Operation Yemen Liberation

Published: March 31, 2015
The writer is a barrister and columnist. He tweets @AsadRahim

The writer is a barrister and columnist. He tweets @AsadRahim

Some context, to start with: Mr Nawaz Sharif is Prime Minister of Pakistan — his third try. His second ended in Jeddah, whence a long, loving bond was established.

He returned in 2007 (two years early, despite Lebanon’s Saad Hariri tut-tutting to the contrary). What’s different about the Pakistan he leads in 2015 than the one he was forced out of in ’99?

The fact that there’s a war going on — for the heart and soul of the country. So how did Mr Sharif fare there?

In a surreal press conference a few years ago, Mr Sharif’s brother pleaded, “We in the PML-N opposed (General Musharraf) and rejected dictation from abroad. If the Taliban are also fighting for the same cause then they should not carry out acts of terror in Punjab.”

The Chief Minister of Punjab told the Taliban, essentially, that they were on the same side — feel free though to blow K-P and Karachi and Quetta to smithereens. Which they did, and left the brothers alone.

But come May 2013, and Mr Sharif was no longer the CM’s brother — he was the prime minister of the country. And just 10 days after his election, the prime minister told us what he would do to the demons that had torn the country apart.

“Why shouldn’t we sit, talk, and engage in dialogue?” he asked. Fair enough: the Taliban may have waged one of the bloodiest wars in the history of bloody wars, but to ‘not negotiate with terrorists’ was a Bushism — like all Bushisms, it was best avoided.

Negotiations went on, with the press embarrassing itself over the minutiae of mass-murders; how the Taliban served their guests the very currency of Western capitalists: fizzy colas. It soon emerged though that the Taliban weren’t rational actors. Obviously.

Or, if they were, that their rationale was to regroup. They took Swat to continue to Buner. They mulled over the Constitution, then rampaged through our district courts. They called ceasefires, then executed 23 of our soldiers. They talked up, like Mr Sharif did, the merits of peace, then attacked our airport.

So when the army went after them in North Waziristan, the government mumbled assent — after the fact. Left to Mr Sharif, who took no ownership of fighting the Taliban (until the military did it for him), who refused to let the peace talks go, who thought they would leave our castles in Punjab alone, Pakistan would be stuck in 2013: embracing child-murderers as they sink the knife in.

Which makes last week evermore ironic. “Any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity,” the PM boomed, “would evoke a strong response from Pakistan.”

From the man who couldn’t say the word ‘Taliban’ after they massacred our children in Peshawar, this is impressive. For the PM, threats to Saudi Arabia’s integrity will evoke a strong response from Pakistan — threats to Pakistan’s own integrity, not so much.

As for said threats, the trail of breadcrumbs stretches straight from southern Punjab to Saudi Arabia — it smells of petrol, and it erupts in imambargah explosions.

Which makes our present path nothing short of disastrous. To break it down: a sectarian agenda is destabilising Pakistan — and Pakistan announced it would be stabilising that sectarian agenda.

If one can call it an agenda. Of late, the House Saud’s stock has been plummeting, while the ayatollahs have been making gains. Because when it comes to mud-fights, Iran’s proxies fare better than Riyadh’s.

Iran backs the blood-splattered Ba’ath Party in Syria, and Assad, gruesome as ever, has managed to hang on. Move to the right, and Tehran also has a lock on Iraq, by the grace of the Bush Administration. Run left, and Hezbollah fighters are growing bigger and braver in Lebanon. Go further down, and even Hamas is wandering into Iran’s orbit.

By contrast, the House Saud can’t catch a break. Former baby ISIS has gone rogue, and ISIS paranoia (or far too many Game of Thrones readings) has caused the Saudis to build a 600-km wall, to keep the barbarians at bay. Meanwhile, Qatar’s smirking too much, Bahrain’s uneasy, and Egypt’s Sisi is a full-blown extortion artist.

Which is why, when the Houthis ran through Yemen, enough was enough. The Saudis launched the hilariously named Operation Determination Storm, and began bombing Yemen more ferociously than it ever did ISIS. The US nods along blankly: it will help the Saudis bomb Iran’s supporters in Yemen while it helps Iran bomb ISIS in Iraq.

