Monday, April 6, 2015
BY UZAIR M. YOUNUS
Pakistan contributing to Saudi Arabia’s mission in Yemen is bound to have reprehensible consequences for Pakistan.
To say that the Middle East never ceases to surprise is an understatement. Players in the region throw curveballs just when they are least expected. This time, it’s Saudi Arabia’s turn to pitch, and the kingdom’s airstrikes in Yemen have initiated what could be a dramatic turn of events. For its closest client state, where Saudi Arabia goes, Pakistan follows with blind obedience.
When Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif departed for Riyadh at the beginning of March, few eyebrows were raised in Pakistan. The Pakistani premier was simply going to meet the newly crowned king and catch up with old friends in the royal court. There were murmurs of Saudis wanting Pakistani help to control Iranian influence in the region, but the honorable prime minister played hard to get and gave a tenuous no to Pakistan’s patrons in Riyadh. After receiving a $1.5 billion “friendly grant” from Saudi Arabia at the beginning of his term, Sharif was playing hard to get. The prime minister managed to receive the $1.5 billion without ever publicly committing to Saudi’s regional interests.
The Qatari emir soon made his way to Islamabad, talking about billions of dollars of investments and boosting trade ties with Pakistan. As the emir departed, a tanker carrying Qatari liquefied natural gas (LNG), the first such shipment, arrived, signaling the beginning of a deal estimated to be worth $22 billion. With this deal, something was brewing, but it was hard to read the signals coming out of Islamabad.
It was only when the Saudis announced the formation of a coalition and the initiation of airstrikes in Yemen against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels that the pieces of the puzzle fell into place: Pakistan delayed making a decision and extracted a better deal from its patrons, and was now en route to getting embroiled in yet another regional conflict that would involve the extravagant use of proxies.
With a Pakistani delegation arriving in Riyadh on April 1, it was all but certain that a deal had been reached between the two countries. The Saudi news agency was the first to break the news, stating that a number of countries, including Pakistan, have “expressed desire to participate in the operation.” Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson, Tasnim Aslam, iterated that “the Saudi request to become part of its coalition against Yemeni rebels is currently being examined.” Sharif gave the knockout punch, telling participants at a high-level meeting in Islamabad that any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan. All three sources could have simply said that Pakistan will be handsomely paid for agreeing to join the Saudis and their allies in containing an Iranian threat in Yemen. Reports have already confirmed that Pakistan has provided naval support to the ongoing airstrikes in Yemen.
It was expected that the delegation would smooth over the details of the deal, agree upon the dollar amount, and dutifully dispatch an unknown number of forces to serve the Saudi monarchy. Pakistan’s nascent democracy and vocal media, however, created a hindrance for the government. Opposition parties in Pakistan demanded an All Parties Conference to discuss developments in Yemen, and the prime minister responded by calling for a joint session of Parliament to be held on April 6.
Such was the seriousness of the debate that Imran Khan’s political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, ended its months-long boycott of parliament. As parliament debates the country’s policy with regards to Yemen, the Iranian foreign minister is also expected to visit Islamabad next week. Ongoing developments have placed Sharif in a tough situation requiring him to find a way to fulfill Saudi requests while placating the opposition at home.
While Pakistan will have to take into account its own interests, the vocal debate within Pakistan will be used as a bargaining chip to extract more concessions and dollars from the Saudis. Ultimately, financial constraints and the need to keep its patrons happy will lead to Pakistan’s engagement in the conflict. How significant this contribution is remains to be seen, but one can expect naval resources, fighter jets, and some form of special operations contingent to join the coalition.
Inflows of billions of dollars, a preferential LNG deal with Qatar, and promises for further “friendly grants” will allow Sharif’s government to deliver on its promises of economic development. However, getting embroiled in a clash between two regional powers — Saudi Arabia and Iran — split between civilizational and sectarian lines, is bound to have dramatic near- and long-term challenges for Pakistan’s security.
With violence against Shiites and minorities already out of control in Pakistan, a policy decision to exchange forces for dollars will surely feed the flames that are ravaging the country. It will also lead to a response from Iran, which will surely reply in kind along their mutual Balochistan border, doing everything in its power to make Pakistan pay for its alliance with the Saudis. Sectarian militant organizations — both of the extremist Shiite and Sunni kind — will up the ante, risking the unraveling of hard-fought gains against militants in recent months.
