THE Yemeni conflict is one of the most brutal and complex wars currently raging in the Middle East. While on one level it is a tribal tussle pitting various Yemeni factions against each other with sectarian undertones, on a larger plane it reflects the wider battle for regional influence between Saudi Arabia, which backs the government of President Hadi, and the Houthi rebels, supported by Iran. Hence, Pakistan must approach the issue very carefully and avoid taking sides. However, on Wednesday, the Foreign Office condemned a recent Houthi missile strike on the Saudi capital Riyadh — apparently targeting a royal palace — in strong terms. It said the “increasing frequency and ferocity of the missile strikes, targeted at innocent civilians by Houthi rebels, pose a threat to regional peace and security”, adding that Pakistan stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Saudi Arabia. This was the second Houthi strike on Riyadh, as the militia had also fired upon the capital’s airport last month; the rebel leadership says the latest strike was to mark the 1,000th day of the Saudi intervention in Yemen.
The Houthi strikes targeting Saudi Arabia should be condemned, even if reports say that there has been no major damage. However, it is also very clear that Saudi strikes in Yemen have been brutal and in many cases indiscriminate. Thousands of Yemeni civilians have perished, as the Saudi-led coalition has bombed markets, funerals and other public places. The UN has censured Riyadh for its campaign, particularly for the fact that hundreds of children have died in coalition attacks. Moreover, the blockade of Yemen is suffocating the country and threatening to unleash a catastrophe of horrific proportions. Even Donald Trump — a man otherwise not known for his humanitarian concerns — has called upon his Saudi allies to ease the blockade. The Pakistan government must maintain its neutrality in the Yemen conflict and not appear to take sides, especially when a former Pakistani general heads the Saudi-led military force cobbled together to ‘fight terrorism’.
Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2017