Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Wider war: Pakistan’s entry to Yemen would be a mistake
The latest unfortunate idea to emerge from the Middle East and South Asia is a request from Saudi Arabia for Pakistan to furnish aircraft, warships and ground forces for the fighting in Yemen.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen, which has proceeded for two weeks with U.S. support and killed many civilians, hasn’t stemmed the tide of Shiite Muslim Houthi advances toward controlling the whole country. A ground invasion of Yemen may be needed if the Houthis are to be stopped. Saudi Arabia has few effective troops, doesn’t like to use them and needs them at home to defend its 1,100-mile border with Yemen against Houthi retribution.
But Pakistan has a large army, with experience in deployments as peacekeeping forces around the world. It, like Saudi Arabia, is Sunni in its Islamic orientation. Pakistan always needs money, and Saudi Arabia has lots of it. Both countries could claim that the Pakistanis will be fighting terrorists, but the application of that label to the Yemeni Houthis is not accurate.
For the United States, the introduction of South Asian troops to a Middle Eastern conflict among Yemenis, some of them arguably proxies for regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, is not useful and it complicates an already complex, bloody conflict.
Adding Pakistan to the equation is also not useful in terms of U.S. aims in Afghanistan. For better or worse, America wants Pakistan to help provide some coherence to the evolving situation in Afghanistan. The United States is still trying to extract itself from the 14-year-old war. A successful exit will likely involve some sort of political agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which operates in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s cooperation in that would be indispensable.
For Pakistan now to jump into the Yemen-Saudi Arabia-Iran war will unavoidably distract it from working on a resolution in Afghanistan, a development that is not to America’s advantage.