We have a cunning plan, Mr Prime Minister
By Uzair M Younus / Saim Saeed

Dear Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,
The Yemen conflict has put you in a bind, where your patrons stand on one side and public opinion on the other. But we have drafted this resolution, and with it, we have executed a cunning plan that may free you from this aforementioned bind. While it has been a tough few days, the parliamentary resolution calling for neutrality has given you a tremendous opportunity to keep the Saudis happy without seeming to come across as violating the will of parliament, and Iranians by making all the right noises.
This is why democracy is great, Mr Prime Minister. We have had dictators make decisions on wars and alliances without shaping a debate effectively. Today, parliament has shown how it can work in sync with the government and create space for what could have been an extremely unpopular decision.
We, the members of parliament, would like to share with you the ways in which this resolution allows you to send military assets such as fighter jets, naval ships, and Special Operations Forces to the aid of the House of Saud, while still maintaining that air of neutrality you so desperately crave:
1. Clause 6: Parliament “supports regional and international efforts for restoration of peace and stability in Yemen.” Mr Prime Minister, this clause can be interpreted as saying that the Saudi-led coalition is a regional attempt to bring peace to Yemen, hence, sending military units for the fight is not in violation of this resolution.
On the flipside, to keep our Iranian neighbours happy, it could also mean that we are supporting their diplomatic efforts for an equitable end to the conflict for all sides. Because we are really for all kinds of efforts to restore peace.
2. Clause 8: Parliament “desires that Pakistan should maintain neutrality…” We should be maintaining neutrality. But our defence agreements with Saudis and our need for foreign exchange reserves mean that it’s up for sale. A leader must be pragmatic and look out for the interests of its country. Pakistan dearly needs foreign reserves, and the Saudis have been kind enough to ‘gift’ us $1.5 billion in hard cash, while the Qataris have chipped in with a preferential $22 billion LNG deal.
The House of Saud has deep pockets, and we can surely get some more economic assistance if we keep it happy and contribute forces. But we ought to make it look like we are at least trying to be neutral. That’s hard since, well, we can’t even tell our own armed forces to be neutral. So while we, the good people at the National Assembly, deeply want to maintain neutrality, it’s really out of our hands, you see. So we’ll let a combination of Your Excellency, the establishment and His Highness King Salman decide whether we’ll be neutral or not. We have just told you what you ought to do, and leave the rest to the powers that be. Oh, and a word of advice, the Iranians want to build a gas pipeline into Pakistan; maybe you ought to tell them that if they give us some economic incentives, we can maybe slow down our support for the Saudis, you know, for the sake of neutrality. After all, we are all about market competition. We are not doing this for free, you know.
3. Clause 11: Parliament “advises the Government of Pakistan to enhance its cooperation with the GCC … in combating terrorism and extremism”. Mr Prime Minister, al Qaeda has been on a rampage in Yemen, and other extremist elements have gained ground. Recently, it freed over 300 prisoners by breaking a jail. As a country that has suffered so much from terrorism, Pakistan cannot see another country in its neighbourhood be destabilised (unless it is India or Afghanistan).
Our acts to send well-trained and battle-hardened special forces to Yemen will surely bring stability in the region and help push back against terrorism in the region. So really, if we’re sending troops to Yemen, we’re doing it for the sake of peace. What could be better than multinational cooperation between countries (read: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) to keep terrorism (read: Houthis) in check?
In fact, the Americans are already refuelling Saudi planes and giving them intelligence. Our acts will surely add to regional stability and prevent another Libya-like situation to occur. We could be a part of the Coalition of the Willing!
In short, Your Excellency, we believe that we have written a leaky resolution which allows you to support the Saudis with whatever they need while still making it look like Pakistan is doing something for peace.
And that’s the rub. Supporting the Saudis is doing something for peace. This resolution just makes it difficult to see that. So with our own population and Iran at rest, please feel free to go ahead and send those fighter jets. They’ll never know.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2015.