After the USS Cole Bombing in October 2000, Yemen is once again in focus. The incident was symbolic in that Al Qaeda operating from Sudan and Yemen had directly hit an American asset. US warship used to frequently dock at Aden for fuelling. CIA realised that a US-Saudi asset groomed over the years had gone hostile. 13 years hence, if Yemen plunges into a civil war, it expands sea pirates across the straits and deprives the world of fuelling stations. Yemen has again been set alight by proxies. This is where terrorism began and this is where it will end.

According to a detailed study of Pakistan Ex Servicemen Association, “the canning policy of obscurity and revelations continues through the events of bombings in Aden, Kenya and Tanzania, till Osama and Al Qaeda resurface in the events of 9/11 and beyond.” Yet after 9/11 it was not Afghanistan but Iraq that was attacked. Afghanistan followed through a UN led coalition while Pakistan got entangled with its own strains of terrorists with links to Al Qaeda and every intelligence agency of the world.

My argument is that while US policy makers and intelligence agencies continued to build their interventionist road map in the Middle East and AF-PAK, smaller countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran opened up proxy fronts within the larger game plan. The arming of Syrian rebels against President Bashar al Asaad and the active role played by Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Israel and Turkey is another case of assets gone hostile spreading to Iraq, Libya and now Yemen. ISIS foot prints are visible in Afghanistan. Springs of Egypt and Libya took place in the same context. When President Morsi of Egypt showed reluctance, he was removed through a Saudi backed military coup. The cynical fiction being released by various quarters lend credence to the theory of obscurity and revelations.

In Yemen, the Shiite Zaidi Tribe of Houthis was backed by Iran, hidden hands and detractors of President Hadi. Ever since, they have over arched and threaten to expand the Shia influence to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain. With a Shiite dominated Iraq already in place, it spells instability for Gulf States with sizeable Shia populations ruled by Sunni monarchs. Chances of the conflict taking a global sectarian crisis cannot be ruled out.

With the rise of Houthis, US forces and not intelligence assets have retrograded from Yemen. The US will continue working through its allies to contain the Houthis, Al Qaeda and ISIS threats. The recent air intervention by Gulf Cooperation Council led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen aims at restoring the equilibrium. Pakistan seems willing to join this coalition to the chagrin of its neighbour Iran with whom it shares a common border.

Unfortunately, Pakistan after the Khomeini revolution, never enjoyed comfortable relations with Iran. India, to Pakistan’s chagrin enjoys more influence and cooperation with Iran that includes alternate routes to Europe and Central Asia via Chabahar and Bandar Abbas. Pakistan’s own proxy war with Iran often with Indian backing continues in Afghanistan, Balochistan, parts of Karachi and KPK.

This jigsaw of intelligence operations, repeated defection of proxies, great power interests and hares like Saudi Arabia and Iran hunting with the hounds is likely to continue behind the façade of cynical fiction. The growing thaw in US Iran relations will be tested by the US backing of Saudi strikes in Yemen. With a lame duck US President, the entire rapprochement could reverse in due course. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to US Congress and the Kerry led Iranian realignment reflects two extreme opinions in a US House led by Republicans.

Though Pakistan despite a $1.5 billion tag had refused to be drawn into the security of Saudi Arabia against ISIS, it now seems willing to become a party in Yemen. This sudden volte face is of concern for Pakistanis amply reflected by Dr. Shirin Mazari. She said, “a proxy war in Yemen is being waged and has all the hallmarks of spilling over into other parts of the Gulf region especially Bahrain but beyond into Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan already has a serious sectarian terrorism issue” Dr. Shirin Mazari is justified in her apprehensions and Pakistan must tread this option with extreme caution.

But what reasons despite such suggestions may tempt Pakistan to throw caution to wind?

Earlier Pakistani refusal was the military’s reluctance in being drawn into a conflict. One obvious reason was that Pakistan army and air force were busy in operation Zarb e Azb and its variants in Khyber Agency. Urban terrorism in Karachi and unrest in Balochistan had their own impact. Does it now mean that Pakistan’s defence forces have major internal dynamics in control and are willing to target the exterior lines of terrorism located in the Middle East?

The above argument supports my second contention. Military operations against terrorist organisations revealed the irrefutable complicity of Arab countries in funding and outsourcing terrorists. Pakistan confronted these countries with hard evidence and demanded affirmative action. Arab countries with vulnerability in mind realised the futility of raising sidewinders and are willing to employ Pakistan’s proven expertise to strike at terrorist targets deep inside the Middle East. This targeting policy will most likely include Houthis, ISIS and Al Qaeda. If true, then the Pakistan Air Force will ultimately become active against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. This explains why Pakistan’s Chief of Air Staff accompanied the Army Chief in the meeting with the Prime Minister.

For Pakistan, a bigger role in the Middle East has not come without hard work. American and British intelligence agencies are notorious for fermenting instability in Pakistan. It appears that General Raheel adroitly pointed to such interventions during his military diplomacy and succeeded in creating space for his paradigm that includes Zarb e Azb, Karachi and the daredevil decision to hold Pakistan Day Parade in Islamabad after a long hiatus. This means he will not hesitate to eliminate the support bases in Middle East and yet maintain a balance and not be drawn into a Shia-Sunni conflict.

The opening of a new front in Yemen will assert Pakistan’s position in the region. I hope the emerging paradigm in the Middle East will open doors for peace and development not only in Pakistan but also hermit monarchies.