One is watching with a sense of deja vu how a few elements in the media and the political class have begun their u-turns on the issue of Pakistan’s involvement in the Yemen crisis. It is a throw back to the days of Lal Masjid, when after cheering the General on, nay demanding an operation against the Ghazi brothers, the media turned against the operation to clean up the mosque of terrorists and cache of weapons holding the state hostage.

The most common argument being taken is of the fate of the three million Pakistani expats working in the GCC region. It is being asserted that they will be victimized and/ or thrown out; that the government should be sensitive to that possibility. This is a fallacious argument. And for argument’s sake, even if the GCC countries wish to be petty and vicious, it is not as easy as it sounds. Replacing our workers will not only take years, but Pakistan’s labour force and professionals are integrated with the working of their economies, and overnight changes are not possible. Second, it will take bottom feeders to replace the Pakistani labour force, and there are very few countries whose citizens can eventually begin to supply the cheapest, most exploited labour possible. Second, no thought has been given to the radicalization these same expats contribute upon their return from conservative, often Wahabi / Salafist environments. It will be no bad thing if the over-time the number of Pakistanis working in ideologically toxic environments can be reduced.

Those concerned about the three million should be talking about the government creating jobs at home and investing in the country’s human capital to not only benefit its own economy, but also to be able to export better quality manpower to more civilized countries that do not make a habit of blackmailing Pakistan and tweet to override an entire Parliament’s will.

Also, given that this will be gradual if it happens, much else can happen in that space. For example, the government appears to be planning to offer other, more reasonable help, for example Navy patrols to restrict arms to Houthis rebels and pressure on Iran to cease its support of the Houthis. Actions like these will help to dissipate the anger and hence the backlash from the GCC, and therefore decisions as important and dangerous as jumping into the quicksand of the internal conflict in Yemen cannot be taken on the basis of one factor, that of our labour force alone. There are always mitigant measures that can be taken, and they are in evidence already.

Most importantly, talking about three million workers and not considering the fate of the remaining 197 million resident in Pakistan, is hollow at best. Saudi Arabia has long financed Islamist terror spawning madrassas in Pakistan, contributing to the internal war in Pakistan. The two countries’ relationship was never perfect, as evidenced by the recent public spat between the foreign offices of the two countries over the issue of funding radical/ militant madrassas and outfits, or by Pakistan’s refusal decades ago to provide the list of names of Shia officers in the military to Saudi Arabia.

Many signs indicate that Pakistan wants to change its relationship with the KSA /GCC to get rid of the toxic elements of the relationship. And the Parliament, the people, have given a resounding endorsement to this new direction.

On Pakistan’s defence treaties with the KSA, I am not familiar with the details, obviously, but no treaty can allow one party to define a threat and call in the other. Parliament and government have very judiciously differentiated between Saudi Arabia meddling in Yemen and a threat to her borders, to Harmain Sharifain and her territorial integrity – this is key in the refusal to take active part in the conflict.

As to the much touted indebtedness of the Sharif family to the House of Saud, it would be useful to remember they negotiated his freedom and offered him sanctuary when his legitimate government was overthrown. A noble deed, indeed. They did not collect the entire GCC, Turkey and Egypt and invade Pakistan to restore his government. So calling in a kind favour in this manner is not justified. The demand that Pakistan put boots on the ground in Yemen is as unreasonable as someone calling me in the office to ask me to go buy their vegetables because they saved my life earlier. It is just as petty and just as unreasonable, just as rejectable.