At a time when internal issues are causing irreparable damage to Pakistan, the decision to join an anti-Iran alliance with Saudi Arabia is futile, as it will antagonize Iran, fuel sectarian conflict at home, and distract a military fighting a war on its western front. Alas, for Pakistan, it signals a continuation of past trends, where the country has sold its strategic interests to the highest bidder: like Pakistani pilots flying Saudi planes to repel Yemeni forces in 1969 or Gen. Zia ul-Haq taking billions of dollars in aid to help the mujahedeen forces against the Soviets in the 1980s. Sharif’s government is simply opening a new chapter in this established tradition.
It would be unfair to argue that Sharif — or the military — is in a position to deny the Saudis. Without financial independence, a nation cannot pursue an independent foreign policy. Given Pakistan’s consistent need for foreign funding to keep the economy afloat, it cannot say no to its patrons. This time around, it will be parliament and not a dictator making the decision. This is the only positive outcome from the situation.
The world’s attention has rightly been riveted on negotiations aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. If and when that deal is made final, America and the other major powers that worked on it — China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — should turn their attention to South Asia, a troubled region with growing nuclear risks of its own. Pakistan, with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, is unquestionably the biggest concern, one reinforced by several recent developments. Last week, Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, announced that he had approved a new deal to purchase eight diesel-electric submarines from China, which could be equipped with nuclear missiles, for an estimated $5 billion. Last month, Pakistan test-fired a ballistic missile that appears capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to any part of India. And a senior adviser, Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, reaffirmed Pakistan’s determination to continue developing short-range tactical nuclear weapons whose only purpose is use on the battlefield in a war against India. These investments reflect the Pakistani Army’s continuing obsession with India as the enemy, a rationale that allows the generals to maintain maximum power over the government and demand maximum national resources. Pakistan now has an arsenal of as many as 120 nuclear weapons and is expected to triple that in a decade. An increase of that size makes no sense, especially since India’s nuclear arsenal, estimated at about 110 weapons, is growing more slowly. The two countries have a troubled history, having fought four wars since independence in 1947, and deep animosities persist. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has made it clear that Pakistan can expect retaliation if Islamic militants carry out a terrorist attack in India, as happened with the 2008 bombing in Mumbai. But the latest major conflict was in 1999, and since then India, a vibrant democracy, has focused on becoming a regional economic and political power. At the same time, Pakistan has sunk deeper into chaos, threatened by economic collapse, the weakening of political institutions and, most of all, a Taliban insurgency that aims to bring down the state. Advanced military equipment — new submarines, the medium-range Shaheen-III missile with a reported range of up to 1,700 miles, short-range tactical nuclear weapons — are of little use in defending against such threats. The billions of dollars wasted on these systems would be better spent investing in health, education and jobs for Pakistan’s people. Even more troubling, the Pakistani Army has become increasingly dependent on the nuclear arsenal because Pakistan cannot match the size and sophistication of India’s conventional forces. Pakistan has left open the possibility that it could be the first to use nuclear weapons in a confrontation, even one that began with conventional arms. Adding short-range tactical nuclear weapons that can hit their targets quickly compounds the danger. Pakistan is hardly alone in its potential to cause regional instability. China, which considers Pakistan a close ally and India a potential threat, is continuing to build up its nuclear arsenal, now estimated at 250 weapons, while all three countries are moving ahead with plans to deploy nuclear weapons at sea in the Indian Ocean. This is not a situation that can be ignored by the major powers, however preoccupied they may be by the long negotiations with Iran.
“Since they’re at the summit they’ll certainly interact but currently no formal bilateral meeting (is) scheduled,” the official said Monday.
The confirmation follows comments Roberta Jackson, the State Department official leading efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, made last Friday indicating the two would likely run into each other at the summit.
“I think on the question of the interactions, clearly, clearly President Obama knew when he made the decision to go to the summit and he knew that Cuba had been invited to the summit…that there would be an interaction at the summit,” she said during a Brookings Institute event.
“The leaders are together a lot of the time. And so there will be an interaction with Raul Castro.”
