Humayun Gauhar | 19 APRIL, 2015
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia: Friendship under strain
When brothers fight it’s the Divine duty of other brothers to make peace. We have many fighting and quarrelling brothers. In today’s complex world it’s not easy to find solutions. But try we must, because “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the Kingdom of God”, which means Paradise.
Let’s talk of solutions for once. Pakistan has got its head stuck in the Saudi-Irani-Yemeni doctrinaire argument, hegemonic fracas and power struggle. Our Saudi brothers are upset with us for not joining their coalition in operation Decisive Storm in their preemptive strikes against Yemen after the Shia Zayedi Houthi tribe rebelled and President Mansour Hadi fled to Riyadh.
The strikes are meant to preempt and prevent Yemen’s takeover by a Shia-led government because it would extend Iran’s influence over Saudi Arabia’s perennially troubled southern border close to its troubled oil-rich Shia-majority Eastern Province. That Iran’s Shia belief is different from the Zayedi is peripheral. However, I doubt that Iran actually wants to attack Saudi Arabia, though destabilization by proxy cannot be ruled out. Yemen or the Houthi don’t have the capability. I doubt that the Houthi can even take control of Yemen, only destabilize it enough for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and/or ISIS to gain more ground. They could strike Saudi Arabia with terrorist guerilla warfare. But perversely striking Yemen preemptively adds to Yemen’s destabilization further and makes the ground even more fertile for an AQAP/ISIS takeover and might be counterproductive, ending up doing exactly the opposite of what Saudi Arabia wants. I do wish they had paused and consulted the right people first. Now Decisive Storm could become Decisive Quagmire.
I can suggest a solution to the Saudi-Pakistan misunderstanding, far-reaching though it might be. It is cast in the context of and a response to the Iran-India defence pact of January 2003 that allows India to use Iranian air, land and naval bases in the event of an Indo-Pakistan war. This distances us from Iran as Muslim brother.
1. Saudi Arabia gives Pakistan permanent military bases (army, navy and air force) under Pakistani command working closely with Saudi command.
2. Saudi Arabia should pay for the bases. In the event of an attack on Saudi Arabia Pakistan will be there.
3. Saudi Arabia should finance the doubling of our military, including of a huge anti-terrorism force trained and equipped in urban, mountain and countryside guerilla warfare. It will help Saudi Arabia too.
4. Saudi Arabia should stop its proxy war with Iran on Pakistani soil and stop funding and arming those Pakistani seminaries that churn out terrorists and spread darkness of the mind that creates a primitive extremist mentality.
5. Saudi Arabia should rid us of our entire foreign debt burden by making a one-time payment of about $75 billion so that we can become economically independent.
6. Pakistan would undertake never to get so indebted again that it compromises it independent decision-making.
7. Saudi Arabia should invest $5 billion a year every year for 10 successive years in Pakistan’s infrastructure, agriculture, agro-industry, large scale manufacturing, electronics, Science and Technology Parks and world class contemporary education with the curricula to be decided by us and not mullahs. America’s Nebraska curriculum is bad enough and still doing us a lot of harm.
8. Saudi Arabia would get raw and packaged food from Pakistani-Saudi corporatized farms and be less dependent on food imports.
9. Treat our people and workers in Saudi Arabia like human beings, not sub-human beasts of burden.
10. Stop killing our wildlife beyond the permissible numbers. The Houbara bustard’s flesh is not an aphrodisiac. Pakistan does acknowledge that Saudi Arabia has done good development around the hunting sites.
11. In return, Pakistan will give protection to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s annual defence budget is $80 billion as against Pakistan $7 billion, yet they want us to fight for them, which shows that they also need this treaty. Settling our debt will cost only $75 billion one time and investment of $50 billion over 10 years. I don’t know how much doubling our military will cost but still the total is piffling compared to the amount Saudi Arabia has given to America’s arms industry to buy weaponry and yet they need us in the event of war, like they did when Saddam occupied Kuwait and now when they are carrying out preemptive strikes against Yemen. During Gulf War I they gave bases to America so why can’t they give bases to us under a treaty in which we would protect them?
While India and Iran would howl over such a Saudi-Pakistan Treaty, the US and China’s reaction would be more mature if they are taken into confidence first. Chinese President Xi Jinping could well fly to Riyadh from Pakistan after his forthcoming visit.
Point made, solution given, now let’s hold forth. Why did Saudi Arabia assume our automatic participation? Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may – repeat may – have promised King Salman that Pakistan would, but seeing the public mood and perhaps the army’s too, already heavily preoccupied on many fronts and also doing what the government is too inept to do, it may be loathe to open yet another, Sharif balked and placed the burden on parliament to take what is essentially an executive decision. Parliament adopted a resolution that Pakistan join will not join Decisive Storm but will stand with Saudi Arabia if it’s security and integrity are threatened. Sharif repeated this in a press statement after meeting the Saudi religious affairs minister. The Saudis still couldn’t believe it and if Sharif had indeed given them that assurance, can one blame them? Everyone hates liars.
