After the resolution
Malik Muhammad Ashraf
April 16, 2015

The frustration and disappointment expressed by the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs on the parliamentary resolution regarding the Yemen situation, and the unsavoury remarks of Special Adviser to the Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs Dr Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Al Ammar in an interview with Geo TV have created an embarrassing situation for Pakistan.

Though what the two men said has not been conveyed to Pakistan officially either by Saudi Arabia or the UAE, but such remarks from people associated with these two governments would invariably be construed as somewhat official positions on the issue. Even if we ignore what they said, the method used by them was against all diplomatic norms that govern relations between states.

Diplomacy is about interacting behind closed doors with attending diplomatic niceties even between declared hostile countries. The response given by our own minister for interior to the remarks of the UAE minister was even more clumsy and uncalled for. It was impulsive, impetuous and highly irresponsible in view of the fact that it involved countries with which Pakistan has special relations and the fact that the issue did not pertain to his domain of responsibilities.

These developments also afforded an opportunity to the media to indulge in speculative reporting and comments, which in the words of the prime minister tended to create misunderstanding between Pakistan and its Arab brothers.

However, the Saudi minister for religious affairs and a special representative of the Saudi Arabian government currently visiting Pakistan while reiterating Saudi expectations of Pakistan becoming an active partner of the coalition formed against the Houthis in Yemen, has shown better understanding of the situation by telling the media that the parliamentary resolution was Pakistanís domestic matter.

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif felt constrained by the prevailing situation to clarify and reiterate Pakistanís position on the issue as reflected in the resolution adopted by parliament and put things in a proper perspective and remove the ambiguities in this regard. Emphasising that the resolution reflected government policy and the frustration expressed about it was due to misinterpretation, he unequivocally stated that Saudi Arabia is our strategic partner.

The prime minister also assured the GCC that their frustration was due to a miscommunication in the interpretation of the stand taken by parliament as Pakistan never abandoned its strategic partners when their security was threatened. He also condemned the actions of the Houthis and was more specific about the restoration of the legitimate government of President Hadi Ė a position more akin to the Saudi stance on the issue.

The parliamentary resolution only used the word of non-state actors and did not clearly talk about the restoration of the Hadi government. But the overall essence of the resolution undoubtedly implied it. The prime minister also revealed what transpired between him and the visiting foreign minister of Iran whom he clearly told that the violent overthrow of the legitimate government of Yemen had set a dangerous precedent. He had urged Iran to use its influence to bring the Houthis to the negotiating table. He also said that he was in contact with other GCC countries.

The categorical reaffirmation of solidarity with Saudi Arabia and the GCC, and the resolve to defend the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia clearly indicate that Pakistan will not remain neutral in the case of an eventuality of the security of the kingdom and the Holy places being under threat. Pakistanís strategic interests are undoubtedly linked with Saudi Arabia and the GCC and vice versa and their relations over the last more than six decades amply testify to this fact.

If Saudi Arabia has been generous and forthcoming in helping Pakistan in times of adversity, Pakistan has also shown unswerving commitment and solidarity with the kingdom. Pakistani troops were sent twice in the past to defend Saudi Arabia when its security was threatened. hawse have very close military ties with the kingdom and our military personnel are right at this moment engaged in training the Saudi forces. Though the resolution does not clearly mention sending our troops to Saudi Arabia it is implied that in case Saudi security is threatened we will do so.

In view of the obtaining situation and with such a solid basis for the strategic partnership between Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries, it is time to move on by following the same track and smoothing out differences in perceptions.

There are always two ways to resolve conflicts, disputes and wars between states. The first and the most preferred option is to resolve them through mutual or multilaterally facilitated process of dialogue. The second option exercised as a last resort is the use of force, again meant to bring the opposing party to the negotiating table by breaking its will and eroding its capability to continue with its combative role. History is witness to the fact that all wars and conflicts have ultimately been resolved at the negotiating table.

The resolution adopted by Pakistan and the position explained by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif show unflinching solidarity with the Saudi position on the issue as well as well its commitment to defend Saudi Arabia. In the ultimate analysis it could not be interpreted as anything but Pakistan siding with the Saudis and GCC countries rather than the other parties.

The difference is only in the strategy of achieving the common goals. Pakistan feels, rightly so, that the conflict in Yemen should be resolved through negotiations as a first priority. It is not only Pakistanís desire but also Turkeyís, another friend of Saudi Arabia and an important country with strategic interests in the Middle East. Iran also seems agreeable on resolving the crisis peacefully though it differs with Saudi Arabia on the modalities and pre-conditions for peaceful dialogue.

The visiting Saudi minister has also hinted that Saudi Arabia is not averse to mediation and peaceful settlement of the Yemen conundrum. Pakistan and Turkey, and for that matter the OIC, can certainly play a significant role in ending hostilities in Yemen, bringing the conflicting parties to the table which will eventually lead to the restoration of the Hadi government under a negotiated deal and spare the region of the ongoing blood-letting and the humanitarian problems emerging as a result of the conflict.

This is what Pakistan needs to impress upon the Saudis and other GCC countries that if an objective could be resolved through peaceful means it deserved to be given a fair chance.

The Saudis also need to listen to this friendly advice with an open mind rather than misconstruing it as Pakistan abandoning them at this crucial moment. God forbid if these efforts fail to materialise and there is a threat to its security, they should rest assured Pakistan would be standing should to shoulder with them and the GCC countries Ė as has been reiterated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The government and the military establishment are on the same page on defending the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia at all costs. The resolution in parliament also adequately and explicitly makes a commitment to this effect reflecting national consensus. Our Saudi friends and their coalition partners must try to understand the position taken by Pakistan in its true perspective.

The writer is a freelance contributor.


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