The war within a religion in the Afro-Arab world is set to intensify if Pakistan responds positively to Saudi Arabia&’s appeal and joins the military offensive against the Shia militants in Yemen.
While the GHQ in Rawalpindi has thus far kept the cards close to its chest, the Saudi siren call as it were lends a new dimension to the relentless turmoil in the Middle East. It is open to question whether Pakistan will agree to open an offshore flank, indeed a terrifying new chapter in its war against the fundamentalists.
The forward movement on Iraq&’s nuclear potential in the conference of the P-5 plus One in Lausanne appears to have prompted the desert kingdom to play a more aggressive role in the region. It now wants Pakistan to join its air offensive against the Shia rebellion that has ousted the Yemeni President and now controls a vast swathe of the country.
Saudi Arabia arguably feels threatened by the possible return of Iran to official Western favour, if indications from the Swiss city are any indication. There is little doubt that Riyadh is betraying signs of aspiring to become a major belligerent in a region where Syria, Iraq and Lebanon are already torn apart by devastating civil wars.
The geopolitical power-play is no less a destabilising factor than the Shia revolt in Yemen and the surge of the Caliphate elsewhere. Should Pakistan join the Saudi concert, Yemen is bound to wallow further in the melting-pot. The sectarian strife has provoked the Head of State to take the first flight out of Saana. In the net, there is a vacuum of state power in Yemen.
As in the stormcentres of the Arab region, this vacuum has enabled the ISIS jihadists and other Islamist fundamentalists to spread their influence and perpetrate further atrocities. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have traditionally maintained cordial relations. In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia had sent money and material — via Pakistan — to the mujahidin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Pakistan, for its part, has provided the Saudis with military assistance. Now by directly asking Islamabad to join the Yemen operations, Riyadh seems intent on opening a new phase in the relationship.
The military-diplomatic paradigm is fluid. There is a robust opinion in Pakistan against involvement. Not the least because Yemen has not threatened Saudi Arabia&’s integrity. The other deterrent is the forbidding Shia-Sunni tension in Pakistan. Yet another and still more crucially, Pakistan shares a long border with Iran, and relations between the two have recently improved. By intervening in a new sectarian war, the ferment within the Islamic bloc will become still more intractable. Geostrategy ought to avert an extension — beyond borders — of the Shia-Sunni conflagration. Enough have died already.