Such a meeting would be the first between the two since Obama announced in December plans to thaw diplomatic relations with Cuba and move towards opening an embassy in Havana. The announcement was lauded by many in the U.S. as long overdue, but many Republicans have expressed fierce opposition to a move they say is premature and will only further entrench, rather than help overcome, Cuba’s long history of human rights abuses. Obama and Castro shook hands at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in December 2013, the last known public meeting of the two world leaders.
In an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman published this weekend, Obama defended the thaw as a “test” of a theory that thawing relations could produce better results than the prevailing policy toward Cuba, one made possible by the U.S.’ strength in the world.
“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” he said.
“You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so (there’s no reason not) to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies.”
Jackson said she didn’t know “exactly what kind” of an interaction Obama would have with Castro, but that it would be “useful” for the two to connect as the nations work to normalize relations.
“It’s useful obviously to be able to have that contact and move things along so that we can get things done and open embassies and move ahead with his relationship,” she said.
Obama administration and Cuban officials have met three times since that January announcement to work on restoring embassies.
The two-day summit, scheduled for April 10-11, is an opportunity for leaders from North, Central and South American nations to connect and discuss economic and humanitarian partnerships across the continent. Obama is scheduled to travel to Jamaica later this week to meet with leaders of Caribbean nations, before heading to Panama for the summit.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has directed militants operating in Jammu and Kashmir to direct their attacks on Indian security personnel and establishments, rather than civilian targets, Union Home Ministry officials said here on Monday.
“Internationally, there is a strong sentiment against civilian killings. As a conscious policy, the ISI has instructed them to attack security forces and not civilians,” a senior MHA official said.
Officials cited Monday’s attacks at Ashipora in Shopian district and Patan in Baramulla district in which three police personnel were killed and one was injured. The new strategy, which is expected to last through summer according to intelligence agencies, has caused a spurt in casualties among men in uniform, the official said.
Quoting intelligence inputs from last week, the official said the directive from Pakistan’s Army to terrorist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen comes in the wake of international pressure. Global powers have joined hands against terrorist violence aimed at innocent civilians, he said.
Another aspect of the ISI-backed militancy in J&K has been an increase in the frequency and severity of attacks, officials said. Two militants attacked an Army camp on the Jammu-Pathankot highway in Samba on March 21. However, the attack was foiled by security personnel who killed both the terrorists.
On March 20, two other militants of the same group had attacked a police station in Kathua district killing three security personnel, two civilians and injuring 11, including a DSP.
Dozens of students, university faculty and activists protested outside the abandoned Saudi embassy in Sana’a Monday morning. The protesters carried banners condemning the airstrikes in Yemen carried out by the Saudi-led coalition since March 26. The protesters demanded an end to the strikes and a return to negotiations. Demonstrators threw their shoes at the gates of the embassy to show their anger about the strikes, which have killed hundreds. Adel Al-Usaimi, a student at Sana’a University and one of the organizers of the protest, said that the group does not represent any political party, group or side. Those demonstrating, he said, are united around calling for an end to the strikes.
By Lal Khan
The Pakistani masses have reacted very negatively to the prospects of becoming an accomplice in the Saudi Monarchy’s brutal aggression against Yemen. This response has shocked Pakistan’s ruling elite, the state’s bosses, the media and the intelligentsia. Even some in the media have dared to reveal the vicious character of the despotic Saudi regime and its atrocious treatment of more than 2.5 million Pakistani immigrant workers banished into slavery and drudgery by these tyrannical monarchs
The hesitation, lack of any confidence, and hypocrisy of the rulers is pathetic. An official Press report stated that, “Pakistan called upon the United Nations, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the international community to play a constructive role in finding a political solution to the crisis in Yemen. An official statement from the PM House (Prime Minister’s Office) had said the meeting concluded that Pakistan remains firmly committed to supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia in accordance with the aspirations of the people of Pakistan. It was also emphasised in the meeting that Pakistan is committed to playing a meaningful role in resolving the deteriorating situation in the Middle East.”
What a laughable, pathetic and spineless response! What is said about consulting the ‘parliament’ and informing the people is a reeking cynical farce. These rulers themselves are mere timid puppets. Usually they are only informed about military operations and crucial foreign policy decisions after the fact by the top bosses of the state and their imperialist masters. These are the real people calling the shots.
