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National

April 12, 2015

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We need a Sahibzada Yaqub Khan today

DUBAI: Pakistan has apparently landed in a big diplomatic and security mess over the Yemen situation and very senior foreign affairs experts, ex-ambassadors and three-star generals, who have been in such situations before, say we need an urgent but massive damage control and a bail-out strategy without losing more time.
In a quick gathering of opinions from about 10 such known persons, both serving and retired, it became clear on Saturday night that the Yemen issue has been grossly mishandled and there have been lapses, which need immediate correction before lasting damage is caused.
One common thread of opinion was that Pakistan must immediately dispatch the army chief and a credible political heavyweight to Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Tehran to talk and straighten out any misunderstandings or misconceived perceptions that may have been credible by diplomatic talk, vague words and expressions and secret assurances or commitments, if made by our side.
An expert who has handled many such crisis told me what was surprising was how they could possibly do a thing like this. “Rather than messing it up, they could have turned it into a huge opportunity.”
“The crisis should have been handled through quiet high level diplomacy, not a circus show in Parliament where the Saudis were abused a lot. This has never happened before. The language used was below par,” one seasoned diplomat said.
He says the Saudi king telephoned PM Nawaz Sharif a few times and also met him in Riyadh. NS may have naively made some commitments and could not deliver.
Our defense minister should have avoided stating specific Saudi requests. Now we have rejected those publicly which amounts to public insult of the King and the Saudi forces. The debate must have really shocked them. Also the headlines in our newspapers and screaming anchors made things worse.
The diplomat says both Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief should have flown to Riyadh to explain our difficulties.
If

the Saudis had insisted on some force, may be a symbolic force, a brigade could have been sent with firm red lines on defensive deployment. We had deployed our troops in the KSA in the 80s and 90s and also helped in protecting the holy places besides offering logistical support and security.
Another foreign affairs expert said Pakistan should have waited for the results of Saudis in the United Nations and other world forums and not allowed the perception that it would not be helping the Saudis. “There was gross mishandling on the media front and in such sensitive diplomatic situations, public diplomacy is always avoided.”
At the UN, an expert in Islamabad said, the GCC has been facing much bigger loss of face than in Pakistan.
The GCC, after Saudis started military operations in Yemen, wrote to the Security Council informing that the operation had been started at the request of president of Yemen against Houthi insurgents. They wanted a resolution endorsing the operation. The Russians blocked this. The GCC then drafted a resolution that imposes sanctions on the Houthis. It also demands that the Houthis immediately cease fighting.
The Russians want all sides to end violence (that would include end of military operations by the GCC) and call for humanitarian pauses in the fighting to allow for expatriates to leave and humanitarian aid to be delivered.
The GCC, after a few rounds of negotiations, tabled the resolution on Friday. They have not acceded to any of the Russian demands. The GCC and Russia are still talking to each other in order to reach a common ground. The deadlock persists.
All the experts are shocked at the UAE’s response issued by their state minister and the words he used. But they say the Pakistani Foreign Office must have been working overtime after Parliament’s resolution to explain it to the Saudis and its allies so that nothing of this sort may have happened.
How can this situation be controlled? The experts agree that Nawaz Sharif and General Raheel should proceed to these states immediately to clarify matters.
Pakistan cannot and must not let its brotherly relations with these countries get soured by a crisis that can be controlled. But we need people who know what they are doing.
One diplomat recalled the diplomacy Sahibzada Yaqub Khan used to pursue in such conditions. He would fly to each capital and defuse the situation within hours. We need another Yaqub Khan just now.

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