by Waseem Shehzad (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 3, Rajab, 1436)
Pakistan has so far resisted Banu Saud and allies’ pressure to send its troops to find their illegal wars of aggression, but for how long? Will Nawaz Sharif succumb to Bani Saud pressure?
Bani Saud’s attack on Yemen has placed Pakistan in a quandary. Launched on March 26, the attack is supported by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Bahrain (but not Oman) — and such other great “champions” of human rights as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan. They claim to be acting in support of the “legitimate” government of Yemen.
The Bedouins of Najd and their equally medieval allies also demanded that Pakistan join their war by sending its army, planes and ships. The people of Pakistan are vehemently opposed to the unjust and ultimately unwinnable war. They ask: why did the Saudis attack Yemen and if they cannot win, why drag Pakistan into their disastrous war?
Questions have been raised in Pakistan about what kind of commitments Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made during his March 5 visit to the Kingdom at the request of King Salman. There is speculation that Sharif may have made certain statements that his Saudi hosts misinterpreted or read too much into. Not known for much political acumen, Sharif’s statements were perhaps taken by the Saudis as blanket support for their war on Yemen. That might explain why immediately after launching the war, they mentioned Pakistan as one of the countries supporting their aggression. The Saudis also presented a laundry list of demands that perhaps stunned the Pakistan military since it does not want to get entangled in another foreign misadventure from which there may not be an easy exit.
Caught between the demands of his Saudi benefactors and growing opposition within Pakistan — both political and military — Sharif took refuge by placing the matter before a joint session of parliament (comprising the National Assembly and the Senate) and asked members to express their views openly. The overwhelming sentiment was opposed to getting involved in the war. Some lawmakers even blasted the Saudis for their disruptive policies in Pakistan. On April 10, the parliament delivered its unanimous verdict: Pakistan should remain neutral and work toward bringing about a ceasefire leading to peace in the war-torn and dirt-poor Yemen.
This sent the Arabian potentates into a righteous rage. How dare Pakistan refuse their demand; there will be “consequences,” they threatened. While Bani Saud did not express their outrage publicly — it is certain they made their displeasure known to Nawaz Sharif and others through private channels — tiny UAE lashed out at Pakistan. The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammed Gargash said in a tweet on April 11 that Pakistan would pay a “heavy price” for what he described as an “ambiguous stand.” The putative Emirati official also demanded that Pakistan should take a clear position “in favour of its strategic relations with the GCC.”
“The vague and contradictory stands of Pakistan and Turkey [Ankara also called for dialogue and peaceful resolution of the conflict in Yemen after Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan had initially expressed support for Saudi aggression] are an absolute proof that Arab security — from Libya to Yemen — is the responsibility of none but Arab countries.” The “Arabs’ responsibility” needs elaboration but first let us consider what else Gargash said in his diatribe against Pakistan.
“The Arabian [sic] Gulf is in a dangerous confrontation, its strategic security is on the edge, and the moment of truth distinguishes between the real ally and the ally of media and statements,” the Emirati official said. He went on to accuse Pakistan of virtually stabbing them in the back. Gargash described the Pakistani parliament’s resolution as equivalent to siding with Iran instead of the Gulf sheikhdoms. “Tehran seems to be more important to Islamabad and Ankara than the Gulf countries,” Gargash said. Perhaps one should ask, why not; is Pakistan not free to choose its own policy options?
Who created this “confrontation” in the Persian Gulf; certainly, not Pakistan. Yemen, like Afghanistan, is a very complicated place and has been a graveyard of invaders and empires over centuries. The current Saudi-led aggression is likely to meet a similar fate. Perhaps this is the sinking feeling that the Saudis and their Arabian allies are having, hence their anger directed at Pakistan for refusing to fight their war.
Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif moved quickly to contain the negative fallout from parliament’s principled stand vis-a-vis the Arabian potentates’ angst. In a televised addressed on April 13, he talked up the importance of “Saudi” Arabia as a “strategic ally.” Trying to smooth the ruffled feathers of the other Arabian rulers including the Emiratis, he said, “We want to assure the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that their frustration was due to a miscommunication in the interpretation of the stand of our Parliament. There should be no doubt about our policy, we do not abandon friends.” He then reiterated the now familiar refrain, “We stand with them shoulder to shoulder.”
Putting a positive spin on the parliamentary vote, Sharif said, “Parliament had affirmed in clear and categorical terms that any violation of [the] territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia will not be tolerated. This is promised despite the massive commitment of our troops in Zarb-e-Azb [army operation against militants in Pakistan].” Continuing in his tortuous English for which Sharif has now become well known, he said, “I also conveyed this to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that Houthi rebels are a threat to stability of the region. I urged Zarif to use Iranian influence to bring Houthi rebels on [sic] the talks’ table.”
There have been other developments as well signifying the degree of penetration of Pakistani society by Saudi money and its negative influence and disastrous consequences. A day before Sharif spoke, there was a rally organized in Islamabad by pro-Saudi clerics — recipients of Saudi largesse through their embassy as well as such other Saudi-front organizations like the Muslim World League (Rabitah al-‘Alam al-Islami). They condemned the parliamentary vote as being “against the will of the people.” How can these Saudi agents speak on behalf of the people of Pakistan?
Led by one Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, chief of Ahl-e Sunnat wa al-Jamaat (ASWJ) — an expression coined by the usurpers of power in early Islamic history — the cleric created a false narrative. “We have to give unconditional support to Saudi Arabia to save the honour of Umm al-Mu’mineen Hazrat ‘A’ishah Siddiqah. We will not allow anyone to disrespect the Haramayn Sharifayn,” he declared at a rally staged by the ASWJ outside the National Press Club in Islamabad. How did the honour of ‘A’ishah (g) come into the picture and who has threatened the Haramayn? The real threat to both comes from the Najdi Bedouins that have been on a demolition spree in Makkah and Madinah wiping out all traces of Islamic history and historical landmarks. The Houthis in Yemen, though opposed to the Saudi attack on their country, have not threatened anyone, much less insulted ‘A’ishah (g) or posed any threat to Makkah and Madinah. Saudi agents obviously have to create a false narrative otherwise they would have no reason for their illogical support for the Najdi aggressors.
