Why should Pakistan commit itself to the defence of the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia? Is there a treaty framework that obliges us to do so? Or is it simply out of a sense of obligation because the kingdom has given us dollars and oil facilities on deferred payments in the past?
The kind of exchanges now taking place between Pakistan and some of its patrons in the Gulf are truly regrettable.
It is unbecoming of anybody entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing a sovereign country’s foreign policy to use the kind of language that Mr Gargash, the minister of state for foreign affairs of the UAE, used for Pakistan right after the parliamentary resolution was passed here. Pakistan may well pay a “heavy price” for its refusal to commit ground troops for the operation in Yemen, but the price of acceding to the ‘request’ from the kingdom would be higher still.
What bothers me through this affair is the extraordinary lengths to which our leadership appears to be going to assuage the kingdom and grant them something just short of ground troops in Yemen to keep them satisfied. Of all the requests that heads of state make of each other — the use of airspace, grants to tide over temporary difficulties, easing travel restrictions for each other’s nationals — none is as intrusive and heavy a burden to bear than the demand for ground troops.
We are being asked to provide ground forces for an operation in a distant country, and there is no clarity on what the objective of the operation really is.
Usually it has been the superpower that sought such assistance from others, or regional countries that band together to bring instability to an end in a neighbouring country. The US asking for troops in Iraq, for instance, or South Africa providing ground troops for Congo. The United Nations has a framework for utilising ground forces of various countries for peacekeeping missions and creating multinational forces for troubled regions of the world.
But what we have today from the kingdom is something that I cannot locate a precedent for. We are being asked to provide ground forces for an operation in a distant country, and there is no clarity on what the objective of the operation really is. How long will these troops be stationed there, and how much of the burden of fighting will fall on them?
What troubles me also is the manner in which the ‘request’ was made: announced via the media that Pakistan has indeed committed ground forces. It is not clear if the leadership in Pakistan had been consulted before that announcement, and how exactly they had responded. We know Nawaz Sharif was in Saudi Arabia on March 4 and held bilateral talks with the leadership in the kingdom on various issues. It was never disclosed what the purpose of that visit was. But we were certainly told that the prime minister was received at the airport by the king himself.
Was Yemen discussed during this visit? The prime minister owes us an answer. All that official news agencies said was that the two leaders “exchanged views on regional and international issues of mutual interest and concern”. Which region? I doubt if it was ours. So again: was Yemen discussed? And if so, what exactly was said?
An editorial appearing in The National, a state-controlled paper based out of Abu Dhabi, recently took Pakistan to task for the “ambiguous” parliamentary resolution. “The Pakistani parliament’s resolution was unwise, and certainly not in its interests,” wrote The National.
Not in its interests? Who decides what is in Pakistan’s interests? Would it be Mr Gargash? Or the editorial team of the paper? The resolution was passed unanimously by parliament. Does anyone really need to have it explained to them what that means, and how rare an occurrence that is in parliamentary systems?
Yes Pakistan has derived monetary benefit from its ‘brotherly’ relations with the Gulf monarchies and the kingdom. And yes, this has been a mistake to eat from their trough. Some of us were saying this all along. But that does not mean that Pakistan is now obligated to carry the heaviest of burdens that any sovereign can be asked to bear: that of sending its sons into battle, least of all against an obscure enemy in a distant land.
Let me make a suggestion for Mr Gargash and others chiming in on that chorus. In previous visits to the Emirates, I have noticed a large number of young Emiratis who are leading lives of tremendous privilege. They drive very expensive cars, and in the evenings, are seen in ice cream parlours and other locations, enjoying the evening breeze and some of the finest retail ice cream in the world.
Perhaps a couple of thousand of these youngsters can be transported to a boot camp deep inside the desert, and a couple of dozen subedars from the Pakistan Army flown in to drill and train these youngsters into a sharp and crisp fighting force, with very tight unit cohesion. Then they can start deploying this force, and perhaps a few Pakistani SSG commandos can accompany them in an advisory capacity. Once they have demonstrated their acumen on the battlefield, there will be more of a leg to stand on when demanding troop commitments from other countries. Because the first rule that any country follows in demanding ground troops from others is to first deploy its own.
If this sounds too high a bar to cross, then my advice would be to desist from military adventures in other countries. If you cannot fight your own battles, nobody else is going to do it for you. In the meantime, it would be a good idea to keep the war of words to a minimum. Because those skilled in the arts of persuasion will tell you, those who speak loudly often have a small stick.
The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2015