Welcome to the Middle East, where only one law should hold: don’t take sides.

Firstly, we have no motive. Pakistan has no stake in Yemen, has never been invaded by Yemen, has never been threatened by Yemen, has never been much aware of Yemen. It’s the poorest country in the Middle East (now bombed by the richest, as one observer put it).

Second, protecting Saudi Arabia’s integrity is all well and good, but it is Saudi Arabia that is breaching Yemen’s integrity, not the other way round. International law doesn’t quite sanction preemptory cavalries.

Third, staying out of the ruckus has been a winning play so far: remember Syria? Remember the Iran-Iraq war? Not a bad idea, in retrospect.

Fourth, Pakistan’s own passive sectarianism is a matchstick away from ignition. Our own problems with sectarianism pose considerable challenges that can exacerbate in case of any Pakistani involvement in the conflict in Yemen.

Fifth, it would be best to airlift the hundreds of Pakistanis in Yemen out, than jeopardise their lives by sending more in — Bahrain stands testament.

Sixth — though easy to forget in the air-conditioned offices of Constitution Avenue — we have a full-scale war of our own, and it’s for the future of this country.

Back in the ’90s, when Saddam Hussein was running wild, a younger, bolder Mr Sharif ran up against his army chief. The loathsome General Beg supported Saddam’s as-loathsome forays in Kuwait. Of course, Mr Sharif’s opposition wasn’t informed by any humanitarian considerations for the Kuwaitis; he swayed whichever way the Saudis swayed.

A generation later, it’s time we carved out a policy based on self-interest. The wider world may be losing the plot; sanity demands we look inward.

Pakistan shares a border with Iran, and a prime minister with Saudi Arabia. Best to sit this round out.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2015.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Naeem Khan
    Mar 31, 2015 - 3:23AM

    Let us not forget that Nawaz Sharif is under financial obligation to the Saudis, he has gotten hefty loans and was given the permission to open up business there, and that is why when ever Sharifs went to SA, they stayed lengthy stays on the backs of Pakistani tax payers to look after their business. We also know that most of the Pakistani elite and the ruling class has sold themselves to the highest bidders. It does not give them the right to trample Pakistan’s interests and I would suggest that the nation should stand up and dictate the rulers instead of them dictating the nation for their selfish interests.Recommend

  • Aussie
    Mar 31, 2015 - 3:53AM

    ” Terrorism is the war of the poor, War is the terrorism of the rich.”

    — Peter UstinovRecommend

  • Varun
    Mar 31, 2015 - 3:57AM

    The author makes it appear that Saudi Arabia is a only personal liability of Mr Sharif, the PM. Answer this: How many times has Yemen been a lender & protector of the last resort to Pakistan?

    It seems strange that none of the columnists can find fault with the part of your relationships where foreign deep pockets bankroll the latest Pakistani pie in the sky (China will industrialize the whole of Pakistan for the love of a warm water port is the latest), but start having second thoughts when you are called to honour your end of the bargain – be the rent-a-militia shop you promised to be.

    Ironic, its the politicians who seem to be clearer headed in this case.Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Mar 31, 2015 - 7:01AM

    “Pakistan shares a border with Iran, and a prime minister with Saudi Arabia. Best to sit this round out”
    Writer forgot to mention 2.5 million Pakistanis workers, their millions of families in Pakistan, half of the total amount of remittances, hundreds of billions of dollars in investments, free oil, support during wars and sanctions. Saudi Arabia stood with us when no one else did. We share border with Iran, so we do with India and Afghanistan but Saudi Arabia is our best friend, brother, supporter and mentor. We are not an ungrateful nation.Recommend

