SALMAN MASOOD
The joint resolution of the Parliament was dubbed as historic and groundbreaking, representative of the collective will of the people. Without explicitly declining the Saudi demand of sending military troops, the resolution expressed Pakistani resolve to defend the “territorial integrity and sovereignty” of Saudi Arabia.
For the Saudis, it sounded like spineless dithering and doublespeak at a time when they have already taken up an extreme position. No wonder they were least pleased.
Diplomatic relations and foreign policies are not based on good will or honest intentions. They can also not be based on expectations and wishes of foreign states, no matter how cordial the bilateral relations might be. Hard-core geo-strategic realities and multiple, often competing, factors are the driving factors behind any country’s foreign policy. The concerns raised by the lawmakers during the five-day parliamentary debate include many that are legitimate.
For decades, Pakistan has remained a satellite state, subservient to several powerful countries. Proxy wars of varying stripes and colours have been fought here and will continue to be fought in the foreseeable future. There is a fatigue in the national psyche with the perpetual cycle of violence. The spectre of another war thrust upon the country, cloaked in sectarian colours, is a frightening prospect. The polemics over “our war” and “their war” haven’t died down yet. The opposition to jump into a new inferno is based on these past experiences.
Furthermore, Pakistan cannot afford to further antagonise its neighbouring countries. Three sides of the national border continue to simmer with tensions and minor military engagements. At the same time, Pakistan cannot alienate and isolate itself from the GCC countries due to the heavy economic linkages and interdependence. The cost of the repercussions, if Gulf states decide to flex their economic muscles, might be far greater than being initially anticipated and calculated. Can Pakistan shun the demands and wishes of the foreign countries that contribute heavily to the exchequer either in the form of aid or remittances? Chest thumping about sovereignty and national honour makes for good populist headlines, but might seem hollow when the economy is in a shambles, heavily dependent on foreign injections.
This is exactly what the UAE officials harped on when they scoffed at the Pakistani position. But this is also the point where the Saudi-led coalition has miscalculated its foreign policy position.
The expectation from the Pakistanis to play any kind of role in a frontal assault on the Yemeni soil when there is no direct threat to the holy mosques or even to Saudi regime is faulty, at best, and full of hubris, at worse. Already mired in a gruelling insurgency within our own territory, Pakistan cannot be expected to become a part of a conflict that does not figure in the immediate security calculus.
The Gulf monarchs cannot be expected to understand the dynamics of parliamentary process, democratic debate and any opposing dissenting voices as they are simply not tuned to such an environment.
Perhaps a small component of the failing has been on part of the Pakistani leadership as it has failed to fully articulate its position. It might be because some of the top politicians here have vast business interests in the Gulf. Except for Imran Khan, the two major political parties have major stakes in maintaining good relations with the GCC countries. There are aspects of domestic politics that clash with hard-core domestic and foreign interests. Pakistani leadership has, therefore, found it difficult to communicate to the Arab allies that there is no consensus within the country about joining the war.
Faced with mounting pressure and crass diplomatic tactics, some in the leadership might have initially found obfuscation and deliberate ambiguity useful. But this approach was bound to falter. That is why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to come out and issue a policy statement yesterday. There was no steep departure from an already stated position, but the attempt was to couch it in a more explanatory manner. “My government continues to follow the policy of fortifying and strengthening the bonds of friendship with the Gulf countries. There should be no doubt about our policy of solidarity with the GCC States,” Prime Minister Sharif said in his statement.
However, it won’t suffice. The Saudis’ disapproval will increase and its anger will mount unless there is a recalibration of Pakistani position. Therein lies the challenge for the Pakistani leadership. Already, the Saudis are whipping up their support base within the country. Six religious parties have called an emergency meeting on Wednesday, naming it as “Movement of Guarding Two Holy Mosques.” Soon, they will take to the streets. Tough days are ahead. The flames of war in the Gulf will not die down soon. It is a war that has just started.
–The writer is Resident Editor of The Nation in     Islamabad