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.
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.
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.