Saudi Arabia’s influence in Pakistan
The influence of Saudi Arabia in Pakistan should not be underestimated. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was granted amnesty under pressure from the Saudi Monarchs and spent his years in exile after Musharraf’s coup in 1999 in Saudi Arabia. During Sharif’s time in Saudi Arabia he was a guest of the Royal family who were also his business partners. His return to the country and his road to power was paved by the Saudi Royals. On his coming to power in 2013 he was doled out a gift of $1.5 billion by the Saudi government. Despite his frequent visits and business deals with China, Turkey and Qatar, and his bondage with his American masters, he is still most indebted to the Saudi monarchy. At the same time, Saudi Arabia regularly provides free oil for Pakistan’s military and other ‘gifts’ on regular basis. With tanks, fighter planes and naval ships running on Saudi oil, it is not an option for the Pakistani ruling class to disobey their masters orders. Pakistan’s Mullahs and religious parties from Wahhabi sects also regularly receive large donations to run their madrassas and terrorist outfits. Saudi Arabia was the first country in the whole world to recognize the Taliban government in Afghanistan back in 1996.
Saudi Arabia has always been a bossy key player in Pakistani politics for a long time. Along with doling out large sums of money for the Army and the clerics, they have been instrumental in toppling unwanted governments and bringing their favourites to power. All of this was being done in cooperation with US Imperialism. But since the US-Saudi alliance has begun to crack, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Pakistani ruling class to serve two masters at the same time.
For the working masses, this Saudi patronage for the right wing parties and the ruling class of Pakistan has always been presented as a kindness from their religious brothers in the “holy land”. But those Pakistanis who work in this “holy land” know the disgusting truth; that for the Saudi rulers they are merely considered slaves and untouchables. They can never attain a Saudi nationality and always need a Saudi citizen’s approval to live or do any business in the country. The Saudi regime’s contemptuous attitude towards Pakistanis is laid bare by the fact that no Pakistani under the age of 40 is allowed to perform Umra - a form of pilgrimage of the holy Kaaba - in all other months than the the month of the Hajj. Only Pakistani Muslims are subjected to this prohibition. Millions of Pakistanis, mainly from the petit bourgeoisie, visit Mecca and Medina for Hajj every year. This is a huge source of income for the Saudi regime.
Why is Saudi Arabia attacking Yemen?
On the other hand the Saudi Army, which is the fourth most costly in the world, has never gone to war. When the Saudis moved to crush the revolution in Bahrain in 2011, they relied heavily on Pakistani soldiers and mercenaries. The Saudis have also, allegedly, recently called for the Pakistani army to deploy 30,000 troops on the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Syria to defend the House of Saud against an impending attack by the ISIL. It is clear that the kingdom does not trust its own forces that could just as well turn their expensive arms against the Royalty itself. It shows the intrinsic weakness of this despotic regime and the fears of the ruling elite.
Saudi Arabian fighter aircraft have been ferociously bombing targets across Yemen, killing hundreds if not thousands of civilians, including children. It is clear that this figure will dramatically rise as the targets of the attack are moving into the civilian populated areas in Sana’a and in the northern Houthi villages which are expected to be heavily bombed. Refugee camps, factories and congested populated civilian areas are being bombed. The infrastructure, whole towns and cities are being destroyed and turned into ruins. Along with the ‘holy’ alliance of the Arab states, Israel has also supported the bombings. This reveals the decline of the system. These events are now exposing the farce of Saudi foreign policy towards Israel, the disingenuous anti-Israel rhetoric, and the hollow slogans of Palestinian freedom. It shows the class unity of the rulers of repressive regimes and why workers from all religions and nationalities should come together and fight against this cruel system.
Yet again, Yemen, which is the poorest Arab country, has become a target for savage attacks by the Saudi regime and its Arab and non-Arab allies.
The burgeoning domestic crisis, Saudi Arabia’s waning hegemony in the region and the rising desperation of the reactionary Al Saud family, with its growing internal conflicts, has brought desperation to the present clique that came to power along with the new King, Salman. His thirty-year-old son, Mohammad, who has been appointed the new defence minister, is a bully gone berserk. In reality they are trying to protect the Saudi ruling class and its imperialist designs in the Middle East. The Saudis could not accept the disintegration of Yemen and it falling into the hands of Iranian backed forces on its southern borders. Since the Iraq war, Iran and to a minor extent Qatar have developed into the biggest threat to the supremacy of Saudi Arabia in the region. Turkey is also expanding its influence by supporting IS in Iraq and Syria and other proxies in the region.
