Yemen dilemma

Published November 9, 2018

IT is seemingly a categorical assurance given to parliament and as such it ought to be welcomed.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the Senate on Wednesday that the PTI government will not send Pakistani troops to Yemen, where a Saudi-led war has wrought devastation and caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

The foreign minister also shared with parliament a few details about his government’s offer to help mediate in the conflict in Yemen.

According to Mr Qureshi, Iran has suggested it would welcome a Pakistani mediation role in Yemen, while implying that Saudi Arabia has not yet responded in a positive manner.

Separately, also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan met the Yemen ambassador to Pakistan Motahar Alashabi and, according to media reports, told the envoy that Pakistan would continue to support the restoration of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government. Therein lies a conundrum for Pakistan.

To be an effective mediator, Pakistan will perhaps require some semblance of neutrality recognised by all sides to the conflict.

However, because of the historically close ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and the current Saudi leadership viewing Iran as an existential threat, Pakistan has thus far been able to signal a semblance of neutrality largely by resisting Saudi demands for Pakistani military participation in the Yemen conflict.

Furthermore, while Iran has now responded positively to both the PML-N and PTI governments’ suggestion of Pakistani mediation, it is not clear if Iran believes Pakistan can, in fact, play a mediatory role, or if it is simply hoping to drive a wedge between the historical allies.

At its heart, what remains unknown is whether the major actors in the Yemen conflict see Pakistan as a credible potential mediator.

Perhaps, then, Pakistan ought to reach out diplomatically to other like-minded Muslim-majority countries with a stake in seeing the conflict in Yemen ended at the earliest and regional tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran reduced.

Eventually, a deal on Yemen at least could be reached under the auspices of the OIC if countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia work together.

Whatever the path taken, it is clear that the war in Yemen must be brought to an end at the earliest.

The humanitarian catastrophe and near-famine conditions in Yemen are intolerable in the 21st century, and are a direct result of Saudi-Iranian regional competition that is on track to cause further convulsions if not reined in with the help of the two countries’ friends and allies.

The previous Pakistani parliament courageously staked out a neutral position on the conflict in Yemen; if the PTI government needs it, surely the current parliament will also assist in delivering a unified, consensus position on the conflict.

Whoever can mediate, whoever takes the lead, the Muslim world, the region and the world at large need the conflict in Yemen to end now.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2018

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