The Peril of Civil War in Yemen

The rebellion erupted in northern Yemen by Houthi insurgents about ten years ago has turned to be a full-fledged civil war. From its covert phases it is now an open rebellion involving Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Gulf States including Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates participating against Houthi insurgents militarily. The Houthi rebellion is named after a dissident cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, head of shia Zaidi branch who died leading a conflict in Northern Yemen in 2004.
The rebellion is motivated over community’s discontent over government’s discrimination and continued aggression against the group. The slogan of defending Houthi community picked momentum in various stages since 2004 till conflict reached from neighbouring governorates of Hajjah, ‘Amran, al-Jawf and the Saudi province of Jizan to Yemeni capital Sanaa.
Yemen has an area of about 528,000 square km with a population of 26 million and rebels control most area after bringing the intense fighting around the strategic Gulf of Aden after fall of capitol to Houthi.
The violence has become norm across Yemen motivating militias to commit atrocities and still get away from accountability. This has given flip to other freedom movements in Dhamar, Hudaydah, Taiz and barren eastern Yemen. The government blames Iranian backing of Houthis to overthrow government, while rebels accuse Saudi Arabia and US supporting the Yemeni government in massacre of its community.
The idea of years long selling of false hope of political reality to Yemenis by international community has created conflicts rather than peace and tranquility. The UN declared “Yemen as a transitional model” which indeed has slipped further into the abyss of turmoil, bringing more violence than peace, tarnishing democracy, social justice and cohesion.
Saudi Arabia faces a complex, uncertain, and ever-changing regional landscape demanding defending the northern and southern borders and surrounding sea-lanes and internal security against potential tensions and aggressions that could spill across state lines at regional level, where terrorist cells have emerged in the neighborhood to fill power vacuum.
Saudi Arabia finds itself in serious security situation with ingress of revolt close to its province of Jizan, leaving no option to quell the insurgency in the formatting stages. Saudi Arabia and a coalition of regional Gulf States also share similar security threats, while US wants to pin down suspected hide-outs of Al Qaeda within its borders. The Saudi coalition prefers to come out of the Yemini crisis with installation of a favorable Sunni government willing to align itself with Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, than with Iran.
In the past Houthi insurgents blamed US-Saudi air force’s massacre of citizens in the north of Yemen and other populated areas where markets, refugee camps and villages were targeted in the garb. It is therefore unlikely that intervention would lead quickly to the creation of a favorable government.
The Middle East has been a battlefield of ad hoc stability that enabled Iran to project its power. Iran indeed is taking advantage of short-term tactical decisions by conflictual states in the strategic expansion of conflict from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen.
Iran on other hand is blamed of benefiting from instability in neighboring countries by clandestinely invest in local groups that can serve as proxies for its interests, capable of fighting not only regional governments but also world powers such as the U.S. and its Western allies. The price of oil would probably rise as a consequence, which would also serve the Iranian interests.
The country could well become the battleground for an international proxy war in a way the world hasn’t seen since Vietnam. In addition, fundamentalists ISIS and Al Qaeda-backed groups would view U.S. intervention as a call to arms and would capitalize on the instability and insecurity to advance their fight against the West.
The conflict is dominated by allegations and counter allegations to condense the scope of diplomacy and reconciliation. Countries that could have played a positive role are either alleged of their involvement or alegeding each other. Saudi Arabia alleges Iranian involvements in the insurgency of secretly supplying arms through its Red Sea coast and training of rebels in an Iranian-run camp across the Red Sea in Eritrea with active involvement of the members of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militia.
Iranians deny their involvement to make it difficult for independent observers to ascertain varsity of these accusations. Jordan alleged Saudis of deploying their commandos to fight alongside the Saudis in an offensive against Northern Jabal al-Al-Dukhan, located in Saudi territory south-west of Jizan at the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but Saudis sent the Jordanian commandos to fight in Northern Yemen.
Morocco is alleged to have sent hundreds of elite fighters, mainly para-troopers trained in counter-insurgency operations to assist 2009-10 Saudi offensive in Jizan. Pakistan is also alleged of its special forces fighting in Yemeni counter insurgency operations in Sa’dah.
Though the conflict is being projected on sectarian lines, but in many ways it is a political. The events in Yemen and Iraq are not directly connected and essentially it remains power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia (and its Arab and western allies) for political power and influence in the region.
The Houthis are being identified Shia sect fighting non shia legitimate regime to gain support from the predominantly Sunni Arab population, and to lend legitimacy to its actions. The narrative that Shia population in Gulf States, Iraq and Syria backed by Iran and if by any chance it is replaced by Shi’a governments there would be a solid sea of Shi’ism from the confines of Pakistan to the Mediterranean is most dangerous dimension of the conflict and this fault line can be exploited.
These are defining moments in the history of Pakistan. The emerging alliance against Houthi insurgents, ISIS and global terrorism will spread in the region and remaining nonaligned would not be an option. This will recount difficulties like Pakistan’s previous alliances and most states consumed by internal challenges would pursue integration of Pakistan into the gambit.
Pakistan faces difficult situation, where it has no choice than committing politically, militarily and morally to Saudi Arabia and regional alliance. It will be difficult to ignore legitimate international alliance against sectarian rebels of the fear of possible internal sectarian strife back home. Perhaps this is first time that Saudi led alliance is relying within Muslim and seeks a critical role of Pakistan alongside Egypt and Turkey. In return it gives Pakistan an opportunity to build strategic alliance and regain its influence lost during war on terror.
“May you live in interesting times” is taken to be an old Chinese curse. What at first sight appears to be a blessing; the proverb is to underline the risks over the opportunities while living in interesting times. Joining or leaving the alliance is interesting time for Pakistan. Pakistan should hope to play important role in the Unified Military Force of Muslim countries and Muslim Union on the lines of NATO and EU. Strategic decisions are to be taken within strategic timeframe otherwise it is lost opportunity. Pakistan has to commit militarily in this complex security landscape under some umbrella despite a possibility of being embroiled in a diverse array of internal challenges.

Wajid Ali

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