A resolution, as against an Act of Parliament, is not binding on the executive. It is advise only based on the “sense of the house”. So Nawaz Sharif can send troops to Saudi Arabia anyway to protect it. He must keep in mind that the Yeminis are our Muslim brothers too and Saudi Arabia, not Yemen, is the aggressor in a preemptive strike to keep it from falling to the Houthis (30 percent of Yemen’s population) and under Iran’s dominance. But, yes, Iran could cause instability to overthrow the Saudi royal family. It’s said that the Houthis have Iran’s support and an Iranian general is leading them. Saudi Arabia would become a club sandwich between a Shia majority Iraq to its north, Shia Iran to its east and Iran-controlled Yemen to its south. If they volleyed and thundered from three directions Saudi Arabia would face some difficulty, to put it mildly, and that is where Pakistan with its Saudi bases there would be an important deterrent. So convoluted has the situation become that Israel and Saudi Arabia find commonality in their mutual fear of Iran and disenchantment with America. Both were by miffed by Obama’s refusal to attack Syria. Now they are more miffed by the ‘Obama Doctrine’ that upgrades US relations with Iran at the cost of Israel and Saudi Arabia. America has found enough shale oil and needs Saudi oil no more. Israel and Saudi are also miffed that Obama has nearly signed a nuclear deal with Iran. The Arabs don’t trust America any longer.
The feeling is surfacing in America that most of its problems are due to its blinkered support of Israel. Enough is enough. That the manic fascist Netanyahu has been re-elected Israel’s prime minister doesn’t help. So was born what Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi calls the ‘Salman Doctrine’, the kernel of which is ignore what America says.
It’s time for our Saudi brothers to remember their ambivalence during the India-Pakistan wars, while Iran under the Shah wasn’t in 1965. But the Ayatollah’s Iran is different and they have gone openly with India. We should remember that Saudi Arabia has always given us tremendous aid during natural calamities and parked dollars in our State Bank to shore up Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves.
Another cause for Saudi worry is that a large number of Saudis are originally Yemini and many Saudi soldiers are Houthi. Saudis don’t like fighting their own battles and would rather have Muslim brothers do their dirty work for them. But wielding a broom is one thing; wielding a gun is quite another. Reality is dawning fast.
In this struggle for influence over the Middle East, will non-Arab Iran succeed or Saudi Arabia? Once the great Persian Empire’s influence stretched from the borders of China to the heel of Italy. Regional influence has been with Saudi Arabia since the oil boom and as custodians of Islam’s two holiest mosques. The Arabs under Islam’s second caliph Omar Bin Khattab conquered Persia and made it Muslim. It still rankles with the Persians that this Arab from the desert “smelling of camel” made Persia kneel. Such slights to the ego die hard.
Iran’s four-point peace plan is unlikely to fly with the Saudis, not least because it involves a “broad-based” Yemeni government that would obviously include the Houthis but not necessarily ousted President Mansour Hadi. The Saudis for their part have been fortified by the UNSC resolution against the Houthi.
As to protecting the House of God, we have said that we will protect both Mecca and Medina if they are threatened. However, God can protect his House better: remember the little Ababil birds or Swallows who rained pebbles down from their beaks on Hannibal’s elephants and chased them away? We are not Ababil. As to protecting the House of Saud and Saudi Arabia, pause and think:
1. Is there an alternative leadership to replace the Saudis?
2. Can we afford an unstable Saudi Arabia, or one controlled by Al Qaeda? Can the world? The tremors of the ‘Zilzal’ or earthquake would reach Pakistan.
3. Can we afford the flames of a conflagration there to reach Pakistan and beyond?
The realistic answer is ‘NO’. So protecting Saudi Arabia and the House of Saud is in our interest, but without becoming an aggressor and making an enemy of Iran that doesn’t much like us anyway and we don’t much trust it either. After the Iran-India pact Iran has become a borderline enemy agent besides. That would make us a club sandwich too, trapped from the northeast and east and west between large India with a small State mentality, an untrustworthy Iran and an unreliable perennially unstable Afghanistan.
Muslim Arab countries joined the coalition not only because Saudi Arabia is first amongst equals in the Gulf but also because they too are scared witless that the terrorism of Al Qaeda and ISIS could reach their shores.
People are likening the histrionic tweeted rant of UAE deputy foreign minister of state Gargash to a mouse that roared and left the lion scratching its head. It was actually an indirect message from the desert cat through the mouth of the mouse. The UAE government has still not distanced itself from its mouse’s squeaky roar and neither has Saudi Arabia frowned. The UAE too has hugely profited America’s military industrial complex by spending billions on arms they cannot use. So what are they so scared of and why are they petulant with ‘Miskeen’ Pakistan for not joining the coalition? Because they know that if even a firecracker goes off in Burj Khalifa its curtains. Everyone would leave and the few Bedouins left would be back in the tent with the camel inside. Having wasted billions on arms, they are reaping the harvest.
We have been presented with one hell of a problem: brother fighting brother with one asking us for help. When presented with a dilemma one shouldn’t either go through its horns or get impaled on them, but find solutions like a matador.