This conflict has exacerbated tensions and bloody conflicts between Saudi and Iranian proxies in the region in which sectarian hatred is being imposed by the warring mercenaries. The Iranian regime has not only been supporting clerics and sectarian terrorist outfits in Pakistan, but in many other countries in the region as well. Reactionary Shia clerics and religious parties are heavily funded across the Middle East by the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime also attempted to divert the revolutionary movement in Bahrain on sectarian lines. This movement was a threat to both Saudi and Iranian interests, and both regimes tried to crush it in their own way. Similarly, the Iranian regime tried to intervene in other movements of the Arab revolution and impose their own narrow agenda. The collapse of Mubarak in Egypt and the temporary retreat of the Arab revolutionary upheaval provided them with an opportunity to step up their intervention in the region. Because of the internal crisis of the Iranian State and decaying economy, they use the threat of external enemies to prop up their rule at home.
In these circumstances, the Iranian mullah regime used the rise of the IS to rally sectarian support. Similarly, Saudi aggression in Yemen will provide them with more excuses for spreading their influence. The regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran has been used by both regimes for this purpose. But the sectarianism they have spawned has not been able to find fertile ground to spread on a mass scale. In fact, the masses are becoming wary of the situation of which they are the victims. Although the Arab revolution has receded without achieving its ultimate goals, the possibility of sharp swings in public opinion is implicit in the situation.
The Pakistani army for hire
The intervention of Pakistan’s military in the Middle East is not a new phenomenon. They have been used as mercenaries by the reactionary and despotic regimes of the Middle East for decades. One of the most gruesome episodes was the massacre of the Palestinians in Jordan in 1970 to protect the monarchy there. From 1967 to 1970, Brigadier Muhammad Zia ul Haq was stationed in Jordan in Official Military Capacity to protect the Hashemite Kingdom. On September 15, 1970, King Hussein declared martial law in Jordan to crush a revolutionary uprising of the Palestinians. The next day, Jordanian tanks of the 60th Armoured Brigade attacked the headquarters of Palestinian organizations in Amman while the army also attacked camps in Irbid, Salt, Sweileh, Baq’aa, Wehdat and Zarqa. Then the head of the Pakistani training mission to Jordan, Brigadier Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (later Chief of Army Staff and President of Pakistan), took command of the 2nd division. King Hussain took this extraordinary step because he was terrified that the Jordanian generals would refuse to massacre fellow Palestinians and could turn their guns against him. The American backed Jordanian army shelled the PLO headquarters in Amman and battled with Palestinian guerrillas in the narrow streets of the capital. Yasir Arafat had later claimed that the Jordanian and Pakistani troops killed between 10,000 and 25,000 Palestinians.
The intensity of the bloodletting by Zia ul Haq and King Hussain was such that one of the founder fathers of Israel, Moshe Dayan, cynically remarked:“King Hussein, with help from Zia-ul-Haq of the Pakistani army, sent in his Bedouin army on 27 September to clear out the Palestinian bases in Jordan. Hussein killed more Palestinians in eleven days than Israel could kill in twenty years.” Also, a year later, they participated in the bloody civil war and massacres in East Bengal. Again, in the 1980’s, Zia ul Haq, who was now the head of state, rented the Pakistani military institutions to American Imperialism and forged the “dollar jihad” to overthrow the Afghan revolution of 1978.
A state of crisis
However, any direct intervention of the Pakistani troops in this Saudi aggression against Yemen will be much more dangerous. This intervention would come back to bite the ruling classes and the state. It could severely harm Pakistan’s relationship with Iran and incite protest by the masses. The indecisiveness of the ruling elite exposes their fear and cowardice. Currently, the Pakistani State is quite different to what it was in the 1970s or 1980s. It is now at war with itself. A cruel operation is being carried out in Baluchistan on a vast scale in which hundreds of Baluchi militants have been killed and their mutilated bodies thrown in streets. Helicopter gunships are used to annihilate whole villages and towns in which women and children are mercilessly killed.
A so called operation against the Taliban is also being carried out in tribal regions along the Afghan border. In this fake operation, many ordinary Pashtoons are killed on the pretext of killing Taliban while real terrorists are protected by the State and its army. In Karachi, the Army is also involved in a mutually destructive conflict between the neo-fascist MQM, and Taliban terrorists and other reactionary forces.