Ludhianvi also said, “If our government does not take the decision, we will go to Saudi Arabia, just like Ameer Ansar al-Ummah Fazal-ur-Rehman Khalil went to Afghanistan.” Most Pakistanis would be happy to contribute toward the cost of dispatching these Saudi agents to the desert kingdom and wish they would stay there permanently. This would save Pakistan from the mayhem they have created by spreading sectarian poison. Another participant at the rally, Fazal-ur Rehman Khalil said there was no difference between “the Haramayn or the Sheikhayn” implying that protection of the illegitimate rulers was also the responsibility of Muslims. There was a clash between ideologies, he said without elaborating as to what he meant. In trying to sugar-coat Saudi aggression against Yemen, he said it was not a war between two countries, but a war against “rebels,” presumably referring to the Houthi militia.
Ranting of such people, however, has little or no bearing on Pakistani policy-makers. Truth be told, the final decision has to be made by the Pakistani military that is already stretched thin dealing with extremists. These violent monsters have emerged as a result of Saudi financing of madrasahs in Pakistan, run by the likes of these “maulanas” whose sole specialty is creating fitnah in society. They need to be reined in, and quickly.
More critical was Gargash’s outburst against Pakistan and although Nawaz Sharif played it down, Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan responded in an unusually strongly-worded statement, accusing the UAE of “levelling threats.” He said, “This is not only ironic but a thought-provoking moment that a minister of UAE is hurling threats at Pakistan. The statement of the UAE minister is in stark violation of all diplomatic norms prevalent according to the principles of international relations.”
Let us return to these regimes’ responsibility for “Arab security from Libya to Yemen” as claimed by Gargash. If the UAE official means what he says, then he should not complain about Pakistan’s refusal to send its army to prosecute the Arabians’ war against Yemen because Pakistan is not an “Arab” country. As far as Libya is concerned, one wonders what great feat these Arabian regimes have performed in the North African country. It lies in shambles since Muammar Qaddafi was lynched by a mob in October 2011. There is no security for the Libyan masses that are being terrorized by armed militias backed by the same regimes — Bani Saud and their dictatorial allies — who are today terrorizing the people of Yemen with their bombing campaign.
Since the parliament vote on April 10, the Pakistani government has been sliding back toward finding a way to appease the Arabian rulers. A high level delegation led by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif (brother of Nawaz Sharif) who speaks fluent Arabic, was dispatched on April 15 to clarify Pakistan’s position to officials in Saudi Arabia. The delegation included Sharif’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and Chief of General Staff of the Pakistan Army, Lieutenant General Ashfaq Nadeem. Whether they were successful in their mission was unclear but the UN Security Council resolution of April 14 imposing an arms embargo on the Houthis provided an opening for Pakistan to show its loyalty to its Arabian masters. At a high level meeting in Islamabad on April 16, Sharif announced that Pakistan would help “enforce” the arms embargo against the Houthis. Perhaps, Pakistani navy ships would be deployed. There appears to be creeping involvement of Pakistan in someone else’s war — and a totally illegal one at that.
Beyond the Arabian officials’ angst at Pakistan for not complying with their demands instantly, Saudi agents in Pakistan are busy promoting a false narrative. It starts with the claim that the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah (the Haramayn) are under threat and it is Pakistan’s obligation as a Muslim country to help protect them. Anyone with even a limited understanding of geography would know that Makkah and Madinah are hundreds of miles away from the Yemeni border with Saudi Arabia. The Yemenis have not attacked “Saudi” Arabia; it is the other way round. Saudi agents in Pakistan also argue that Pakistan should help a brotherly Muslim country. If Islam is the basis for such help, why is Yemen excluded from support? It is also a Muslim country and unlike “Saudi” Arabia, Yemen has not spread any poisonous ideology to disrupt other societies.
Another falsehood propagated is that Pakistan has an obligation to defend not only “Saudi” Arabia but also the ruling family. Unfortunately, even Pakistani officials — Sharif and his ministers, for instance — have repeated this several times. One wonders when and what commitment has Pakistan made to protect the ruling family? Suppose there is an internal uprising in the Kingdom, would the Pakistan army be obliged to protect its overthrow, and if so on what basis?
Another misleading claim posits that there is long-standing friendship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and that the royal family has always come to Pakistan’s help. It is, therefore, incumbent on Pakistan to help the ruling family in its hour of need. This claim needs to be deconstructed. The long-standing relationship has resulted in the Saudi regime exporting its toxic ideology of Wahhabism to Pakistan that has destroyed the traditionally tolerant society and turned it into a sectarian battleground. Pakistan can do without such friendship that has brought nothing but grief to its people. The Pakistan army is busy putting out the fires lit by the Wahhabi obscurantists who were given a free rein in the country for decades.
While it is true that millions of Pakistanis work in the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, is that reason enough to get involved in an illegal war that could have serious repercussions for Pakistan not only at home but also internationally? This also raises questions about the kind of friendship these regimes show toward Pakistan. It is well documented that Pakistani and indeed all foreign workers in these countries are treated like slaves. Pakistanis receive extra special treatment if we go by the number of public beheadings. The overwhelming majority of people beheaded in Saudi Arabia this year have been Pakistanis. Most were executed for petty crimes. Some brotherhood, some friendship!