[Featured Image Courtesy: Stratfor]
After a long gap of seven years, it was refreshing to see the Republic Day parade back on track. Pakistan once again celebrated the event with traditional fervor and joy, which was becoming a fading memory. There are other good omens as well: economic indicators are improving, Afghanistan government is keen to maintain robust working relations, and it continues to appear friendly towards Pakistan. Though there is no change in the Indian mindset, Pakistan can cope up with this situation. These positive signals indicate that Pakistan is back on its feet after a down-slide spread over a decade and a half.
At the same time, there are worrying indicators that Pakistan has taken a decision to participate militarily in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region. “The Saudi request to become part of its coalition against Yemeni rebels is currently being examined,” Foreign Office spokesperson said during her weekly press briefing. Reportedly, the request was made during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia. Over the weekend, King Suleiman telephoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and accrued Pakistan’s support for ongoing Saudi Military action in Yemen. Moreover, Pakistan’s review mission would shortly visit Saudi Arabia to assess the situation.
Are we going to consolidate on positive indicators or sink into yet another deeper crisis? Are we capable of taking prudent decisions or groomed to act whimsically? Are we a crisis prone country by default or we are inclined to willingly become part of crisis no matter in which part of the world crisis ferments? Lest take a detailed look at these positive and negative indicators.
Return of Pakistan Day parade enthused a sense of pride and radiated a feeler of security amongst the people. It was indeed a much awaited enactment echoing the resolve of terribly bruised nation. This year, on this one day, Pakistan was what it once was and what it ought to be. This event shall go a long way in mitigating the tempo of national gloom and depression. Dukhtran-e-Millat (DeM) in Indian occupied Kashmir also joined the people of Pakistan in celebrating Pakistan Day by holding functions in occupied valley and raising Pakistan Zindabad (Long Live Pakistan) slogans with great enthusiasm. DeM chairperson Aasiya Andrabi, in addition to addressing a Pakistan Day function held in Srinagar also telephonically addressed various events in other districts which is a proof that the people of the IHK have deep love and affection for Pakistan. Though every year Pakistan Day and Independence Day are celebrated in Indian held Kashmir and at places Pakistan’s national flag is also hoisted despite strict administrative measures by the occupation forces, the sentiments expressed by the women in IHK, particularly this year, reflect their goodwill towards Pakistan and strong opposition to the joining of PDP with BJP in the formation of the government. Responding to a question regarding the registration of a case by India against Asiya Andrabi for singing Pakistan’s national anthem, the spokesperson of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “The registration of case against the Hurriyat leader reinforces that the people in Occupied Kashmir are being subjected to suppression and denied the right to express their views and sentiments”.
There is good news on economic side as well, Moody’s Investors Service has upped Pakistan’s financial standing in some of the subcategories. Forex reserve are healthy, current account deficit is narrowing down and budgetary deficit is down from 8 to 5.5 percent of GDP. To sustain this pace of economic recovery, Pakistan need to avoid getting sucked into any sort of conflict.
As regards Afghan crisis, statements by Afghan President during his visit to the United States have radiated reconciliatory signs. President Ashraf Ghani has said that some members of the Taliban had legitimate grievances given the torture and ill treatment they had suffered; and it was necessary to find a way to apologize and heal national wounds. Ghani added that peace with the insurgents was “essential”. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also said that he was “cautiously optimistic” about improved relations with Pakistan, which he considers integral to peace efforts with the Taliban. President Obma has slowed down the withdrawal of residual troops by atleast two yearsSo far the Afghan conflict is moving in the direction that would mitigate Pakistan’s troubles.
In the context of MENA conflict, Saudi Arabia is currently busy helping the ailing Yemeni government to fight off the Houthi rebels – a Shi’ite group—mostly concentrated in the north of the country, which used to be a separate republic before it was unified with the south to form modern day Yemen in 1990. On March 26, a high-level meeting headed by Premier Nawaz Sharif concluded: “Any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan.” The following day he ordered evacuation of all Pakistanis from Yemen; evacuation is in process. Apparently Pakistan has taken a decision to intervene in the conflict—may be even militarily. Though the Defence Minister, Khawaja Asif, has stated that Pakistan has made no decision as yet to participate in the Yemen conflict, Saudi Arabia’s state run news agency SPA has reported that five Muslim countries including Egypt and Pakistan want to participate in the Gulf-led military coalition. Another Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel said that Egypt and Pakistan would dispatch jet fighters and warships to take part in the campaign. Iran has condemned Saudi Arabia for launching air strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen, saying it was “a dangerous step” that violated “international responsibilities and national sovereignty.” The kingdom’s ambassador to the United States has announced from Washington that a coalition of 10 countries, including the five Gulf monarchies, had been set up to protect the Yemeni government. The United States said it would provide “logistical and intelligence support” to the operation. Britain’s Foreign Office has said that Britain supports Saudi Arabia’s decision to intervene militarily in Yemen. All ingredients of a prolonged stalemated conflict are in place—the death dance is on. Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting on the same side in Syrian theatre while dealing with IS; they may now be fighting against each other in Yemeni theatre.
As of now Pakistan continues to bleed— proverbially through thousand wounds—due to fallout of Afghan conflict. Pakistan is not prepared to take part in any conflict that could divide the Muslim world on sectarian lines. Pakistan should, however, assist and be a part of the peace process rather than being a participant in military alliance. Iran, a long-standing Saudi contender for ideological influence in the Middle East, is also stepping up support for the Houthis, their fellow Shiites. An intriguing mosaic of sectarian strife, topped off by the presence of ISIS and AQAP, points towards an open ended conflict with a potential to spread to South Asia. Pakistan’s involvement in Afghan conflict brought home terrorism, and Pakistan’s involvement in MENA region would accentuated the sectarian violence which is already on boiling point.
Main powers on the opposite sides of Islam’s Sunni-Shiite divide, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are vying for influence in countries across the region. Pakistan is already in the cross fire, feeling the heat of their proxy war on Pakistani soil, in the form of sectarian violence stressing the societal fabric at its seams. People of Pakistan deserve better, they need a break from war fatigue— especially from others’ wars. Hopefully, Pakistan’s final decision would be reflective of public sentiment, duly endorsed by political consensus. And that alongside the dictates of immediate expediencies, long term repercussions shall be duly weighed. Yemeni crisis has the potential of decimating a few Muslim countries. We owe a responsibility to our coming generations that Pakistan does not become one such country. At this point and time Pakistan must not be on the wrong side of history.
The Nation, March 30, 2015
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.