On the eastern border, skirmishes with the Indian army are a regular occurrence. Continuous attempts are made to smuggle terrorists into Indian held Kashmir and other parts of India. The ruling class on both sides never wants to give anything up. They whip up hatred against each other in order to continue their oppressive rule at home and to justify the buildup of expensive nuclear arsenals at the expense of endless poverty and misery.
Suicide bombs, lynching by mobs and other terrorist activities in which the warring factions of the Pakistani state is involved have become a normality. The Pakistani State always relies on sectarian hatred to continue its oppression of the working masses. Saudi and Iranian Riyals for clerics and terrorist outfits are considered as donations from holy lands by the ruling class. This sectarian hatred found fertile ground amongst some layers of the middle-class in the 1980s after the defeat of the revolution. The Neo-fascist MQM in Karachi was also built in those times to divide the proletarians of Karachi on communal lines. But now, it is becoming increasingly difficult for reactionary outfits to appeal to these layers and find mass following. All attempts to organize mass marches by religious alliances, supported by secret agencies and the bourgeois media, end up as a gathering of a few hundred people. Most of these people are paid to attend or are promised benefits and perks.
The state, the army and the various secret agencies are all in a state of crisis, and the different factions within them are in open war with each other. The army has its hands in everything from real estate development to the drug trade. The distribution of heroin and other drugs from Afghanistan’s opium fields to the Arabian Sea and from there to parts of Europe and Africa is making an estimated 100 billion dollars per year. This is the main source of income for many in the ruling circles including Parliamentarians, Generals, Judges and top bureaucrats.
All of this leads to is more bloodletting as the warring factions of the state clash. At the same time, sectarianism is destabilising the army itself. If Pakistan is thrown into the Yemeni conflict this problem will get worse. A sectarian conflict can have a devastating effect on the already decaying and demoralised army. It could lead to the destabilisation of the state itself.
Pakistani society is at an impasse. Unemployment exists on a massive scale. Street crimes, prostitution, drug addiction and general decay is on the rise. All of this provides breeding ground for reactionary and terrorist outfits. Although reactionary state sponsored groups have not been able to gain mass support, lynch mobs killing people on religious grounds are normal occurrences. A conflict in Yemen could lead to further disintegration and chaos.
However, the Pakistani working class has a long history of struggle. Pakistani workers also have a strong bond to Yemeni workers and workers in other gulf states. However much the ruling class tries to divide the working class, class solidarity will always emerge eventually.
In the past, Baluchi student leaders defied the attempts by the Pakistani state to send Baluchis to Oman and Bahrain as mercenaries. Those student leaders had to pay for this with their lives. The reactionary acts of ruling classes of the Middle East and Pakistan can lead to a revolutionary response from the working class and revolutionary youth. Class solidarity is the only way out of this mayhem.
From the shores of the Mediterranean to the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East is descending into bloody chaos and barbarism. This is the only outcome under capitalism. However, the Arab revolution proved that once the masses move all the reactionaries can be easily swept aside. Without the overthrow of the reactionary regimes, from the Israeli Zionists to the Saudi despotic monarchy, and from the Mullahcracy in Iran to the rotten Pakistani ruling elite, no way out is possible. Without a socialist revolution, the crisis in the middle east will not be resolved. Such is the intensity of the capitalist crisis that a revolutionary transformation in any one country can, and must, quickly spread throughout the entire region.
By Mahendra Ved
Pakistan is all set to join the conflict in Yemen on the side of the Saudi Arabia-led Arab combine. As has happened during its past military ventures abroad, the political leadership under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the military establishment appear to be on the same page on this issue.
The government is going through the motions of consultations with the military brass and seeking to evolve a consensus on the role Pakistan should play. One of the measures is convening of parliament’s joint session. A delegation led by the defence minister visited Riyadh and Nawaz Sharif paid a quick visit to Turkey for consultations before that.
But the speed and alacrity with which the prime minister publicly announced ‘cooperation’, including military help, to the Saudis has left little doubt of the intentions.
This has led to a strong perception that Pakistan has already committed to making a military contribution to the Saudi-led coalition presently bombing the Houthis in Yemen that may be followed by a land invasion. It is apprehended that both, Pakistan Air Force and later, to secure a decisive military victory, the land forces may be committed. Of the entire coalition that is emerging against the Houthis, the Zaidy Shia rebels, Pakistan and Egypt are the only two that can provide foot soldiers.
