the day, Yemen unified and renamed as Republic of Yemen. A huge majority of Yemeni population resides in Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom even expelled thousands of Yemenis, once the Republic decided not to become part of coalition after Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Whereas, the Arab uprising started in 2011, the Houthi Shia insurgency against the Government started in 2004. Initially, this struggle was purely against the discrimination, the Houthis felt, the Government has been perpetrating against them over the years. According to Martin Reardon, Senior Director of Qatar International Academy for Security Studies, “It would be an understatement to say that the internal power politics at play in Yemen are among the oldest, most complex and most dynamic in the Middle East.” He feels that, it was a weak government in Yemen that could not control the situation and satisfied the local populace and resulted into collapsed.
Nevertheless, thereis an external dimension to new developments in Yemen; indeed, this is extension of what is going on in the wider Middle East and Arab world. Owing to historical geostrategic and geo-economic significance of the region, the major powers have been playing a dominating role in the regional politics of Arab. Today, if United States is the dominant external player, there have been others like United Kingdom, France and Russia. For Yemen, the strategically located Port of Aden is a key historical point which makes it significant for the major powers. Aden Port is among only few among global ports, which have special and natural harbor. The port serve as a linkage between East and West.
In the contemporary environment, apart from major powers involvement in the regional politics, there is a competition among two regional hawks for domination and influence of their school of thoughts in the entire Arab or else Muslim World. The Saudi Kingdom, while making use of GCC forum is promoting its own school of thought, commonly known as Wahhabism, now Salafism, whereas, Iran is promoting its own school of thought, the Shiites orShia ideology. The NYT in its article, published in March 2012, cited that, arms and ammunition including; AK-47, rocket propelled grenades, and other arms were provided by Iran to Houthi rebels in Yemen, which Iran sees as a base against Saudi Arabia in a future scenario. Saudi Kingdom has been supporting Yemeni Government, which was friendly to it.
Whereas, the previous history of Yemen was marked by tribal clashes, the current civil war has an ideological and external factor. This indeed is a war for the survival and dominance of the respective ideologies of Saudi Kingdom and Islamic Republic of Iran. In the realist school of international relations, this known as power politics or struggle for power. It is not a war between Muslims and non-Muslims, rather, both countries are involved in a soiled tactic of dividing the Muslim world for their respective dominance. Indeed, “Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in their own decades-long strategic rivalry for power and influence in the Middle East, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf and Arabian Sea. It is built mostly along sectarian and ideological lines – Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and Iran as the leader of the Shia Muslim world.”
In reality, this is the implementation of the strategy of anti Islamic forces besides their own politics of domination. By no means, this ideological divide, sponsored by either state is a service to Islam and Muslims. Rather, the divide is further weakening the Muslim world. This division and consequent infighting among the Muslims, promoted and provoked by their respective sponsors has defamed this Great religion and destabilized the Muslim world to an extent that today any country can exploit them and their natural resources at will.
Under the prevailing complicated scenario, over the rapidly changing situation in Yemen, which is enlarging gulf between Muslims, the role Pakistan should find for itself is to minimize the divide between Tehran and Riyadh through an effective and neutral diplomacy. Rather, it is a historical opportunity for Pakistan to re-assert and re-assume for itself, the role; it had in its pre 1980 history. Pakistan is the only nuclear power with largest standing armed forces and a working democracy in the Muslim world.
There is a bigger picture of the crisis in Yemen, which has to be seen in the overall global power play and wider Middle Eastern conflict. At this critical moment, if Pakistan decides to be part of any of the Middle Eastern camp, it would amount to compromise the basic ideology of Pakistan and will become a party to contemporary divide among Muslims.
An apt way forward is to stay cool, neutral and facilitate a negotiation between real forces behind. The Saudi request for military assistance, the emerging situation in Yemen, role of Riyadh and Tehran and role of global powers in the region has to be debated in Pakistan at three levels; the Parliament, think tanks and academia and the civil society of Pakistan. A unanimous or consented opinion and policy formulation thereafter, will bring a national consensus, otherwise, any hasty and un-debated move may create internal destabilization in Pakistan.