Rent a country

In the wake of the worsening crisis in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s decision to secure its influence through air strikes on the former, Pakistan became part of the story. The news about Pakistan’s reported participation in the air strikes against Yemen created ripples at home and for the right reasons. A quiet observer would have noted the initial almost unanimous public disapproval from a cross-section of Pakistan’s intelligentsia, civil society and political groups.
The overwhelming concern came from both Sunni and Shia communities, considering the Yemen-Saudi conflict is rooted in the regionalization of Yemen’s local politics, fostered by the predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia in its battle for influence over the region vis-a-vis Shia Iran.An overwhelming majority of strategists and experts in Pakistan rejected the idea of partaking in the conflict owing to the country’s own diverse sectarian populace and armed Deobandi groups already massacring Shia minority in different parts of the country. Any support for a particular side would have a lethal impact on the ongoing anti-Shia terrorism at home.
However, the most worrying fact was that most of the news about Pakistan’s possibility of joining military aggression against Yemen was coming from foreign sources including the Saudi media. Pakistan’s Foreign Office gathered mettle to speak on the issue too late in the day, that too extremely vaguely. In her one liner, the Foreign Office Spokesperson just said that Pakistan was still considering the Saudi invitation to participate.
This came before The Guardian reported on March 26, “As Saudi Arabia began pounding the rebels with airstrikes, countries from the Middle East to Pakistan were said to be prepared to commit troops for a ground assault”. The news item went on to report, referencing Saudi TV channel Al-Arabia, “…the kingdom had lined up 150,000 soldiers in preparation for a ground offensive, with Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Sudan also ready to commit troops”. The government of Pakistan kept denying the dispatch of its troops or aircrafts as part of the Saudi-led offensive.
Meanwhile, speaking on the floor of the House in National Assembly, Pakistan’s Defense Minister said Pakistan was committed to the defense of the land of Hijaz and the home of two Holy Mosques. Similar sentiments were later reiterated by the Co-Chairperson of the supposedly ‘liberal’, progressive, pro-minorities and anti-sectarian political party, Pakistan Peoples Party. His statement came after lobbyists of Pakistan Muslim League as well as those of the military establishment started parroting arguments in favour of the Saudi strikes, and why Pakistan’s participation was necessary for its own long-term goals.
The surprise came from Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf head Imran Khan – the otherwise considered a ‘poster boy of the establishment’ – who said in no uncertain terms that jumping in the wars that are not ours would harm Pakistan’s interests further as they have done in past. A similar statement came from the Quaid of MQM who alongside criticizing the proposal of partaking the offensive, reminded of Pakistan’s own sectarian pressures and host of internal problems that needed attention rather than poking nose in foreign battles. With no reference (thankfully) to the ‘defence’ of the holy cities, Imran Khan and Altaf Hussain made themselves conspicuous among the rest of the rusted political lot and the establishment fraught with self-serving interests rooted in Saudi Arabia.
The ‘defence of the Holy Mosques’ argument, propagated by the lobbyists of ruling elite – comprising military establishment, its surrogate politicians and the political groups who have been hostage to the antics of former two and are kowtowing them as survival tactics – is as preposterous and farfetched as possibility of a democratic system in the Kingdom. To date there has not been any statement of intent by the rebellious groups (which are not only Houthis) of Yemen to invade the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or to inflict any harm to the two Holy Mosques. Moreover, there is no apparent threat to the ‘territorial integrity’ of the Kingdom as yet, for which the PMLN, the PPP and the military establishment are having sleepless nights.
If someone was happy and satisfied with the reports about Pakistan’s possibility of joining the Saudi-led coalition forces to attack Yemen, it was Pakistan’s Deobandi, takfiri, anti-Shia militant organisations like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahl-e-SunnatWalJamaat (ASWJ). Going by the official social media accounts of ASWJ, they were praising the government and the military for taking the ‘right decision’ for saving the territorial integrity of the Holy Land as well as for ‘teaching the lesson’ to Shias who they think should be excommunicated from Muslim ummah.
The pro-establishment and pro-Saudi lobbyists have been giving a host of arguments in favour of the attack on Yemen including remittances from Pakistani laborers in Saudia whose fate depends upon how happy the Saudis are with Pakistan. References have been given of huge remittances that come from Saudia to the tune of $17 billion. One did not hear any reference to the conditions of Pakistani labor in the Kingdom that showan utter disregard of any veneer of human rights. No reference is given to Saudi princes’ disdain for Pakistan’s law that prohibits hunting of endangered species. The way they bribe Pakistan’s law enforcing set up and manipulate legal process in their favour is another story that needs separate discussion.
Despite repeated cries from rights activists about the violation of human rights and absence of labor laws or any framework that safeguards the interests of the workers, neither the otherwise too-sensitive-about-human-rights West nor the Pakistan government has ever followed up on the issue with the Saudi authorities. I still have to see official initiative from Pakistan to negotiate either the extradition of Pakistanis on death row in Saudi Arabia, or at least the due process of law for them with right to fair trial and adequate counsel. Pakistani laborers, it seems, are just a means of extracting money as remittances, for our state that is not much bothered about their rights and living conditions.
Another ridiculous argument given by Asif Ali Zardari was his party was committed to democracy and since Yemeni rebels had obstructed a democratic system, the Saudi government was probably rightly attacking them militarily. Such an intelligent thought. The democrats of PPP supporting democracy in Yemen through military strikes led by the ‘democratic’ Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Really? One expected better from PPP.
Those who were irked by a trending hash-tag on social media about renting an army might be a little relaxed now. This is not an army available for rent. It is an entire country with a highly self-centered and self-serving ruling elite that is available on cheap rent.

Marvi Sirmed

The writer is an Islamabad based freelance columnist. She can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter

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