By S M Hali
April 21, 2015
The Muslim Ummah (people) is passing through some of its most trying moments in history. A few issues are self-created while the detractors of Islam have seized the opportunity provided by the fissures within the Islamic bloc to serve their own agenda. The dust was yet to settle in the aftermath of the Arab Spring that another Arab nation, Yemen, is up in flames. In the backdrop of the forced expulsion of Yemeni President Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi and the seizure of power by armed Houthi (Zaidi) rebels, a joint aerial operation, codenamed Decisive Storm, is being conducted by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan among others. The air operations in Yemen have been provided the fig leaf of endorsement by the Arab League but not the United Nations. Some prominent Muslim powers have refrained from joining the coalition against Yemen while a few are sitting on the fence contemplating a decision. It is being projected that Turkey is considering providing logistic support to the Arab coalition. Opinion makers are also recommending that Pakistan should dispatch its forces to support the coalition effort into Yemen.
Some facts and figures merit deliberation. Yemen has an area of 5,27,829 square kilometres and a population of 2,38,33,000. Out of this population, about 40 percent are Houthis. The terrain of Yemen is mountainous with patches of desert but it enjoys tremendous strategic importance because of the location of its coastline. The war-ravaged country is considered akin to Afghanistan because of the nature of the conflict and warrior instincts of its populace. The country has been facing internal strife since 1926. The root cause of the clashes has been socio-political, which is now being presented as sectarian mainly because of the perceived Iranian support to Houthis.
During the 1962 republican revolution of Yemen, the insurgency was supported by 70,000 troops from Egypt. In this conflict, reportedly, the Houthis were secretly supplied weapons by Israel to fight against the Egyptians. Since then, the religious-political movement of the Houthis took on a violent shape while the warring group has rallied under the title of Ansarullah. This turmoil created space for local, regional and extra regional forces to exploit the situation and weaken Islamic countries. History is replete with examples where mineral rich Middle Eastern powers have been weakened by fortune seeking international forces through economic sanctions, civil strife and military attacks. The only country that had, so far, remained relatively stable is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan has always played a key role in unifying the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia is a brotherly country and the people of Pakistan hold it in high esteem. Pakistanis are ready to sacrifice their resources for the safety, security and integrality of the Kingdom. At the same time, they do not wish for Saudi Arabia to get weakened in a protracted war with grave consequences. Having faced similar turmoil within its own territorial boundaries, Pakistan does not want the Saudis to go down the same rabbit hole.
The Muslim ummah stood like innocent bystanders witnessing the destruction and weakening of Iran and Iraq through the subterfuge of world powers. Pakistan’s approach on the contrary to resolve the crisis in Yemen is based on attaining political objectives through peaceful means. The parliament of Pakistan, which has deliberated on the issue at length, through its collective wisdom, has concluded that Pakistan should refrain from jumping into the fray by sending its military resources of fighter aircraft, military personnel and warships. Simultaneously, Pakistan’s parliament does not preclude military support to the Kingdom if its sovereignty or territorial integrity is threatened. The parliamentary leaders of Pakistan for once have seen through the stratagem of involving the military might of the Muslim ummah in a protracted war, which would weaken them and cause substantive damage. US forces learnt the hard lesson of suffering attrition at the hands of guerrilla forces in Vietnam and later in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Arab forces and any other allies getting involved will get sucked into the endless war in Yemen.
Another lesson is clear: non-state actors cannot survive without the support of external forces with their own personal agenda. The Houthis, supported by regional and extra regional powers, are exploiting their armed rebellion by projecting it as a Sunni-Shia conflict, whereas the conflict is politically motivated. Pakistan’s support to Saudi Arabia is unequivocal, unflinching and traditional. It must be understood that efforts by certain quarters to create a wedge and discontent in Pakistani society on the issue of sending forces or supporting Saudi Arabia by projecting the conflict on sectarian lines are bound to fail. Pakistan and the Muslim ummah must endeavour to make serious efforts in engaging the conflicting sides and resolving the situation through diplomacy and dialogue rather than letting external forces create more challenges for them.
S M Hali is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché in Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and a television show host