OPINION: Why Pakistan should not take sides in the Saudi Arabia-Yemen conflict

Published: March 27, 2015
 A Pakistani man prays with others during a protest against Saudi Arabia over its intervention in Yemen in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS

A Pakistani man prays with others during a protest against Saudi Arabia over its intervention in Yemen in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: Pakistan is ready to defend Saudi Arabia’s “territorial integrity” but has not yet decided to join Riyadh’s coalition fighting Yemen rebels, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on Friday.

Saudi Arabia began air strikes in Yemen on Thursday to defend the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi from advancing Huthi rebels.

Read: 39 dead in Saudi-led Yemen strikes: health officials

Here’s why Pakistan should rule out any participation in the fighting:

1. Northern and Eastern border skirmishes

It would be a risky proposition to send troops to a foreign country given that Operation Zarb-e-Azab is ongoing, and Pakistan’s armed forces are deeply involved in fighting militants in the country’s tribal areas. Moreover, Pakistan has a hostile neighbour on its eastern borders and incursions on the Line of Control are a usual occurence.

2. Exacerbating sectarian warfare

Though Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has repeatedly said the conflict in Yemen is not sectarian in nature — it is, in fact, precisely that. Saudi Arabia does not want the Shia Houthi tribe to take over Yemen, a country the Kingdom shares its southern border with. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia itself has a significant Shia minority of its own, most of it concentrated in oil-rich Eastern Province.

By siding with Riyadh, Islamabad risks alienating not only its neighbour Iran but also its own significant Shia population. The Shia population in Pakistan already distrust the State’s close ties with Saudi Arabia and believes the latter to fund madrassahs, which in turn fuel sectarianism in the country.

Read: Not participating in Yemen war but will defend Saudi territorial integrity: Asif

3. Lessons from history

By now, one would think, Pakistan must have learnt a lesson from history. A look back into the Cold War period shows that the country’s adventure of fighting with the Soviets, using American money and weapons and Afghan mujahideen brought the so-called ‘Kalashnikov culture’. It also infiltrated easy availability of trained militants who could be used for State and Non-State purposes. Our involvement in the Soviet-US conflict also exacerbated sectarianism as many of the mujahideen were linked to groups that later engaged in sectarian strife. Do we really need a repeat of the past?

4. Further debilitating the economy

Some experts on television channels have argued that Pakistan should join the Saudi coalition against Yemen for “strategic reasons”. One must question what exactly these “strategic reasons” are. Pakistan further weakens its already feeble economy, which is heavily dependent on imported oil. By joining the coalition, Pakistan makes itself particularly vulnerable in its relationships with oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia. Wouldn’t the strategic decision, therefore, be to stay out of this issue?

5. For the unity of the Ummah

Another argument being used by our ‘security analysts’ and ‘experts’ on electronic and social media is that this is something that Pakistan must do to show its unity with the Ummah. One fails to understand how siding with one Muslim state in a conflict against another Muslim state serves any such purpose. The fact of the matter is that the Organization of Islamic Countries is nothing more than a talking shop and has never really done anything tangible to help Pakistan at a time of crisis.

Pakistan should do what sensible countries do in such situations – look out for its own self-interest, and which lies singularly in pursuing a policy of non-interference and not siding with Saudi Arabia, or Yemen for that matter.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Ranjha
    Mar 27, 2015 - 8:41PM

    These Naan League morons are playing with fire!!!!Recommend

  • nasir
    Mar 27, 2015 - 9:19PM

    It seems Pakistan Air Force has already been in action over Yemen! This opinion seeking practice is just a coverup. I personally met PAF pilot travelling from Islamabad to Karachi via airblue, sitting next to me, he told me he has been rushed to goto Saudi Arabia via karachi to fly for them as a fighter pilot. it was some time ago. how about that!!!!Recommend

  • Mar 27, 2015 - 9:43PM

    No shia or sunni conflict but this is war of Islam and anti Islam. Some tribe of arab working for anti Islam powers and hold their states at any cost. This is the war of power in regine. Pakistan needs money at any cost rental power rental leaders rental army etc.Recommend

  • raja
    Mar 27, 2015 - 9:55PM

    KSA is creating a proxy war against shia with ISIS already. If Pak get involved then you have shias of Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir revolting and joining India. Recommend

  • bakht
    Mar 27, 2015 - 10:06PM

    @umar I am not a shia but I completely agree with what the houthis are demanding. Have you even bothered to even a little bit about them???

