In response to a question about the role of Pakistan in the Yemen crisis there is no explicit national consensus, and the joint session of parliament summoned by the government can hardly bring it about. The division on it is etched in stone – given that even when the latest spell of violence in Yemen is essentially a continuation of the lingering armed struggle to capture state power in Yemen, it tends to divide public sentiments and opinion along the sectarian lines in the Muslim countries. Pakistan is no exception; there have been for and against demonstrations on the question should Pakistan send men and material to augment military capability of Saudi Arabia. That these demonstrations were sect-oriented is a fact that found its best expression in the very sight of who led and who joined them. Pity, the religious leaderships in the country have not tried to comprehend the nature of ongoing conflict in Yemen, which is not along the sectarian lines. The war in Yemen now, and for the last many years, is all about political space, and their foreign support is conditioned by consideration how they fit in the larger Middle East divide for regional influence. Of course, of late the Shia Houthi militia is in ascendance, but don’t forget it is fighting with active support and live ammunition supplied by the Sunni forces led by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son. And, as the Houthis entered Aden on Thursday their blood-seeking rivals, al Qaeda militants, who bombed two Shia mosques last month killing about 150 people, took control of the port city of Al-Mukalla and freed 300 prisoners including one of their commanders. The conflict in Yemen is not a Shia-Sunni contest, but yet another manifestation of the Arab-Ajam never-ending war for dominance since the Babylon times. But where the joint session of parliament can be of some use it is by bringing out the no-sectarian aspect of the ongoing crisis in Yemen, and by calling upon the religious groups and parties in the country to see it in its correct perspective.
On the face of it there is detectable variation in Pakistan’s gut reaction as instantly conveyed by the government to the Saudi leadership and the one now being dished out for public consumption. Defence Minister Khwaja Asif says his recent visit has ‘helped Pakistan government better understand the requirement of Saudi brethren’. The quantum and quality of assistance Pakistan to be committed would be dictated by the very nature of bilateral relationship shaped by the lasting spiritual, historical and economic affinities with Saudi Arabia. It is up to a sitting government to decide, and take responsibility, for moves and actions it takes in pursuance of what it considers and believes as national interest. In case of Saudi Arabia, it is not that the political dispensation of the day and powers that be need to be told what a national interest is and how to protect and promote it. It is easy to say ‘it is not our war’, but did Saudi Arabia ever say on Kashmir that it is not its war? For a number of factors, both political and economic, Pak-Saudi relationship is bound together in a tight strategic relationship. The opposition would be doing no service to the people and country by putting it to test. There are thousands of Yemenis in Saudi Arabia in every walk of life. They are a greater threat to Saudi Royals than even the Houthis. This needs to be understood before we embark on committing our ground troops. No doubt Pakistan has arrived at the fork on the road, rightly perplexed what should be its course of action that neither hurts the friendly neighbour Iran and nor undermines its strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is hard choice, but Pakistan has to make it – guided by only one consideration and that is the national interest. It is hoped the upcoming joint session of parliament helps the Nawaz Sharif government in making the correct choice.