As Saudi bombs rain down on Sanaa, it is necessary to explore and understand the genesis of the Middle East’s newest military conflict. Ostensibly launched to defend the regime of President Hadi from the Shia Houthi rebels who have succeeded in taking control of much of Yemen in the past year, the Saudi military campaign has been cast as a measure being taken to protect a legitimate government and to contain increasing Iranian influence in the region. Saudi Arabia, which claims to have the military support of several partners in the region, also has the implicit consent of the United States which in turn, remains wary of Iran’s growing power in the Middle East.

At the very outset, it is important to point out the obvious hypocrisy at work in this conflict. For all the talk of protecting state sovereignty, and ensuring regional stability and security, it is clear that different rules apply to different situations. The American endorsement of Saudi actions in Yemen must necessarily be counterposed against Saudi and American attempts to dislodge the Assad regime in Syria, as well as the opprobrium directed towards Russian intervention in Ukraine. While this should not be taken as sufficient reason to support either Assad or Russia, it is equally important to recognize how there is more than a whiff of cynicism around the platitudes currently being mouthed to justify the Saudi military campaign. As always, the conflict is one that is about politics rather than principle, with yet more lives being lost in the pursuit of imperial interests and regional hegemony; another pointless, unnecessary war fought by ‘powers’ that pay for it with the blood of those who have played no role in creating it.

The conflict between Shia and Sunni in Islam is often portrayed as being an ancient and primordial one, enduring for over a millennium as a result of inimical and irreconcilable doctrinal differences. While ideas have undoubtedly played a role in perpetuating the violence and animosity, it is important to remember that the original schism in Islam was borne out of political and economic differences. Then as now, questions of power, succession, property, and lucre underpinned ideological divides and fuelled broader tensions. The contemporary conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is one that is premised on different political worldviews, with the former consistently attempting to defend a traditional authoritarian order against the revolutionary (if not necessarily progressive) forces that have sought to overthrow it since the Iranian revolution in 1979. This has resulted in the creation of a patchwork of alliances and compromises, with both sides invoking religion to justify and legitimate their actions while simultaneously seeking to expand their influence by aligning themselves with regimes and militant groups throughout the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa. Not unexpectedly, expediency has generally taken precedence over any woolly commitment to ideology or principle (as evinced by Saudi backing for the brutal Sisi regime in Egypt, and enduring Iranian support for Assad in Syria).

This already complex situation is made worse by the deep involvement of the United States, Russia, and other global actors, themselves pursuing and implementing policies related to their own divergent security and economic interests. While it is often correctly argued that the United States’ involvement in the Middle East is driven by its thirst for oil and its support for Israel, it is sometimes forgotten that American activity in the Middle East has been facilitated by Saudi Arabia and many of the Gulf states, with their provision of bases and receipt of military assistance being rooted in fears of a broader conflict with Iran and its proxies. This, coupled with America’s continued support for dictatorships and actors sympathetic to its interests, has given rise to near-ceaseless conflict in the Middle East over the last four decades, with the complete and utter collapse of Iraq, Syria, and Yemen simply marking the latest chapter in what has been a long, tragic tale of bloodshed, war, and cynical realpolitik.

Any Pakistani involvement in the latest round of Middle Eastern warfare would be a colossal mistake, and a classic example of a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread. In the wake of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, questions finally started to be raised about the nature and dynamics of Pakistan’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia, with emphasis being placed on how Saudi and Gulf money, as well as ideological influence, has been crucial to fomenting Islamic militancy in the country. It is not coincidental that sectarian violence, as is now experienced and understood in Pakistan, first started to emerge after the Iranian Revolution, with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan providing the perfect context in which Saudi (and American) funded madrassahs and training camps could be used to fight both the godless communists as well as the ‘heretic’ Iranians. The situation is bad enough as it is, and it is important to keep reflecting on the costs of continued Saudi patronage and Iranian animosity. Direct involvement in the Saudi campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, or in any other Middle Eastern war, would only make matters worse.

Just over a year ago, following a visit from King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who was then the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the government of Pakistan reversed its earlier commitment to non-interference in the affairs of the Middle Eastern states by endorsing calls for regime change in Syria. While the government denied this change in policy took place as a result of Saudi pressure, the timing of the announcement did little to give credibility to these claims. At a time when there is still a considerable amount of uncertainty over whether or not Pakistan will join Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, and when past precedent suggests that Pakistan is particularly susceptible to the blandishments of both the Saudis and the Americans, it is imperative that opposition to any involvement in this conflict be voiced in the strongest and most unequivocal terms. Independently of the non-trivial ethical considerations associated with any military intervention, no amount of cheap oil or economic aid is worth the long-term costs of participating in a conflict that has nothing to do with Pakistan and which will only deepen sectarian divides at home, as well as the imperial and ideological fault lines in the region.