It was not long ago when Nawaz Sharif was summoned to Saudi Arabia and given a red carpet reception at the airport by none other than the King himself; many analysts had started speculating that something big is going to be on the demand list. By then, Yemen inferno had not figured much in the steam of speculations.
Secretiveness that shrouded the PM’s visit was somehow maintained; even when the visit was followed by important meetings of what we are told is our political and military leadership, media remained clueless. It was not until foreign media started reporting that Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s jets have pounded Yemen that some clarity started emerging.
In a typical Pakistani way, our government started muddying the waters on Pakistan’s role. Reports are pouring in from foreign media ranging from Pakistani jets participated to Pakistan has committed sending troops and war-machinery; but here, we are told that nothing of that sort has happened.
Knowing well the dictatorial credentials of our ruling elite, whether khakis or civvies, we know that decisions have been made, which are final. But to maneuver the public opinion several tactics would be employed. The most important of which is certainly going to be a vigorous propaganda campaign.
Distorted facts have already started appearing in the media. The most important spin is giving the whole affair a religious color. E.g. fact, Saudi Arabia has attacked Yemen on the pretext of pre-emption, the same notion Bush used to attack Iraq; propaganda, we will not let Yemen endanger Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity. Fact, Saudi Arabia has jumped into a civil war of two historical power centers in Yemen; propaganda, Harmain Shareefain are in danger and securing the holy places is duty of every Muslim. Fact, Saudi Arabia’s actions do not have the mandate of UNS C and are in fact have full backing of the US and the UK; propaganda, we cannot remain aloof to the conspiracies of the US in middle east hence we should send troops to protect Saudi Arabia. Fact, the traditional struggle of dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia is at play where both warring parties are Muslims; propaganda, Muslim Ummah is in danger by some infidel forces. Fact, monarchy of Saud family is in a perceived danger from the outcome of Yemen civil war, propaganda, servants of holy places are in danger.
Those sections of religious groups which allegedly take funds from Saudi Arabia are taking to streets to back the Prime Minister and Army chief on their decision to send troops or war machinery, both air and naval, to fight civil war in Yemen.
That Nawaz Sharif is personally indebted to royal family of Saudi Arabia in a known fact; why is Army Chief on board, completely? Answer may be found in the reports of international media based on western intelligence assessments that our nuclear program’s sixty percent financing might have come from Saudi sources. There is also a debate that Pakistan has some kind of obligation to help Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons in case of need. Is there any secret accord that binds us, is a subject of wild speculations.
The decision of playing with Yemeni fire cannot be termed as institutional or democratically taken, which is the only objection that irritates the most of the democrats. An undemocratic dictator threw us in Afghan imbroglio, goes a narrative; what has happened now? A democratically elected head has thrown us in Yemen imbroglio in a dictatorial way?
Erstwhile Defence Committee of the Cabinet was reconstituted in mid 2013 as the Cabinet Committee on National Security. The CCNS is chaired by Prime Minister and includes PM Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Ministers of Defence, Interior and Finance, the Chairman JCSC and Chiefs of Staff of Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force. The scope of the Committee is to formulate a national security policy that will become the guiding framework for its subsidiary policies – defence policy, foreign policy, internal security policy, and other policies affecting national security.
The CCNS is the highest constitutional forum of the democratic government where the decision of jumping into the Yemeni quagmire with such disastrous consequences should have thoroughly been debated before taking the Cabinet and the Parliament into confidence. Was it done?
Another important question that will baffle future analysts would be that as the security and foreign policy and consequent decision-making is exclusively a de facto domain of khakis, to what extant a personally indebted Nawaz Sahrif could be held responsible.
Sectarian warfare in Pakistan has already taken lives of tens of thousands of Pakistanis and has spread a sense of terror all over the society. If that’s what a proxy war looks like, what a real war would be like?
We are in the middle of a bloody civil war that has ravaged the country, a good part of which has sectarian origins. Operation Zarb e Azab has put some pressure on the sectarian organizations, which needs to be enhanced consistently in order to bring down the sectarian killings to a lower level. Any side taking in divisive sectarian bloodbath outside may embolden our local sectarian elements and give them space to regroup and have a comeback on national scene again.
Pakistanis stranded in Yemen have been severely endangered by the reports that Pakistan is willing to attack Yemen, if it already has not done. Do the lives of those Pakistanis really matter in the dictatorial and secretive decision making of top state functionaries? Who will be responsible if any stranded Pakistani’s life is lost because of this decision?
Can current confused emotionality be a valid substitute of rationality, which is now considered an established pillar of international relations?
Pakistan needs to come out of its slavish mindset, a mindset that has so firmly gripped the faculties of our ruling elite. Honoring sense of sovereign equality and dignity is something, which can pay huge dividends. Of course, on the face of it, this suggestion may not sound practical, given the grim ground realities; but, at the same time, it must not be forgotten that any ideal that has been achieved in human history is because of human will. Will always precedes achievement.
*The writer is founder of Aam Aadmi Party Pakistan. He is a former diplomat and currently practices law.