Yemen War: The greater Middle East, the West and the Arab citizen

The ‘Greater Middle East’ was a term coined during the tenure of the second Bush administration. Of course, by then the United States had come to the conclusion that the events that unfolded in the Middle East region had an impact on the rest of the Muslim world, especially on countries that had historical, political and cultural ties with the Arab nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Middle East is currently going through a political quagmire; it is in the midst of an insane power struggle that has seen tribal, sectarian and national elements supporting and fighting each other. Trying to analyze the complex relationships that have formed would only lead to feelings of amusement, at best, and confusion, at worst. Amidst all this, there are convincing reasons that this conflict can lead to a larger war in the Greater Middle East region and beyond. This alone should be enough to force the international community to change their strategy on Yemen since not doing so could pose a threat to the interests of Washington in particular and the West in general.

The conflict has sectarian overtones which will only lead to an escalation in hostilities. Objectively it can be said with great certainty that the Saudi offensive on the Al-Houthis is a Sunni offensive on Shias to save the regime of a Sunni president. The Sunni and Shia divide has always played a decisive albeit violent role in Middle East politics. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq are no different, they are Sunni uprisings against Shia governments. Iran is backing the Shia rebels and governments while Saudi Arab is busy in supporting Sunni rebels and governments.   This sectarianism has at times spilled over into the greater Middle East, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Afghanistan has seen widespread Shia persecution at the hands of the Taliban regime, however the current regime has been somewhat successful in protecting them. But if a new Sunni/Shia conflict rises up in Afghanistan the resulting civil unrest can make it difficult for coalition forces to withdraw. Especially, since all the countries in the Saudi led coalition are Sunni Muslim majorities, the Shia populations in the countries taking part in the offensive could undermine the government’s legitimacy. This may prove fatal for the war on terror, Pakistan is currently busy in an offensive against terrorists, an offensive the USA always wanted Pakistan to engage in. Due to the fact that Pakistan cannot refuse to help the Saudis because of strategic reasons would mean that its focus would shift from fighting terrorist networks that are a threat to global security, to securing the reinstatement of a political government in Yemen.

The Houthis on the other hand have threatened to launch suicide attacks within Saudi territory. Hezbollah is backing both the Syrian regime and the Houthi rebels. This would mean that a Saudi and Israel alliance may go to all-out war with Iran and its proxies. Many news sources go as far as to say that Israel may bomb Iran with Saudi Arab backing it. Iran, on the other hand would not sit quietly, it would stir even more trouble. If Pakistan joins the Saudi led coalition, Iran may use its 909 km border with Pakistan to destabilize the Balochistan region, which is already going through an insurgency. This would bring India and Afghanistan into the equation. India’s RAW has been actively providing assistance to Baloch insurgents within Pakistan. This is why Pakistan has always tried to keep influence over its neighbors on the Western side. It is unlikely, but if Israel bombs Iran, backed by the Sunni nations as a result of growing civil unrest in the middle east region fuelled by sectarianism, that would mean that the consequences for South Asia could be catastrophic. Pakistan would dare not challenge the Sunni Arab nation’s acts which would result in India being threatened of Muslim hegemony in the South Asia region. Pakistan and India are nuclear powers and a war could result in apprehensive consequences. After all, if Pakistan makes available its nuclear weapons to Saudi Arab, India would not hesitate in providing a few nuclear warheads to Iran either.

The action in Yemen will also directly strengthen terrorist organizations. On one side of the conflict, the Houthi onslaught will give a sigh of relief to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who were the target of repeated American drones and Houthi attacks. In fact, if Houthi influence decreases in Yemen it would automatically result in increasing the strength of AQAP in Yemen. On the other end, these Saudi led strikes might also strengthen the Islamic State and the Jabhat al-Nusra. Even though Yemen and Syria don’t share borders, nevertheless their networks are strong. AQAP and IS don’t see eye to eye, however they wouldn’t mind bearing with each other if one of their common enemies is eliminated. This way the West may be making a rod for their own back. They might subdue Houthis, which call for death to USA and Israel, but while eliminating this threat they might be ignoring a larger threat which is much more dangerous. This seems to be a repeat of the Soviet War: the US managed to kick the Soviets out but as a result installed a regime which was not only hostile to it but also assisted elements that declared jihad on it.

Meanwhile, the plight of the Arab citizen remains unheard. People are restrained in curfews and innocent civilians including women, children and the elderly are losing their lives with each passing day. Basic human rights are being violated and the civilians live a life of fear and brutality. This alone must be the foremost reason to look for an end to this conflict. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once very rightly stated, ‘a state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.’ It cannot be stressed how appropriately his words describe the situation in the Middle East right now.

Ali Tahir is a barrister, and a practicing advocate of the Sindh High Court and teaches constitutional law at the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto University of Law. Follow him on Twitter

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