  • sabi
    Mar 27, 2015 - 10:19PM

    Pakistan army in past has successfully helped crush a rebellion against Jordan on the request of Jordanian government and nothing bad happened afterwards as far Pakistan relationship with PLO are concerned.Also Pakistan has helped many Arab states get Independence from colonial powers back in fifties for which these Arab states are so much obliged.This time again Arab countries are in deep crisis and Pakistan has the capabilities not only to guide but physically help them get out of crisis.I’m of the view that Pakistan must send its army to SA to show solidarity with Islamic Block.Pakistan must lead the Islamic block.Recommend

  • sabi
    Mar 27, 2015 - 11:16PM

    Pro-khilafat elements in Pakistan are once again coming out of their shells because helping SA would mean shattering their dreams of khilafa in Pakistan.They were defeated in their so -called azadi march they will be defeated again.Go ahed Pakistan:Recommend

  • awais
    Mar 27, 2015 - 11:24PM

    one muat not forget the fact that PM have family relations with saudis as in laws then it will surely be a strong reason for PM to putting Pakistan into it but it will never be good for us to show that we are in it, even if they want to help saudis it should be confidential first but keeping away would be a better strategy but PM will never do that, on other hand shia group want to take a grip on yemen as wahabiz do in many muslim countries, but it could be a plan against Muslims for sunni shia war. so it should be handled very peacefully. Regards Pakistan Zindabad. Recommend

  • Ali
    Mar 27, 2015 - 11:25PM

    I would like to disagree with one of your arguments.
    “Islamabad risks alienating not only its neighbour Iran but also its own significant Shia population.” If Pakistan helps Saudi Arab or befriend it then their emotions are hurt so pakistan should not be close to saudi arabia where millions of Pakistanis work and earn their living. Your statement also raises doubts about commitment of these “significant populations” to Pakistan as there sentiments hurt according to what happens to Iran but not Pakistan!!! There emotions should be about interests of Pakistan not Iran.Recommend

  • goldconsumer
    Mar 28, 2015 - 12:00AM

    Do you know who are the coalition members?
    Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and your recent energy funder Qatar..
    Now give me good enough reason why Pakistan, willing or not be a part of this war??Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Mar 28, 2015 - 3:06AM

    Some idiots need to do some math. Saudis have helped us whenever we needed them. More than two million Pakistanis work in Saudi Arabia and another million work in other Arab countries which are also allies of Saudi Arabia. Three million Pakistani families depend on peace and prosperity of Gulf states. Those who want us to stay neutral are real enemies of Pakistan. Recommend

  • woody
    Mar 28, 2015 - 3:30AM

    If Saudi Arabia was truly in danger the American’s would be on the front line — their not. This is nothing other than the Saudi’s doing some “chest pounding” trying to send a message to Iran that they can respond to Iranian meddling in their neighbor. The American’s took a pass and I suggest Pakistan follow their example.Recommend

  • Mian
    Mar 28, 2015 - 3:52AM

    This war is not about Iran or Saudia. It’s about controlling the Red Sea and Indian Ocean . Ethiopia and Somalia are already in turmoil and only Yemen can provide safe passage in Red Sea now .Controlling Socotra island of Yemen by UN or other intl force can ensure control over the sea lane .
    If pakistan gets involved in this war it will be open involvement in a Sunni shitte conflict in middle east for which the only logical response option by Iran will be to create problems in Baluchistan
    Thus in the end un will get access to Yemen to control Red Sea and Baluchistan to control Indian Ocean and access route to central Asia … Pakistan doesn’t get any long term benefit Recommend

  • Mar 28, 2015 - 5:24AM

    Excellent article. Detailing every angle. And clear concise
    practical facts. These Arab countries have done nothing
    for Pakistan. They don’t even get along with each other.Recommend

  • Mar 28, 2015 - 9:21AM

    Muslim nations help to each other if one nation not evolved in another call the same will happen with that nation. Muslim nations should learn to cooperate and become stable.Recommend

  • Johnson
    Mar 28, 2015 - 11:17AM

    Mr. Ali. You are spot on to say that the Shias of Pakistan must put forward the interests of Pakistan but let me ask you this: On what grounds is Pakistan participating in this conflict? Is it because Pakistan as a state is Sunni ruled country? Do you think that if a Shia government was ruling Pakistan, KSA would even ask her for joining the Sunni coalition? Pakistan is joining the coalition on religious grounds – other reason being the family relations our PM with KSA. SO, Pakistani Shias would be right to get offended in such a senario!!!Recommend

  • josh
    Mar 28, 2015 - 4:26PM

    Why does no one consider or factor that yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world with over half the population living below the poverty line and in need of food? Yemen poses no harm to anyone least for all pakistan, whom Yemen deeply respects and looks up to.
    None of these Muslim ummah types would ever defend us. Never. Arabs hate us. Yemenis don’t. We should protect and advocate for them and not consider whether to join saudi or not. Recommend

  • raider
    Mar 28, 2015 - 11:15PM

    who was defeated, every one knows well, raheel sharif prevailed after that “the man”Recommend

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