On March 25 2015, when Saudi Arabia led an air strike targeting Yemeni Houthis, the world was clearly divided in multi polar order. Not only had the airstrike come as a surprise but more unexpected was a coalition of eleven Arab and Muslim nations participating in the Yemen conflict, including non-Arab regional allies like Pakistan & Turkey. Till date, only surgical strikes have been carried out and no ground troops have been deployed or engaged.
Why Saudi Arabia is creating hype, on an issue which is already there for the past five years? Why an alliance of GCC countries is in the making? Why a non-Arab ally like Turkey has to jump in, with a stern statement by Erdogan on Iran’s involvement? Why Pakistan is keen to create deterrence for its regional ally and becoming a party to the crisis?
To understand the offensive, one needs to understand the background of this conflict.
Historical Background of Yemen
Yemen was divided into two parts; North & South Yemen. From 1927 to 1962, North Yemen was ruled by the Mutawakelite kingdom. They were the Zaidi sect of Shia, who ascended to power by expelling the Ottoman forces from the area. Their ruler was the spiritual leader and imam of the Zaidi sect. The kingdom included cities like Sanaa and Taiz. North Yemen however, had a mixture of Sunni and Zaidi sects with Zaidi concentrated areas in the further northern part of Yemen.
South Yemen was a British Colony called Aden Protectorate from 1839 to 1962. It included historical places like Hadramaut, which was once inhabited by the nation of Prophet Saleh (A.S), known as Thamud in historical scriptures. This stretches to the strategic port of Aden as well.
After British withdrawal in 1963, the British decolonization process started and by 1969, people of South Yemen were allied with the Soviet Union, and the communist political party was running the country. From here onwards, a bloody civil war started between North and South Yemen, which lasted for at least a decade.
After numerous men got perished, economies of both parts devastated and when they were on the verge of a complete breakdown, only then they decided to unify both parts. Sanity finally prevailed, and in 1990 North and South Yemen became one entity.
Abdullah Ali Saleh, who hails from the Zaidi tribe/sect of North Yemen, became the president of the unified entity and in 1994 Abdrabuh Mansour Al Hadi became the vice president, who hails from the Southern part of Yemen. In this unification effort, neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia played a vital role, in order to stabilize the country on its border.
Keeping in view the historical dynamics of the Zaidis from North, the tribes from South and their unification in 1990, there was apparently no need of any uprising or rebellion movement within Yemen. But in 1992, we saw the rise of Houthi militia. The Houthi militia was formed in Saada province of Yemen by Hussein Badruddin Al Houthi, who belongs to same Zaidi Sect to which Abdullah Ali Saleh belongs. Ever since their foundation, Houthis have been engaged in the rebellious movement against Yemen, particularly against the elements from South. Little has been said about the “reasons” of the uprising by the same sect whose representative was in the leading role of Yemen.
Gulf of Aden as a Vital Trade Route
Gulf of Aden has a strategic importance as well. Most of the world’s crude oil supply from Gulf States passes through the Yemeni port (Bab el Mandeb) to Suez Canal. The route further stretches to the red sea and from there all the way to Europe, USA and North Africa. Approximately 3.3 Million barrels of world crude oil passes through Bab al Mandeb of Yemen to Suez Canal which makes Yemen a strategic trade route.
Furthermore, products from China, India and Asia pacific also pass through the same route and Yemeni port to reach out to western countries. This clearly indicates the importance of Yemen as a major strategic route and choke point, which can be used for geo-strategic gains at any given point in time. The Gulf States are aware of the fact that if pro-Iran elements seize the port of Yemen and if Iran calls upon her allies, like Russia to protect the trade route, it will put the GCC countries’ maritime interests in a vulnerable position.
Map Illustrating major oil choke points of the world and daily crude supply passing the choke point
Role of Iran in the Muslim world
There are two mainstream views to this conflict when it comes down to Iran. One is the sectarian conflict of the Iranian regime with the Saudi regime; the other is the strategic aspect, a glimpse of which can be seen under the aforementioned heading. The strategic aspect is again, based on the sectarian fault line prevailing in the Muslim communities since ancient times.
But then there is a third and more relevant view to this conflict; fight against the extremist elements within Muslim societies. Be it from any sect, cast, tribe or creed, Arab scholars, who are presenting a justifiable commentary on the subject, are more prone to this third view. The fight against Houthis will then evolve into a fight against all the extremist elements in the Islamic world, such as Daesh, AQ and their allies elsewhere. Unfortunately, however, neither the mainstream Iranian media, nor the Iranian think-tanks are working on these lines to join the coalition against such elements in the region. Instead, reports are coming out about Iranian revolutionary guards being involved in training of the extremist elements in Yemen.
Iran can play a more constructive role in the Muslim world by supporting the Arab coalition forces, which are fighting militant organizations like Houthis who are destabilizing Yemen. Iran is also involved in fighting the terrorist organization of ISIS and hence should not isolate itself when all Muslim countries are uniting on one platform i.e to get rid of militancy ravaging the Muslim countries. Non- Arab allies like Pakistan and Turkey have also put their weight behind the coalition of Muslim countries to fight terror; now it is Iran’s turn to decide whether they support these terrorist organizations or the Muslim world which is fighting militancy.
Coalition of Muslim Countries
Currently a coalition of 11 Muslim countries is fighting militancy in Yemen that is bent on destabilizing the country. Saudi Arabia is playing a lead role with UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Sudan, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco providing air and naval support. Turkey is providing logistics support and Pakistan is on standby and in case of border incursion into Saudi Arabia, Pakistan will participate.
Support or No Support: Decision from Pakistan’s side:
Currently, the Pakistani social media and mainstream media is full of anti-Saudi Arabia slogans, accusing the Saudi led coalition of intervening militarily into the sovereign state of Yemen, without realizing the fact that Yemeni government called for help when the north of Yemen was overrun by militants.
In order to save Yemen from turning into Syria, Iraq or Libya, and to stop the foreign invasion in this already civil war torn country, the Arab and Muslim coalition armies had to launch “Operation Decisive Storm” on Yemen to save the people of Yemen from the after effects of such a conflict. Syria, Iraq and Libya have emerged as the worst examples. Not only these countries have failed to regain their momentum but also, extremist elements such as the Badr Militia of the Shiites extremist groups and the IS from the Sunni extremist groups have emerged and ravaged the state affairs of the nations.
Pakistan itself is a victim of extremist elements and fighting its decisive battle of Zarb e Azb against the elements of TTP and Al Qaida. The fight of Pakistan against these elements is not a fight for Pakistan only, it is an operation to clean and corner such elements to nullify the spillover effect into neighboring countries and to make this region a more peaceful and progressive place.
The same goes for Yemen, where Arab League has decided to form a coalition to intervene and crush such elements in ME wherever necessary. To confront these elements and to eliminate the chances of spillover effect from Gulf countries towards Pakistan in form of foot soldiers or ideologues, it is imperative to take part in such an operation and share the experience with coalition forces against these elements.
An opportunity to bring the Arab countries in favor of Pakistan’s regional dynamics and decisions is also viable through participation in this coalition.
The hue and cry in media is mainly along the lines of sectarianism. Not a single argument so far has surfaced to convince the policy elites, which can convince them not to participate as a party.
Pakistan can play a decisive role in resolving the conflict, but in no way, a public pressure coupled with media psyops should be the reason to stop the government from taking a difficult yet prolific decision in the long run.