PM`s sensible response
4/15/2015

IF Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council want to engage Pakistan in a war of words, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has presented the correct response: reaf firm Pakistan`s commitment to the territorial security of its allies while stressing for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the Yemen conflict. The Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing the Houthis in Yemen since March 26 is, for Pakistan, the wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.

Participating militarily in Yemen would not just distract from the overriding objective of fighting militancy at home, as Mr Sharif alluded to in his comments on Monday, but it would risk drawing Pakistan into an open-ended regional and, potentially, sectarian conflict with horrific consequences. Doing nothing, however, is not an option for Pakistan either, as the crude pressure that senior officials and the media in several of the GCC countries and Saudi Arabia have piled on Pakistan has made clear.

Originally, when the bombing by the Saudi-led coalition began in late March, the pressure on Pakistan had come in the form of on-the-record claims by Saudi officials that the Pakistani state had already committed itself to joining the coalition. Now, following the parliamentary resolution that rejected the possibility of Pakistan engaging in military action inside Yemen, the pressure has come in the form of veiled threats that Pakistan`s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the GCC will suffer for the stance parliament has taken and which the government is abiding by. Unpleasant as the mood may be towards Pakistan in countries long considered rock-solid allies of the state, it has to be contended with. And the government here is on the right track by vowing to intensify an already hectic diplomatic campaign. That campaign will need to be conducted simultaneously on several fronts. One, conditions for a ceasefire inside Yemen need to be determined and implemented as quickly as possible. Two, the explosive Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry in the Middle East needs to be reined in. Three, Pakistan needs to reaffirm its long-standing ties to and convergence of interests with Saudi Arabia and the GCC. Four, the expatriate Pakistani population in the region needs to be reached out to and reassurances given to what are surely millions of people.

On the first and second of these issues Pakistan will not be able to achieve much on its own. The international community will have to act in a concerted and urgent manner and yesterday`s decision by the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the Houthis may, if combined with other interventions by other countries and forums, pave the way for an early ceasefire. On the third and fourth issues, Pakistan`s foreign policy establishment will have to go into overdrive, using the full array of tools at its disposal to restore calm as quickly as possible. This crisis need not become a permanent rupture.

Dawn Editorial