PM in Riyadh

Wars bring victories and defeats to the generals and their governments, but to the average man they bring only death and destruction. The war in Yemen seems to have reached its close, but it hasn’t thrown up a clear victor. The Saudi Arabia-led Arab coalition has suspended its bombing campaign, saying it has achieved its objectives. Others insist the excessive collateral damage caused by 2000-plus airstrikes resulting in 944 deaths and four times that number wounded has forced suspension of the month-long air campaign. And the prime target of the coalition bombing, Houthi rebels backed by the force led by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, has yet to give its reaction. Given Yemen’s fractious power equation even when this was the Arab coalition’s most concerted move to overcome the lingering turmoil, it was never expected to result in a victory and restore the Hadi government in its original makeup. It is not the way conflicts get resolved in Yemen. Invariably, at the end of the day an inclusive government comes into form and rules the country for some time and then another round for chaos and anarchy. Something like that is once again in the progress.

The Saudis say they have managed to successfully remove threats to Saudi Arabia and to its neighbours but kept their option open to resume bombing if warranted. The Operation Decisive Storm was launched at the request of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and it is being wound up now as wanted by him. The next step would aim at resuming the political process in Yemen, delivering aid and confronting the threat posed by the home-grown al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The now launched Operation Restoring Hope, says the Saudi military spokesman As-Assiri, would combine “political, diplomatic and military actions”. The ending of the airstrikes was welcomed by the international community, particularly by Iran and the United States, but possibly for different reasons. However, there are reports that the Saudis did resume bombing after announcing its cessation. So the situation remains in a flux. Hopefully it will settle down.

From the very beginning of the bombing campaign Tehran opposed it, even called it “genocide”, and kept refuting the Arabs’ claim that it supplies weapons to the Houthi rebels. Washington wanted an early end to bombing because the net gainer from the situation is the al Qaeda that it has been fighting all these years. Such a mindset suits both the Saudis and Iranians, the unanimity that is said to have worked out at a behind-the-scene understanding. Publicly, President Obama is said to have exerted pressure on the Arab coalition to stop the bombing campaign because he feels ‘there is a lot of people inside Yemen suffering. What we need to do is to bring all the parties together and find a political solution’. Even if the Houthi-Saleh forces remain in control of the capital Sana’a and parts of Aden they would still be willing to join the peace process, for the reason that the otherwise militarily strong Ali Abdullah Saleh who has forfeited his political legitimacy would be happy to be invited to sit on the negotiating table.

That suspension of airstrikes would greatly help human rights organisations reach beleaguered non-combatants in Aden and other cities is also a kind of blessing-in-disguise for Pakistan and other Muslim countries who are committed to ensuring defence of Saudi Arabia and protection of the two holy mosques in there, but are reluctant to join the belligerents on the ground. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accompanied by country’s army chief General Raheel Sharif is in Saudi Arabia to reinforce Pakistan’s support to the Saudi cause. But for the assertion lent, wrongly, to the latest bout, the strife in Yemen has never been an issue of serious concern to the Muslim countries. Now that it seems certain that it is essentially a Yemen-centred power struggle that concern should sustain – not for the ruthless power-seekers but for the poor hapless Yemenis. The foremost task before the international community should be the rehabilitation of basic services to the people in devastated towns and cities. Then efforts should be made to bring back the expatriates who hurried out of their homes and hearths as war loomed over head. And in this the same Arab coalition which is committed to restoring the legitimate government of Hadi should take the lead.