The ongoing turmoil in Yemen is basically a sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia tribes of Yemen, which culminated into struggle for power. The Shia Houthis rose in rebellion against the Sunni ruler Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, resulting in a civil war in Yemen. It was compounded with the allegation that Iran was funding and providing military support to the Houthis . Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Gulf Arab states fear that Iran is empowering the Houthis to create national security concerns for KSA.
KSA and Arab countries claim that the Houthis militia has been acting in a aggressive manner, turning down all dialogue and rapprochement offers. They rejected Saudi Arabia’s call for negotiations in Riyadh and the U.N. invitations for peace talks in Doha. Additionally, they ignored all previous Security Council’s statements that called them in name to halt their rebellion and abide by the political transition process in Yemen. They did not care about it and went on to
capture Sanaa and then went after the country’s legitimate President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi in Aden. The besieged President appealed to the Gulf States, the Arab League and the international community to intervene to end the bloody advancement of the Houthis. KSA gradually grew apprehensive of the US apathy to tackle Iran to bridle its alleged influence in the Arab states, particularly in Yemen. Therefore instead of waiting for the US support the all-Arab forces launched Operation Decisive Storm to support President Abdrabbo against the Houthi militia.
Since the beginning of their coup against the central government back in September 2014, the Houthis have been successful in expanding their areas of control and defeating their foes. With almost no military resistance, they started from the northern province of Saada to expand to the capital Sanaa and then southern provinces, where President Hadi enjoys overwhelming support. They controlled main ports on the Red Sea, seized most of Yemeni army’s machinery— including fighter jets— and signed an “economic partnership” agreement with Iran.
KSA has requested Pakistan to provide military support for its protection against likely Houthis aggression into Saudi territory. Foreign Secretary of Pakistan told journalists that the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz and the Saudi king talked over phone and discussed the regional situation. “Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is important for Pakistan and for the sake of the two holy mosques in the kingdom every Pakistani can sacrifice his life,” he added. This statement fuelled apprehensions as if Pakistan army was going straight into the battle in Yemen.
So far the general opinion in Pakistan is to avoid sending troops to Saudi Arabia so that Pakistan does not get embroiled in the clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The argument is that Pakistan is already facing grave problems at home that are sapping its resources and energy. The military is engaged in fight against terrorism. Therefore we must not jump into a Middle Eastern affair.
But this argument lacks deep insight and balance. KSA is Pakistan’s strategic partner, which has always helped it in testing times. It is payback time. International relations is not a one sided affair. Albeit the decision is tough, Pakistan has to take calculated risk.
Other argument is that this step can earn sectarian backlash and Iranian animosity. Actually Iran has not adopted any aggressive stance over Saudi attack on Houthi rebels. However it has opposed the use of force by Arab countries in Yemen. Pakistan is in contact with Iran over this issue. As far the fear of sectarian backlash is concerned, the prevailing sectarian situation cannot go worse therefore it should not be an issue.
Meanwhile a high-powered delegation has left for KSA to review the situation and ascertain the needs of Saudi territorial integrity and security.
Most plausible option for Pakistan is to extend military help to KSA to defend its borders; not to be used inside Yemen. It serves our interest well as it would reinforce trust and bondage between the two strategic partners. Moreover it would put Pakistan in a good position to become a bridge between Iran and Saudi Arabia so that the Yemeni civil war remains within the confines of its borders and does not engulf the Gulf States, the Middle East and Iran in its flames.