Into the vortex?
Out of my headRemember those 1.5 billion dollars that were given to us by our Saudi friends (not masters) just about a year ago? Talented samdhi and finance minister Ishaq Dar had told us at the time that there were no preconditions to this “gift for the people of Pakistan.”
Out of my head
Remember those 1.5 billion dollars that were given to us by our Saudi friends (not masters) just about a year ago? Talented samdhi and finance minister Ishaq Dar had told us at the time that there were no preconditions to this “gift for the people of Pakistan.”
According to him, it was neither a loan nor was it for services rendered. The plan was to use the funds on different development projects in various sectors, including energy, infrastructure, railways, communication and transportation. Great! Good for us and the Sharifs and the Saudis. And Santa Claus is real too.
As they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Now it’s time to pay the piper. The Saudis say we are already part of their coalition (shall we call it the-coalition-of-the-not-so-willing-but-certainly-paid-for?) against the Yemeni Houthi rebels.
We are kind of hemming and hawing and saying that we are committed to the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia (which is not under any threat at the moment) and to the defence of the Holy Mosques (also not in any danger) but have not said (yet) that our soldiers will be there on the frontlines fighting the Houthis. However, about 300 Pakistani soldiers have already departed for Saudi Arabia to take part in a joint military exercise codenamed ‘Al-Samsam 5’ in the Shamrakh field, north of Baha, training for war in mountainous terrains.
At this stage, I wouldn’t want to be the one placing bets on our ultimately not getting directly embroiled in a war that is not ours, a war that should not be painted in the simplistic Shia v Sunni terms that the Saudis want it to be, and a war that will have many disastrous consequences for us (least of all damaging our relations with Iran and further fuelling the sectarian violence that has nearly torn apart this country in the last two decades).
Not that the Sharif government (which Sharif government I’m talking about I’ll leave you to decide) is that keen to join the Saudi conga line. They are aware of the potential fall-out and the Pakistani public is decidedly against any such adventure, tired as it is of fighting America’s proxy wars in the region and the bloody blowback from them.
But the Sharifs (both of them) may be powerless to resist for too long. Not only do a huge number of Pakistanis live and work in Saudi Arabia, their remittances back home playing a critical role in Pakistan’s economy but Nawaz Sharif, personally, owes the House of Saud just too damn much. They saved him when General Musharraf was seeing bloody red. They housed him and his family for nigh on ten years, treated him like a king, became his business partners, and then ultimately helped pave the way for his return to Pakistan (and, eventually, back to power). And don’t forget those pesky 1.5 billion dollars, desperately needed at the time to show off the Nawaz-Shahbaz-Dar skill at managing the economy.
As for Raheel Sharif (the person really in charge of our foreign policy), he has his hands full with Operation Zarb-e-Azb and trying to clean up Karachi. But he also heads an organisation that has wanted more arms and equipment. Also don’t forget that it was an army man (Ayub) who sent (then brigadier) Ziaul Haq’s brigade to act against the Palestinians at the behest of the Jordanian king. The Palestinians have not forgotten or forgiven ‘Black September’.
It was then Ziaul Haq himself who – in line with US policy – happily manufactured the Afghan ‘jihad’ against the Soviets. And it was Musharraf who allied himself with George Bush Jr and Dick Cheney in the aftermath of 9/11. The result of our Afghan adventures has been the ‘Talibanisation’ of a large segment of our society, unheard levels of terrorism, and sectarian killings.
The billions we received from the Americans and their western allies for our services may have enabled the powers-that-be to buy lots of fancy new toys and fuelled their regional aspirations (while lining the pockets of a very small percentage of Pakistan society’s upper echelons) but the cost to the country as a whole has been too high. The Saudis have had a huge role to play in this, instrumental as they have been in funding and exporting their puritanical and extremist brand of Wahhabism to Pakistan over the past 30 years, a policy which has significantly altered the Sufi-inspired, fundamentally tolerant nature of our society.
The cost of our mercenary activities in the past has been too high. I can only hope that either better sense prevails this time or the situation in Yemen resolves itself before we are sucked into the vortex.
The writer is a freelance columnist.