Kenneth Roth is a man who talks truth to power. The Human Rights Watch chief outdid himself this week. If Saudi Arabia is so concerned about state-sponsored terrorism in its backyard, he intimated, it would do well to stop fixating on Qatar and instead look at its own military intervention in Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest nation.
Or words to that effect.
We applaud Roth. We also understand the dynamic at play when organisations like HRW issue such statements. Meaning that they are not responsible for policymaking, per se, at either the national or international level. But they are gradually replacing the role of traditional lobby groups that rely on partisan support. For this reason — words such as spoken by Roth are heard loud and clear.
Yemen is home to 27 million people. The Riyadh-led military intervention has left 3 million internally displaced and 10,000 dead. In addition, 17 million have access to barely sufficient food to ensure sustenance; 7 million suffer chronic hunger; and a staggering 10 million children have no kind of access to basic medical care, clean drinking water, sanitation and education. According to those who know — Yemen is now facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
If Qatar sponsors terrorism, then what should we call the effects of the Saudi-led war?
Pakistan, for its p art, is regularly on hand to shed crocodile tears for the Palestinians, with the odd few harsh words for Israel; a shortcut to reconsolidating its imagined importance within the Muslim world that challenges not the status quo. We still trade with the US, the Jewish state’s largest financial contributor, and take its aid. All dressed up in the latest shade of realpolitik. Sadly, Pakistan is not alone in this.
But here’s where Pakistan can make a meaningful albeit symbolic difference.
Two words: Saudi Arabia.
The time has come for our establishment to stop eyeing the Kingdom as time-share arrangement to sit out disgraced and disqualified exile conditions. Given Riyadh’s current military aggression in Yemen, the ongoing belligerence towards Qatar and the ever-present behind-the-scenes manoeuvring against Iran – Islamabad should seriously rethink its position on the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance, including the commander-in-chief role of Gen Raheel.
This is unlikely to happen. Given that money talks in this rich man’s world. Which casts Pakistan as the perpetual listener and bidder.
Thus responsibility predictably falls on the shoulders of civil society here to build strong linkages to the anti-Saudi activism found across the Muslim world. In this current climate of accelerated globalisation — it is no longer sufficient to pay vocal tokenism to the Palestinian issue as evidence of a one-size-fits-all liberalism. Nevertheless, this could include taking a leaf out of the Palestinian-led Boycott Divest Sanction initiative. Though this would mean that Pakistan’s elite would be encouraged to give up American imports — from expensive foodstuffs, to clothing to cars to education systems — or perhaps Saudi Islamic Banking schemes.