The Parliament of Pakistan’s decision to stay neutral in the Saudi – Yemen conflict has mercifully broken the long record of timid, self-oriented and non-pragmatic decision making that has hallmarked our legislature. For once Pakistani law makers made themselves useful by sending a message (implication-wise) that our military was a professional institution, with the primary role of defending our internal and external frontiers. The Parliamentary resolution also made it clear that it was our national interest that came first, particularly when it boiled down to the maintenance of good relations with an immediate neighbor. I am sure that the Armed Forces had a lot to do with convincing all concerned that in the current scenario, we were militarily in no position to send our assets into someone else’s war. The Saudis were however assured that if a threat to the Muslim Holy Sites was perceived, Pakistan would not hesitate to do whatever necessary to eliminate such a threat.

That Saudi Arabia, intended to use our military assets in trans-border operations into Yemen is now more or less evident, given the reaction shown by two members of the Arab Coalition. The Government in Riyadh acted in accordance with diplomatic courtesy and immediately dispatched their Minister for Religious Affairs to Islamabad, with a message from the King. It can be safely assumed that the tone of the message would have a coercive streak running through it, while it might also have contained tantalizing offers of economic help, coupled with references with respect to the personal relationship of the Sharif Family with Saudi Monarchy. All said and done the overall Saudi reaction was courteous, dignified and above criticism.

As far as UAE is concerned, the Emirate Minister’s outburst threatening Pakistan with ‘consequences’ was nothing short of crude, undignified and undiplomatic. It was also a manifestation of the fear that perpetually haunts dynastic monarchies and their feeling of vulnerability as regards their military impotence. This is ironic given that these nations are counted amongst the richest in the world.

The UAE statement also generated an interesting debate on what could be the ‘consequences’ that Pakistan was likely to suffer in view of the Arab Minister’s statement. Would Pakistanis working in UAE and Saudi Arabia be sent home? Would economic bail-outs cease? Would investment be affected? Would oil supplies dwindle?

The answer to all these questions now lies in the ability of Pakistani leadership to play its cards in the right manner and turn the situation in our favor. The Prime Minister and his team in the Foreign Office must see the great window of opportunity being provided to us and catch the moment before it passes. We must aggressively play an immediate and focused role in getting all warring factions to the conference table and bring an end to the war. This will not be an easy task, but if accomplished successfully, it will be rated as a historic diplomatic coup, much akin to the bridge that we once provided in the 1960s to thaw out relations between US and China. If Pakistan’s stance on the ongoing conflict is a sign that our policy makers have finally begun to see international relationships in their correct perspective then it augers well for the future of our coming generations.

In the worst case scenario, the Pakistani nation must rise to face the challenge as it has always done under crisis, for there comes a time in the life of every nation wherein the people have to run the gauntlet of adversity. The good news is that when this ‘gauntlet is run’, the nation emerges more united and proud than ever before. Considering our present collective character, such a ‘gauntlet’ may be a God sent opportunity to reform ourselves.