However, the public opinion remains opposed to any direct intervention, going by the English language media. As events evolve, the story could be different when it comes to the conservative classes who subscribe to Urdu and Punjabi media. They are likely to be supportive of a move that helps Saudi Arabia, the religious and spiritual home of Islam.
As fast as Nawaz Sharif was his arch critic and opposition leader Imran Khan, who said that Pakistan should be a ‘facilitator’ and should not be a ‘participant’ in the conflict. After the initial warning, however, he is likely to decide the course of action from the way the military establishment looks at the issue.
Needless to say, the Islamist parties and Sharif’s own Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) will be supportive of the country’s military involvement. They are essentially Sunni and the Yemen conflict situation is seen as a Sunni-Shia dispute.
How the Pakistan Army will view the issue is still not clear. The Yemen crisis comes when the Pakistan Army under Gen. Raheel Sharif is deeply involved in Zarb-e-Azb, fighting the Pushtun rebels in the tribal no-man’s land bordering Afghanistan for the past nine months, with no end in sight. It has been an expensive campaign. It has lost personnel, committed there in large numbers. It is also engaged in the safety, if not rehabilitation, of the large number of families displaced by this operation.
One way of looking at the army would be that it is already stretched fully and may not want to add more to the plate. But, going to Yemen is an opportunity to flex its muscles internationally, as it has done in the past.
Pakistan has always taken such opportunities and has got committed militarily at Saudi Arabia’s behest. Gen. Ziaul Haq had sent 20,000 army combatants to Saudi Arabia after there was an attack on the holy shrines in the 1980s. Saudi political support and funds played a big role in Pakistan getting involved in Afghanistan to fight the Moscow-backed government in Kabul during that decade.
The Yemen conflict comes when the US-led forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan and the Pakistan Army has to decide its strategy towards a relatively more vulnerable Kabul, and commit forces along the volatile border.
The two Sharifs are bound to work in tandem and together because the political and military interests converge in playing a role in the Yemen conflict.
Nawaz Sharif has been very close to the Saudi royalty that helped him out of Pakistan after he was removed by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. He and his family were hosted for eight years and his return home was also facilitated by Riyadh. The Saudi kingdom has helped with money grants since Nawaz took office in 2013. Personally, he may think this is his pay-back time. His political interest lies in giving the best he can to Riyadh.
Riyadh has economically bolstered each regime in Pakistan and drawn benefit from it, since Pakistan is the biggest among the Muslim nations. Riyadh has also always played a role in Pakistan’s internal affairs, choosing its favourites among the political and military leaders. Critics say Nawaz is badly compromised with the Saudis who have succeeded in getting Islamabad to toe its line on West Asia, in dealing with Syria in particular.
This is a unique conflict for Saudi Arabia and that is one reason why it needs Pakistan. This is the first military campaign in which Riyadh is involved directly in its own territory. All past involvements have been through proxies and in terms of money. The Houthis, living in mountainous terrain, are known to be good fighters.
Riyadh has got to be seen as winning decisively – else it could lose credibility and clout among the Arab nations, and generally among Muslim nations where it has an overwhelming presence.
Its claim that Iran is supporting the Houthis has been debunked by Tehran. Actually the Houthis Shias have little in common with the Shias of Iran. On the other hand, Iran has scored a major point with the international community by striking a deal with the US and the major powers over its nuclear programme. This is a deal that the two US allies in the region, Saudi Arabia, as also Israel, have severely opposed.
Much as Nawaz may wish and the army may want, it is not an easy decision for Pakistan. For one, it could exacerbate the internal situation. The biggest threat is sectarian Sunni-Shia violence. If the country gets committed militarily in Yemen fighting the Shias, the Sunni militants like Sipah-e-Sahaba and many others are bound to find justification in attacking the Shias. Already the country has witnessed attacks on Shia places of worship, the imambargahs in Peshawar, Shikarpur and other places. This is likely to increase.
The Yemen conflict and the Saudi ‘request’ for cooperation have come when there is already some criticism of Saudis because of their larger-than-life involvement in Pakistan’s internal affairs.
