Pakistanis turn vicious when forced to conform to the diktat of the US. They call any such attempt to alter Pakistan’s foreign or domestic policy imperialist and hegemonic. Yet strangely, replace the US with Saudi Arabia and it almost reads like it is supremely ordained by a power that is both respectable and honourable. Historically, Pakistan has been heavily influenced by both countries, yet the resentment for the violation of what Pakistanis refer to as national sovereignty has only been towards one and not the other. Whereas the negative effects of US military cooperation have been exaggerated, those of the Saudis are in stealth mode, presented only in academic studies hardly anyone dares to fund.
On March 26, 2015, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif said that any attack on Saudi Arabia is akin to an attack on Pakistan. Pakistan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced, will be part of a coalition against Yemen. This comes at the same time the Pakistan foreign office reports that it is only now considering the request by the Saudis to join the effort. One would have thought that for a decision of such national importance, parliament’s opinion would have been sought and, by extension, would have been representative of the country’s desire to participate in a war against another Muslim country. Sending troops to attack Yemen has great repercussions against our good ties with Iran. Can it afford another precarious border? Whoever is thinking geopolitics needs to reconsider taking Pakistan down the path of meddling in another country’s local wars. We all know how these end. In fact, no one should know this better than us.
Sending our troops, engaged as they are in staving off the attacks on Pakistani soil by the Taliban, to fight a war that will need a new sales pitch is utterly disastrous no matter how well you spin it. It calls into question our loyalty to the victims of the Peshawar attack, the Youhanabad church bombings and the most recent attack targeting a police bus in Karachi claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Why are we being asked to spread ourselves so thin to fight an ego war miles away? Do the $ 1.5 billion the Saudis contributed to the Pakistan Development Fund last year have anything to do with it?
The war in Yemen already unnerves the Shias worldwide and it especially demoralises the Shias in Pakistan who are being preyed upon with growing intensity by both sectarian and militant organisations. Pakistan, by entering in this war, possibly even directly is signalling a united Sunni front, whereas these times call for a more modern all-encompassing Muslim identity.
Since the 1970s the one thing that has changed the rabid religious landscape that Pakistan now finds itself in has been the pouring of Saudi funds into the bellies of clerics. The fattening up of the most bigoted and the most callous towards human rights has been ongoing since then. The sufferers: non-Sunni Muslims, the women and the children who are brainwashed in these seminaries, where crooked versions of thinking are drilled into their young minds. For a nation that is so deathly afraid of its women that it grants them no mobility in a car or to travel without a guardian, Saudi Arabia chest thumps and sabre-rattles with so much machismo. With a transition economy that needs all the women it can get in the workforce, can Pakistan really dive in so emotionally to support a country whose ethos on women can only bring it economic disaster? Only 17 to 20 percent of women participate in the workforce in Pakistan. If we look over at India and Bangladesh, this number is at 40 percent. They are Muslim too, for the record. Political relationships, if not ideologically aligned, are fickle.
As Saudi bombing starts in Yemen, families upon families of civilians have been wiped out in the collateral damage. As a country that is haemorrhaging in the loss of its vital children, its poor and its dearest, Pakistan cannot be part of something that is so violent to another country. It makes no intuitive sense. It makes no resource sense. Above all, it makes no humanitarian sense.
Pakistan engages with the comity of nations with honour and the independent views of its people are not negotiable. Just like the people of even the strongest nations, the people of Pakistan want an end to war. They do not want to be standing at the beginning of a war so far removed that it demands only one question: does this serve to preserve the message of peace that Islam brought to the world?