Keeping up its tradition of taking decisions through consensus and keeping all the stakeholders in the loop, the PML-N government has sought the guidance of the parliament on the Saudi request for military assistance in its campaign against Yemen. It is for the first time that such a sensitive issue has been presented in the parliament for a debate, although the government had the power and authority to decide the issue on its own.  The Prime Minister and the military leaders have been deliberating on the issue in the light of the new developments and have already agreed in principle to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Saud Kingdom at all costs if it was threatened at any stage of the conflict, without being part of the coalition attacking targets in Yemen. However a well-deliberated decision was also made for giving top priority to the resolution of the conflict through peaceful means and playing a mediatory role in conjunction with other Muslim countries.

The Prime Minister has already visited Turkey and both the countries are in agreement in regards to the position taken by Pakistan and have launched a joint mission to initiate diplomatic efforts for a negotiated settlement of the dispute. Turkish President has already visited Iran and both the countries have stressed the need for peaceful settlement of the conflict. Iranian foreign minister and Egyptian Defence minister are also scheduled to visit Pakistan in this regard. In the meantime the Prime Minister reportedly is also in contact with other governments and may visit some Muslim capitals to seek their support for the peace mission. From these efforts it is quite evident that Pakistan is determined to finding ways and means to arrest the raging storm in Yemen without becoming a party to it, while remaining firm on its resolve to stand by a friend like Saudi Arabia if faced with threat to its territorial integrity. It is indeed a commendable commencement of international diplomacy by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister addressing the parliament categorically stated that the government needed the guidance of the august house for firming up its response to the Saudi request and the decision made by it would be implemented in letter and spirit, dispelling the impression that the government had already taken the decision and convening session of the parliament was only an eye wash. From the debate that has been going on in the parliament what can be safely inferred is that the parliament is almost agreeable on extending all possible help to Saudi Arabia for defending her territorial integrity without becoming part of the military offensive in Yemen. The parliament feels that Pakistan should strive for reconciliation between the hostile parties with the help of other Muslim nations and desires that Pakistan should avoid involvement in the Yemen conflict and be mindful of its national interest before taking any decision. This almost reflects the stated position of the government and the endorsement of the efforts that it is making to find a peaceful solution to the Yemen conundrum.

Speaking about national interests, there are no two opinions about the fact that Pakistan’s strategic and economic interests are inextricably linked with the Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries where millions of Pakistanis are working and are a major source of the foreign remittances which are backbone of the Pakistan economy. Out of the US$ 15 billion remitted by the overseas Pakistanis during 2013-14, the remittances from Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries amounted to US$ 7.8 billion, with Saudi share of US$ 4.7 billion which is almost 33% of the total remittances. Then there are considerations with regards to the special friendship that exists between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and the generous assistance given by the former to the latter in times of distress. During the debate some of the parliamentarians insisted on specific details of the Saudi request and the strategy being contemplated by the government. The Prime Minister rightly said that those details could only be made available off camera and not in an open debate due to the sensitivities attached to the subject. He was right on the money as such revelations some times are not in the national interest and may not go well with the friendly countries.

The government has sought broad policy guidelines and therefore the parliament is supposed to play its role with utmost responsibility taking cognizance of the sensitivities involved. It is hoped that the parliament while providing its input on the issue would take all the foregoing factors into consideration. If the parliament finally gives the go ahead for sending troops to Saudi Arabia on a defensive mission, it would not be right to equate with the decision of a dictator to join war on terror under coercion from US, as being insinuated by certain circles. It would be a decision of a democratically elected parliament and government, enjoying unanimous national ownership.

During the debate some of the parliamentarians while dwelling on the nature of the conflict in Yemen made certain observations contrary to the ground realities that need to be put in proper perspective. It was said that the conflict in Yemen was intra-tribal strife with no international fall out. Some members thought that the conflict had a sectarian hue. The reality is that since 1990 when Yemen reunited, Iran has been inciting and supporting the Houthis against the central government. In 2009 the Houthis penetrated into Jizan province of Saudi Arabia and had to be bombed out. Even US conducted 28 raids against Al Qaida operatives. Al Qaida is also involved in the present conflict and presence of IS has also been noticed in Yemen which aims at toppling governments in all Muslim countries to establish Caliphate. The situation in the Middle East including Yemen is a sequel to the ongoing tussle for influence among states and non-state actors with international repercussions. It is certainly not a tribal or sectarian conflict and is fraught with ominous portents for the countries of the region and beyond.

The conflict in Yemen is an intra-tribal war with a sectarian hue. Saudi Arabia was the aggressor and Pakistan instead of sending troops should play the role of a mediator. Pakistani involvement would strain our relations with Iran and besides having an internal impact it would also undermine our strategic and geo-political interests. Pakistan has already made the commitment in this regard and the debate was just an eye-wash. Pakistani troops will probably be invading Yemen territory before we realize it.