INSIGHT AND FORESIGHT

May 5, 2015

YEMEN: THE HORNETS’ NEST

Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 7:02 am

Yemen

Yemen in the past hundred years has been through repeated turmoil. This includes division of Yemen and a war begun by President Nasser of Egypt. Egyptian historians refer to the Egyptian-Russo intervention from 1962-1970 as their Vietnam. Though, on a timeline it preceded US withdrawal from Vietnam it made an Israeli historian Michael Oren comment that the disastrous Egypt’s military adventure in Yemen could easily be dubbed America’s Yemen in Vietnam. On the opposing front, Saudi Arabia and Jordon with covert and clandestine British support ran into a stalemate. In the global perspective this war was seen as a proxy front of the Cold War. Within Middle East, it was eclipsed by the inherent Arab and tribal politics. Directly or indirectly nearly every West Asian country including Iran was involved. Pakistan supplied weapons to the royalist (anti- Egyptian) group on call of Saudi Arabia. This Egyptian intervention affected its performance in the 1967 War ceding the entire Sinai Peninsula to Israel.

Readers must remember that the division of Yemen was an effect and not a struggle.  The collapse of Ottoman Empire and British imperial policies created new geographies in West Asia. North Yemen came into being when the Ottoman Empire fell, while South Yemen remained a British Colony. South won independence through a liberation struggle. On 22 May 1990 the two Yamens unified to form the Republic of Yemen only to erupt into a civil war in 1994. They were reunited through a military victory led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh who now supports the Houthis (once his foes). In November 2011, under international pressure he was forced to step down, but retained control of his party and loyalist factions of the armed forces. He described his rule of 33 years through a mixture of tribes, insurgencies and terrorism as ‘dancing on flames’. His balancing acts included appeasement of USA and Saudi Arabia, looking the other way towards terrorists and supporting Zaidi Houthis with his military loyalists against a Saudi imposed President Hadi. He aims to get back into contention through his son Ahmed Ali Saleh.  But ominously, he may have over arched in making Houthis stronger than he wished.

Saudi perceptions in the region stem from their core belief of Wahabism. They established their first rule in 1744 under the dynasty’s 18th century founder, Muhammad bin Saud. Islamic Salafi Scholars, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and his descendants played a significant role in strengthening Saudi rule. In 1802, Abdul Aziz attacked the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala, killing thousands, looting and plundering. This invasion left long lasting imprints on Sunni-Shia relations. A joint Ottoman-Egyptian invasion in 1818 brought this kingdom to an end. The Saudis were able to re-establish their hold on Najd with capital at Riyadh. The second phase of this dynasty came to an end when Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Rashid of Hail expelled the last Saudi leader, Abdul-Rahman bin Faisal, in the Battle of Mulayda in 1891. The third Saudi regime was formed after many meanderings between the Arab tribes, Ottomans, British and Americans. Ibn Saud died in 1953, after having cemented an alliance with the United States in 1945. He is still celebrated officially as the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. But to most Muslims in West Asia, the country remains a dictatorship ruling through strong religious decrees and inherent monotheist sentiment.

Over a period of three hundred years, Saudis despite reverses have managed to create space for their ideology exploiting the larger canvas of geopolitics. Possession of huge oil reserves and US support has emboldened them. Saudi Arabia will remain in awe of all Islamic denominations that are not monotheists and not hesitate to ferment trouble in Muslim countries for their religious ideology.

On 20 November 1979, the Holy Sanctuary in Mecca was violently seized by dissidents led by Juhayman al-Otaybi and Abdullah al-Qahtani. The Saudi royal family had the Ulema issue a fatwa permitting the storming of the holy sanctuary. Saudi forces, reportedly aided by French and Pakistani storm troopers flushed out the rebels. In December 1982, Pakistan signed a defence protocol with Saudi Arabia thereby deploying combat brigades and air force for the protection of the Kingdom. These deployments took place in the backdrop of the Afghan conflict, Iranian Revolution and the spreading tide of Wahhabism in Pakistan. Except miserly petro dollars and plenty of terrorism, Pakistan gained nothing.

Pakistan’s frequent interventions in Middle East on behalf of Saudi Arabia have been counterproductive. Guised in the larger context of anti-communism, the cooperation has been overshadowed by the Saudi core belief of monotheists and use of religiously inspired militants to ferment trouble. Yet once again, Pakistan seems willing to support Saudi Arabia to the chagrin of Iran with whom it shares a common border.

Iran has viewed Pakistan’s relations with the Gulf monarchs and USA as counter revolutionary. In reaction Iran has hedged its interests with India to pressurise Pakistan through proxies that trouble Pakistan in Afghanistan, Balochistan and other parts of the country.

Pakistan is a country that has for the past forty years disregarded its own sensitivities and vulnerabilities in reward of dollars. It allowed diverse militant typologies to grow despite awareness that chickens come home to roost. As Pakistan continues to be sucked into a sectarian strife, its appetite for petro dollars only seems to grow. Tied aid has created linkage of a dependence that cannot be broken despite the reality that exploration of resources and development of Gwadar challenge Arab designs. The Yemen front will open no new era for Pakistan. Unless the umbilical cord is not snapped, development will not come.

The second part of my opinion, Yemen: Crumbling Redoubt of Terrorism (Nation: March 28) was a wishful satire on the fable of Godot. Even if Pakistan enters the Middle East as a major player, it will never be permitted to operate against the logistic and finance lines of terrorists located in the Kingdoms, nor will it be allowed the leeway that makes it stronger. Arab countries will continue to feed and breed sidewinders in quest of their religious typologies and tribal politics. The dynamics of the Old and New Yemen will ensure that another flash point is created in a hornet’s nest.

The Saudis have a long history of infighting and intrigue. Pakistan’s only role will be to watch over the patrimonial guards of this house of Saud. Pakistan is a country willing to hold a gun to its own head.

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