The conflict in Yemen has escalated ferociously in the past two-three months and has had a devastating impact on the already-fragile country. The battle, which has raged ever since 2004, is being led by Northern Yemenis known as Houthis and the Yemeni government, led by beleaguered President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. This Middle Eastern conflagration has roped in many countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan. Let us inspect this issue further in a bid to understand the complicated situation of Yemen:-
A brief background of the Houthis
Houthis are northern Yemeni Shia Zaidi Muslims. Zaidi Muslims are relatively closer to Sunni Muslims in the sense that they also recognize the three Islamic caliphs and do not believe in the concept of Imam’s infallibility. The Houthis take their name from Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi. This man led a rebellion in 2004 to preserve, protect and promote Zaidi Mulsim cultural and religious traditions that according to their perception were bring encroached. Houthi was assassinated by the Yemeni military after which his family took charge of his movement, carrying it forward with vigor and determination. After five more rebellions, in 2010 a deal was struck between the Houthis and the government to uphold peace.
When the situation escalated
The situation worsened and deteriorated rapidly when Houthi forces in February 2015 placed key figures, including President Hadi himself under house arrest. The President fled from capital city Sana’a and sought refuge in the southern province of Arden, after being forced to resign. President Hadi always had the support of Sunni Southerners of Yemen who recognized Hadi as their legitimate leader and refused to accept a forced resignation of their leader. Clashes erupted between both sides as international forces also sided with President Hadi and refused to recognize the struggle of Houthi rebels. As the Houthi rebels were advancing in on President Hadi’s headquarters in Aden, Hadi appealed to Saudi Arabia for intervention in his favor. The Saudi Kingdom at once responded and formed a coalition of forces comprising of Jordan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morroco. Much efforts have been made to include Pakistan as a member of the coalition to advance into Yemen in support of President Hadi but the nuclear armed Islamic Republic has not taken a decision as of yet. Saudi Arabia as well as other Arab Gulf States have accused Iran of playing a hand in funding the Houthi rebels in Yemen to widen its influence in the Arabian Peninsula.
Where does Pakistan stand in all of this?
Pakistan’s borders are not aligned with Yemen neither does the Islamic Republic have any cooperation of note with Yemen. As such, Pakistan does not need to intervene in the Yemeni conflict in favor of any side. However, Pakistan enjoys brotherly relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since a multitude of decades. Also, frosty ties with Saudi Arabia can have repercussions for Pakistan with regard to oil trade as well as traditional economic and military relations.
Yet, if Pakistan decides to intervene militarily and send its forces in Yemen to combat the Houthi rebels, this could also not bode well for the country. Pakistan has a sizable Shiite population, who will definitely be enraged and disturbed at their country’s joining Saudi led coalition in Yemen conflict. Pakistan’s economy is in shambles and the worsening law and order situation in the country is due to the Islamist militancy in the country. Further involvement in Yemen’s internal conflict can further ignite the sectarian sentiments in segments of population in Pakistan and cause further turmoil. The best course of action would be to support Saudi Arabia diplomatically and at the same time, refrain from sending the armed forces to the battle zone.
Pakistan faces a tricky situation with much on stake. The country’s active, on-ground involvement in Yemen conflict could cause a fallout with neighboring Iran and refusing the Saudi invite to involve in the conflict militarily would negatively affect the precious relations with Saudi Arabia. It is upon the Pakistani leadership to take a middle path without siding any of the two rival states competing for influence in the Middle East region.