Madrassas funded by Saudi government and charity organizations are seen as the breeding ground for militants that Pakistan uses against India and Afghanistan, and even for ‘exports’ to Al Qaida and now ISIS operations.
Following public criticism by two federal ministers, the Saudi embassy in Islamabad, in an unprecedented denial, insisted that it funded madrassas only through the Pakistani government and its official channels. This got contradicted as the Pakistan Foreign Office has no role in madrassa funding. As for the interior ministry, the report of Saudi money into madrassa funding has come from the police chiefs of the provinces.
The sentiment among sections of the intelligentsia is that Yemen is “not our war”. But Pakistan’s record of military involvement tells a different story.
Speaking the truth publicly has value even if it is rejected. Christianity is founded upon this principle. In the case of blasphemy laws in Pakistan speaking about religious freedom can be fatal but the truth remains the truth even in the face of persecution. —Ed.
(VaticanRadio) – Over half a million people have signed a petition started by a British woman to save Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan for alleged blasphemy.
In an online petition, university student Emily Clarke says Asia Bibi, condemned to death in November 2010, was alleged to have made disparaging comments about Islam after co-workers objected to her drinking out of their water glasses because of her Christian faith.
Following a recent surge in support, at least 572,000 people have signed her petition, addressed to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary John Hammond.
In an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Emily Clarke has said “The latest increase is incredible – and shows that people have not forgotten Asia Bibi even though she was sentenced to death over four years ago, for a crime she steadfastly denies.
“People who stand up for Asia Bibi in Pakistan put their lives at risk. In 2011 two politicians were killed for speaking out against Pakistan’s barbaric blasphemy laws.”
The two politicians were Salman Tazeer, the governor of the Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the national minorities’ minister who were both shot dead because of their support for Asia Bibi.
Emily Clarke went on to add “This makes it more important than ever that the international community stands together to show our support for Asia and for the people putting their lives at risk to save her.”
Earlier, a million people signed a petition started by Clarke calling on governments around the world to stand up for Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan.
The verdict was eventually overturned and she was reunited with her husband and children.
The anti-encroachments drive of the PTI government seems a futile exercise as soon after bulldozing the road side projections and walls, the vendors have started re-occupying the places evacuated by town administrators in various parts of the city due to delaying the construction work.
During a visit to the interior city on Sunday, this scribe witnessed heavy encroachments in Hashnagri and Faqeer Abad areas, while these areas have been cleared by the government upon the directives of Deputy Commissioner. Several parts of the city like Ganta Ghar and Chowk Yadgar were cleared in the anti-encroachment drive, however, these areas were re-occupied by the shopkeepers.
The government has pledged to construct and renovate foot-paths after evacuating it from the encroachments, however, despite passing of two months no work has started on footpaths while the debris remained on roadside further creating dust and pollution in the city. When contacted administrator of Peshawar Zafar Ali Khan, he said that they are keen observer and those who are re-occupying the places will be kicked out back from the city. However, he said that now they are working to remove roadside pole of electricity and telephone.
He added that PC-1 for roadside foot-paths and other constructions has been approved while tenders have been given in media but the starting of reconstructing work will take some time due to official hindrances. He also assured that those shops bulldozed by the administration will not be restored, however, on temporary basis vendors are busy in their business but their encroachments will be removed soon in another round of operation. The shopkeepers said they removed their encroachments upon the directives of the government but work on removing of debris from roadside and constructing of roadside foot paths was not started to see any beautification and change in the city. They said that in the past such like operations were launched by government but the decision was not fully implemented. The areas likes Ashraf road, Ganta Ghar, Qissa Khwani and Khyber Bazaar are still under the control of the vendors. It is pertinent to mention here that people from the far flung areas of the province are frequently visiting the metropolitan city to judge the developmental projects and so-called change slogans of the government, however, when they reach the city, they look disappointed over the alleged poor performance of the government.
Civil society in Lahore has staged a protest while holding placards against sending army to Yemen today (Monday), Dunya News reported.
Large number of people participated in protesting against the government for dispatching army to Yemen at Charing Cross in Lahore.
The protesters urged the government not to become part of any international fight and that the country should focus on its own crisis.
Large number of people participated in protesting against the government for dispatching army to Yemen at Charing Cross in Lahore.
The protesters urged the government not to become part of any international fight and that the country should focus on its own crisis.