  • raider
    Mar 31, 2015 - 7:53AM

    Yes, Sharifs are lucky guys whenever they come to power they take credit of achievements of army establishment and its allied institution like atomic tests in 1998, they never feel reluctance of taking credit of low oil prices, they feel happy to fool peoples that foreign inflows (from gulf state for alleged support with arms in return and even IMF and world bank, is because the country is being reigned by them. they are working with old torn DCOs of Musharraf regime but they claim to have economic blast without any reform and that even not exists in pipeline, now they are trying to portray themself the custodians of Karachi operation but don’t dare to remove governor of a same party against which major allegation have been leveled and even proved , they don’t dare to name Taliban but operation zarb-e-azb is still on their credit, keep up for less than three years more then what , plz give me another five years, economic blast is ready.Recommend

  • Milind
    Mar 31, 2015 - 8:59AM

    If as you say, Nawaz Sharif cut a deal with the Taliban to exempt Punjab, then he’s a great guy.. Given the fact that your establishment routinely overrides your civilian authority/politicians in policy decision making, has uncontrolled powers, is hand in glove with the Taliban (strategic assets) and given that the civilian leadership has limited room to maneuver, this was the best deal Sharif could have done.
    However I agree he should stay away from this Yemen quagmire… Both the U.S. and Saudis are imperialists of the highest order… its just that Pakistan is unable to see Saudis for what they’re due to blinkers of religion…Recommend

  • Feroz
    Mar 31, 2015 - 11:45AM

    This is a cowardly attack by the Media which well knows that the PM and Parliament of Pakistan do not control the Security and Foreign policy of the country. Decisions like this are taken elsewhere but failure like all past policies will always be laid at the door of Politicians. Yes, the free Media can continue to muddy the waters and give cover, much easier than showing courage.Recommend

  • Sonya
    Mar 31, 2015 - 12:29PM

    @Ch. Allah Daad: Like there are over two million Indians and similar number from Bangladesh – Why its Pakistan who should help the Saudi Royals save their government.Recommend

  • sabi
    Mar 31, 2015 - 4:51PM

    The worst thing that has happened to this nation is,it has lost self esteem including you.Every word of this article speaks for it.You better search some history of Pakistan some knowledge on the science of international relations and ground realities that surround us today.Nawaz Sharif was not even born when Pakistan was helping many Arab countries getting freedom from colonial powers.Nawaz Sharif was not there when Pakistan extended military assistance to Arab countries.Pakistan didn’t fought against any state but rebels.Today again Pakistan has to fight against rebels not against any state. Pl. don’t malign relations between two states by terming it something personnel between Nawaz Sharif and Alsaud regime.Recommend

  • Syed
    Mar 31, 2015 - 6:57PM

    Ch Allah Daad, people like you are the reason we have so much bloodshed in Pakistan in the name of religion. This best friend has been funding terrorists that are blowing up Shias everywhere but wah kiya baat hai best friend ki. This is a known fact and really who needs enemies when we have best friends like Saudis. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Mar 31, 2015 - 7:02PM

    All the arguents the Author has narrated sound very logical and are the result of his hindsight. The defense agreements that leader of a country enters into with another country require a foresight that this is why Pakistan enerede into an agreement with the House of Saud decades ago. Perhaps the lawyer author should tell his Prime Minister how he can wriggle the country out of the contract that he never signed into? Besides the alliance with Saudi Arabia has until now served his country well allowing millions unskilled workers earn the hard currency in gulf countries and remitting it to their home land.

    Rex Minor Recommend

  • Kanwal
    Apr 1, 2015 - 12:27AM

    @ch Allah dad
    Can you please elaborate on the reason why just the pakistanis should help a country where more slaves like us work from india and bangladesh? Why dont india and bangladesh count as Saudi’s brothers? Our people there work for these rogues in conditions that resemble slavery, are comsidered third class citizens, are not even allowed to marry there!! And these “brothers” of yours are sponsoring madressas (thousands of them) in pakostan whose products are blowing themselves up (alongwith the innocents of this country, not to mention whatever is remaining of its economy) right left and centre here. Thank you very much but we have had enough poking into other countries already and are still paying for it. Not long ago we tried to help “brothers” in afghanistan and are still not out of the trauma of that “help”. Pls take your advice with you to saudi arabia to help your brothers yourself. We wont miss you. Recommend

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