Yemen: Pakistan for negotiated solution

Pending return of a high-level team after talks in Riyadh it would be out of place to comment on the nature of Pakistan’s contribution in response to the Saudi request for help to prop up the embattled Hadi government in Yemen. However, some broad contours of Pakistan’s mind on the situation are available in the wake of ‘comprehensive review of prevailing situation in the Middle East’ conducted at a meeting in the PM’s House on Monday. The consensus was that while Pakistan remains committed to the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Saudi Arabia, it would be calling upon the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the United Nations to help find a political solution to the ongoing crisis in Yemen. In essence, Islamabad has clarified its position widely misrepresented in media, evoking unfavourable reaction at home and abroad. In particular, Islamabad would like to assuage frayed nerves in Tehran, where its ambassador was called to be informed that issue should be discussed between the two neighbours. But that said the meeting did point out quite clearly that ‘as Muslims we are bound to safeguard the holy land’ – and that it is not because the Sharifs are closer to the Kingdom’s royal house. How things would turn out to be after the Pakistani interlocutors return, it cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty.

But wars determine their own course, not too infrequently hurting initiators more than their adversaries, and the ongoing war in Yemen has all the ingredients to defy projections about its final outcome. That its first major victim should be the camp of the internally displaced people is something that must be nobody’s intended target, but it did happen. Then there is the plight of the foreign nationals trapped in cities that are under attack from the air by one side while its exits are in the control of other side in the conflict. Obviously the governments like Pakistan, whose nationals are trapped inside a number of towns and cities, find it increasingly difficult to take a clear stand as to who is right and who is wrong in this war. There is virtually no government on the ground in Yemen that other countries should contact to help evacuate their nationals. But for the Saudi decision to suspend aerial attacks on Al-Hudaida the safe evacuation of some 500 Pakistanis who reached home over the weekend was impossible. And most important, who should be removed from the scene to restore peace and normality in Yemen it is hard to identify, given the fact that besides Houthis there are quite a few other players in this blood-soaked murderous tournament. Yesterday’s allies who fought shoulder-to-shoulder together against their then perceived common enemy are at each other’s throat today. In 2009, Saudi Arabia had taken action against the Houthis in support of the then president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose fighters, and weapons, are at the service of the Houthis today. And no less thick on ground in Yemen is the presence of the al Qaeda and newcomers Islamic State foot-soldiers who bombed last week two Houthi-Shia mosques in Aden killing about 150.

So far it is civil war in Yemen – as has been the case over the last many years. But it may become a regional war should the international community fail to act proactively and resolve it through political means. In the past too, there had been occasional flare-ups in Yemen, but at the end the contenders to state power sat across the negotiating table and concluded power-sharing deals. No doubt the Houthis are Shias, and naturally enjoy Iranian patronage, but their tussles with rivals were never sectarian-based. Sectarianism has never been an issue in that country. Giving sectarian colour to the ongoing conflict in Yemen would only hurt the cause for a negotiated solution. It is therefore imperative that the OIC and other regional and international organisations should get involved and secure first a ceasefire and then work to enlarge the common ground, which may have shrunk a lot by now but it is always there. And even when the Arab League decided to raise a joint force its communiqué issued after the summit at Sharm el Sheikh is much less belligerent than some had expected. Towards that end Nawaz Sharif is expected to get in touch with leaders of the Muslim countries including Iran before taking final position on situation in Yemen.