Et tu, Pakistan?

The record needs to be set straight on a few issues relating to the recent Pakistani parliament vote to remain neutral with regards to the war in Yemen.

First and foremost, Pakistan is a sovereign country, a close ally, a dear friend and a strategic partner to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf in general. Now, there might be a few question marks around PM Nawaz Sharif’s commitment from the beginning and his decision to take the matter to parliament; however, the Pakistani people representatives have spoken and they decided that this is not their war, full-stop.

On the other hand, it is quite understandable that the decision might have shocked many observers. Given the enduring belief (or myth as it turned out to be) of Islamabad’s bottomless commitment as a military ally of the Gulf, one must also put things in perspective and not over-estimate the impact that such a decision might have on Operation Decisive Storm itself or other geo-political realities relating to Pakistan and the GCC.

Pakistan’s participation would merely be an “addition to the coalition;” however, Islamabad’s non-participation “wouldn’t affect the coalition work”

Faisal J. Abbas

As accurately pointed out by Saudi military spokesperson Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri last Friday, Pakistan’s participation would merely be an “addition to the coalition”; however, Islamabad’s non-participation “wouldn’t affect the coalition work.”

Indeed, Saudi Arabia – with more than a 100 fighters jets deployed - is very much capable to continue the airstrikes unilaterally if needed be, and the presence of three (or even a dozen) Pakistani fighter jets or a few vessels will not really make a difference.

The only situation where Pakistan’s participation might have been useful would have been if a ground operation was decided. However, as pointed out numerous times by General Asiri, there are no indications, whatsoever, at this stage that boots on the ground are required. (And if there was such a need, then Pakistani troops would certainly be an addition, but would definitely not affect the mission if Islamabad declines.)

Now as for PM Sharif’s cryptic statement yesterday, which on one hand said that Pakistan “doesn’t abandon friends and strategic partners,” but on another, upheld his parliament’s vote to remain out of the war in Yemen; such statements are similar to the meaningless ones repeated by other ‘allies’ who huffed and puffed pledging over the past few weeks not to allow any harm to fall upon Saudi Arabia and to defend the Kingdom at any cost.

Such heroic statements are certainly heart-warming, but putting aside the lip-service, what needs to be made clear is that Saudi Arabia doesn’t need help in defending itself against a militia which – if put together in one place – might struggle to fill the recently inaugurated al-Jowhara football stadium in Jeddah.

Changing dynamics

So why was Pakistan invited to join the coalition in the first place then?

First and foremost, the coalition was formed to widen the Arab, Muslim and international support for the operation which was launched in response to a plea for help by Yemen’s legitimate President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi.

Then, it is of course the Pakistani experience in combating terrorist groups and advanced military capabilities (owed to a large extent to Gulf support and aid throughout the years to help Islamabad face both regional and internal threats).

Given the border it shares with Iran, having a bigger Pakistani role in the coalition could have been an extremely useful stabilizing force which would indeed help put an end to the fighting and bring the Houthis to the negotiating table without conditions.

Saudi Arabia doesn’t need help in defending itself against a militia which – if put together in one place – might struggle to fill the recently inaugurated al-Jowhara football stadium in Jeddah

Faisal J. Abbas

However, it is also that border which it shares with Iran which should remind Pakistan of the importance of its strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia and the GCC.

Indeed, Islamabad should remember that it was the Gulf which has always been there for Pakistani leaders and politicians when they needed support, be it internally or on the international community level; also GCC countries were always there to help Pakistan financially and were the first to send aid and ease the pain after every natural disaster that has hit the country in recent years.

Despite the recent developments, it is unlikely that we will see a change in the level of commitment and care that the Gulf people have for ‘our brothers’ in Pakistan. In fact, we should make it a point to show the Pakistani people that our love for them isn’t – or ever was - a case of tit-for-tat. I think it will be very wise to reach out to the people directly (and not through politicians) from now on, this can be achieved by securing food and water, as well by helping build schools, hospitals and develop other humanitarian projects which the masses – and not the elites – will benefit from.

 A Pakistani soldier carries aid supplies from Saudi Arabia, in Retra town about 55 kms north west of Multan, Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

A Pakistani soldier carries aid supplies from Saudi Arabia, in Retra town about 55 kms north west of Multan, Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

However, what Islamabad should realize on a political level is that the region’s dynamics are changing and with Iran brazenly meddling in Iraq, Syria and Yemen; Pakistan – with its proximity to Tehran - is not immune to the threat and its best bet is to continue to be the reliable ally it has always been to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

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Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.
 

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:45 - GMT 06:45
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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