It maybe time for the House of Sharif to pay back the House of Saud, but Pakistanis are certainly not falling prey to Raiwind’s spin that there is a danger to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity/existence or that the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina are under any form of threat. God forbid, should any of these were to ever actually happen; the entire Pakistani nation would rise to defend our Saudi brothers.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may have acted unwisely if he made certain heavy commitments to the Saudi royal family on the assumption that by playing on Pakistanis’ emotions, he would be blindly empowered to place the full potential of Pakistan’s armed forces at the disposal of the ten-nation Saudi-led coalition against Yemen. He now finds himself in a fix being unable to get a blanket public and parliamentary approval for his alleged understanding with the Saudi royal family.

Does the mysterious Saudi gift of $1.5bn to Pakistan after Nawaz Sharif came to power in 2013 have any connection with Saudi’s demand for Pakistan’s armed forces’ deployment on Yemen border? Despite the many contradictory statements by government’s spin masters to hush up the matter, Pakistanis remain suspicious about the real utilisation of this gift. Hiding the truth or misguiding their own people has always remained the hallmark of successive civilian and military rulers in Pakistan.

That the public sentiment is vehemently opposed to any form of intervention in Yemen conflict is evident from print media editorials, heated debates by security experts and analysts in electronic media, views of common masses and not to forget our extremely vibrant social media.

The ongoing debate in parliament’s joint session, too, reflects the nation’s thinking and conviction in this respect. Our love for Saudi Arabia notwithstanding, not one lawmaker supported the dispatch of Pakistani combat troops, aircraft or naval warships in support of the Saudi-led coalition forces. The ruling political elite therefore cannot ignore and act against strong public opinion that cautions Raiwind to ensure that the country’s national interests should not be compromised for any other political or personal consideration.

While Pakistan fights its own war of survival with its army engaged on multiple fronts, it would be foolhardy on part of the country’s leadership if our armed forces were pushed into another quagmire. Pakistan Army cannot lose focus on its ongoing decisive Operation Zarb-e-Azb against anti-state militant groups. After our bitter experiences as a frontline state in the Afghan jihad and the thirteen years old unending war on terror, the lesson of history is crystal clear. Let us not repeat the past blunders of fighting others’ wars and getting ruined in the process.

Pakistan is neither a member of the Arab League (AL) nor the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and cannot afford to take sides in a regional conflict that could have grave implications for its own internal security. As a responsible nuclear power and member of international community and one which is committed to world peace, Pakistan cannot afford to be a part of aggression against Yemen; a smaller, weaker and impoverished Muslim country with which Pakistan has no enmity.

One can afford to annoy a friend but certainly cannot antagonise or lose an immediate neighbour. While Arab/GCC countries maintain traditional and historical enmity with Iran, Pakistan on the other hand cannot become a party to any conflict that may be considered damaging to Iranian interests in the region.

Iran, too, has a responsibility not to create hostile conditions by arming Houthi rebels that not only destabilise Saudi Arabia’s borders with Yemen but also risk possible escalation in regional tensions. Reports of Iranian navy deployment off Aden signal Iran’s intentions to enter the conflict.

Pakistanis have not forgotten Iranian backing under the late Shah of Iran in our 1965/71 wars with India as well as active military support to quell the Afghan/USSR supported insurgency in Balochistan in early seventies. Pakistan needs to work closely with Iran to eliminate militant groups that commit acts of terrorism across Pak-Iran border and threaten peace in Balochistan.

Without Iranian support, durable peace cannot be achieved in Afghanistan. With western sanctions likely to be lifted in wake of Iran’s nuclear deal with P5+1 countries, the prospects of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project finally becoming a reality look bright. Iran, too, needs to reciprocate vis a vis Pakistan’s sensitivities and not let our security interests be undermined due to its increasing defence cooperation with India in recent years.

Can Pakistan ever think of destabilising any of our Islamic brothers? Has Pakistan not welcomed royal families of friendly Gulf states with open arms to enjoy hunting trips in various parts of Pakistan? Pakistanis acknowledge that a bulk of our foreign exchange remittances come from Gulf states. But they also ask why certain friendly Gulf countries remained silent spectators and did not use their influence to pressurise Taliban groups with known ideological linkages with such Muslim countries, to renounce militancy and stop terrorist activities against our state.

The time has come when Pakistan’s political and military leadership must prevail upon such GCC sheikhdoms as well as Iran to also stop funding and supporting their militant proxies in Pakistan that kindled the flames of sectarianism in our society.

As part of all weather Pak-Saudi defence cooperation, around 1000 Pakistani armed forces personnel including military trainers and advisors are reportedly already placed in support of the kingdom’s armed forces. Around 300 Pak Army troops are engaged in joint military exercises AL SAMSAAN 5 with Saudi armed forces as a regular annual feature to boost mutual combat training and efficiency.

Recent flurry of diplomatic efforts including Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with Turkish President Erdogan, Egypt’s defence minister and Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Pakistan are welcome steps to diffuse the Yemen crisis. Nawaz Sharif should emulate President Erdogan’s visit to meet top Iranian leadership.

A peaceful and stable Yemen would not pose any potential threat to Saudi Arabia’s security. Pakistan should make efforts with friendly Muslim countries like Turkey, Iran, Malaysia and Indonesia to convene an emergent OIC summit for an end to coalition airstrikes and ceasefire in strife-torn Yemen, provision of urgent humanitarian assistance and airlift and an Islamic peacekeeping force to stabilise Yemen.

If OIC option is not forthcoming, then leading Islamic countries should work for a UN intervention to restore order in Yemen. Despite our constraints, Pakistanis would fully support deployment of a Pakistan Army contingent in Yemen under the UN peacekeeping mandate as Pakistan enjoys global recognition for being a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations around the world for over fifty years. Pakistan’s role should be that of a fire extinguisher and not of someone who adds fuel to the fire in Yemen.