A rock and a hard place
Out of my head
Here we go. Our naval ships are on their way to Yemen, ostensibly to enforce a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a weapons embargo, travel ban and asset freezes against Houthi rebels and their allies. But in reality this is a temporary sop to the House of Saud, the United Arab Emirates, and the other Gulf States before the eventual, inevitable (unless the fates intervene in some sort of miraculous fashion and the Yemen situation resolves itself quickly) and inevitably disastrous direct involvement of our armed forces in this Arabian imbroglio.
All it took was a scolding of epic proportions from our ‘friends’ and paymasters in the wake of the unanimous resolution passed by a joint session of parliament for Pakistan to maintain its neutrality and to play a mediatory role in the Yemen conflict to send Shahbaz Sharif scurrying off to the Saudi kingdom to placate its rulers and assure them of our all-out support.
The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash was so offended by the temerity of us miskeen Pakistanis to actually keep our own interests uppermost in mind when taking decisions related to our security and foreign policy that he warned Pakistan of having to pay a “heavy price” for its “ambiguous stand” and demanded that Pakistan should take a clear position “in favour of its strategic relations with the six-nation Arab Gulf cooperation Council”.
All we could do is stand there, take it, and make cooing noises. Clarifications were immediately issued that the joint resolution of Pakistan’s parliament was misinterpreted and has led to misunderstandings and that the KSA is a time-tested friend of Pakistan and the “Pakistani nation holds people and government of Saudi Arabia in high esteem and will always stand by it in the time of need.”
This was reminiscent of the Obama administration’s reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of the United States Congress – a speech which President Obama did not want him to make – in which Netanyahu lectured the American legislators on being tough with Iran and basically trusting him (Netanyahu) rather their own president on the Iran issue. It was an outrageous attempt to hijack American foreign policy, to embarrass the American president and to blatantly attempt to derail one of his major diplomatic initiatives.
Obama’s response: “That (American-Israeli) bond is unbreakable.” As the satirical political commentator Jon Stewart put it, “That’s how powerful Israel is. Their prime minister comes here, publicly slaps Obama in the face and the president’s response is, That’s OK, in fact, everyone should know, I’m buying him gloves, so when he hits me, it doesn’t hurt his hand as much.”
And that’s how powerful Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are in context of our bilateral relations with them. When we get whipped we just stand there like Oliver Twist with a (begging) bowl in our hands and say, “Please, sir, I want some more.” One stern warning and we have started making immediate concessions. So first the navy, then probably the air force, and finally soldiers on the ground. Allah help us all as the situation escalates.
The joint session of parliament and its resolution was always a smokescreen, a bid for the Sharifs (both of them) to buy some time, keeping in mind the public sentiment on the issue. The Pakistani people have had enough of fighting other people’s proxy wars and our country has paid a heavy price for doing so. The unrestricted export of Wahabiist philosophy into Pakistan has been an integral part of the strategy of these proxy wars and the Saudis have had a huge role to play with their funding of this obscurantist school of thought.
We all know the monumental damage to the fabric of our society this has caused and you can draw a direct line from that to Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Yet we have always been unable to say no to the House of Saud. We are too reliant on their aid to us and to the employment that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States provide to a huge number of Pakistanis, these same expats remitting over 10 billion dollars a year back home. Nawaz and Shahbaz are personally too beholden to the House of Saud in any case.
So despite what the Pakistani people may want it was only a matter of time before we became part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and the blowback from the same is going to be deadly, further fuelling sectarian strife in the country and further damaging our relationship with Iran.
We are between a rock and a hard place and the Sharifs (Nawaz and Raheel) will not be able to delay the inevitable too much longer. It is going to take an unprecedented level of diplomatic skill on their part to negotiate us out of the disaster that looms in front of us and I fear that that level of political dexterity will prove beyond them.
Short-term agony would be preferable to the facilitation of the further spread of an ultimately lethal cancer but our leaders have never really been able to look beyond their noses and play the long game.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
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