By Mohammad Ahmad
April 20, 2015
The recognised government of Syria has been under attack by militants mostly belonging to terrorist outfits guising themselves as Islamists. Their actions have caused hundreds of thousands of Christians, Alawite Druze and other vulnerable communities to become internally displaced in their own homeland and yet we found both secular Turkey and the tribal kingdom of Saudi Arabia not siding with the recognised government. Although world opinion is united against use of terror and suppression of religious rights, both sided with the militants and terrorists. The former acted as a conduit for arms and personnel supply and the latter as the most active supplier of both the tangibles and the ideology.
A few months later the same happened in Yemen and another group engaged in an armed struggle against the government, which had faltered on its commitment of reforms. Here, contrary to their stance in Syria, both Turkey and Saudi Arabia chose to side with the government that was not delivering on its promises. Was it a real change of heart with both realising their mistake in destabilising a sovereign country by assisting its rebels? Unfortunately, that is not the case .The tribal kingdom continues to assist the Syrian rebels nominally headed by The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces knowing fully well that the resistance is actually led by the so-called Islamist militants initially supported by al Qaeda and now overtly led by Islamic State (IS).
Turkey’s interest in Syria may have been to help neutralise the threat Syria posed to Israel while also weakening a Kurd sympathiser. The policy backfired when the Syrian opposition, led by IS, knocked at Turkish borders and took over Kobane and Tel Hamis. This forced it to help the Kurds who had taken up arms on the Syrian side to fight the IS led campaign. However, the Saudi interest there does have a sectarian shade as it armed and financed the resistance led by elements that followed the militant form of Salafi doctrine. Turkey, having learnt its lesson from the failure of its policy with Syria, has been wiser in Yemen and has so far not actively lent support to the Saudi led coalition, restricting its support to statements and parleys with Pakistan and other interested states.
However, Saudi Arabia’s action in Yemen has gone beyond internationally accepted norms. Without any mandate it has meddled into the internal affairs of a sovereign nation and has bombed Yemeni towns with impunity. The casualties have not always been those engaged in fighting. The civilian cost is rising with each passing day. Saudi Arabia has not even cared if its actions are aiding al Qaeda, which has become the beneficiary of its adventure. The kingdom has used its muscle to the fullest. Support of the Gulf States for Saudi action was natural because of their small size and ties to the House of Saud. However, the Kingdom’s desire for Pakistan to lend its troops and equipment rested on its calculation that it was payback time for Pakistan to whom it had lent economic support. It had forgotten that its economic support has always had strings attached and Pakistan has already paid back the debt by allowing Saudi influenced seminaries and clerics to attain a disproportionately high influence in society and state’s religious institutions. The rise in religious extremism is also a cost for Saudi economic assistance, which the whole Pakistani nation pays daily. It is noteworthy that a country that has spent $ 80 billion on its military this year alone fears making a full-fledged assault into Yemen and wants the Pakistani army to its dirty job.
Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen are more ruled by fear than anything else. The Saudi clan fears two things: the rise of a non-Saudi tribe in its neighbourhood and the idea that the people can bring in a change in government. It is a historical fact that the House of Saud was a comparatively less respected tribe in the land that was under Ottoman rule. Their influence in the 18th century started from Najd from where they went on to capture Hijaz. Their rise was a result of their nexus with cleric Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab who, in return for doctrinal exclusivity, provided them legitimacy. Karbala was attacked, which later led to Ottoman intervention and the end of the first Saudi state. Now the third Saudi state whose marriage of convenience with the clerics continues, is also flexing its muscle and wants de-facto control over who governs Yemen. It fears that if it lets the Houthis have their way against the will of the Sauds, tribes within Saudi Arabia that the House of Saud has silenced over the years may also find courage and start questioning their decisions in matters of the state. If that happens the power of the estimated 15,000 members of the Saudi clan who hold their desired positions of choice within the kingdom will get radically diluted. This they want to avoid at any cost.
What the House of Saud fears the most is the possibility of the people changing their government. They would never let a truly multi-racial democracy evolve in their neighborhood. It is highly likely that the House of Saud would never let Yemenis agree on a constitution the draft of which has the following provisions that run against Saudi practices: “Article (75): Citizens shall have equal rights, freedoms and public duties without discrimination due to sex, skin colour, race, origin, religion, sect, belief, opinion. Article (82) 1: Everyone has a right to freedom of belief, conscience thought and opinion in a manner that does not contravene the Constitution. Imposing any opinion, thought or belief on anyone by force shall be criminalized. Article (84): Freedom of expression, freedom to access information or ideas and freedom of literary, artistic and cultural creativity, freedom of scientific research and freedom to criticise the performance of state institutions shall be guaranteed for every person.”
It could be argued that certain provisions were made to be put into the draft constitution knowing fully well that to those the Houthis would highly object and the whole draft that contained the provisions on human rights would become contentious and Yemen would remain in a state of political stalemate. Perhaps the Houthis’ active reaction on these other provisions that related to regional representation was underestimated as they ran over the Saudi favoured President Hadi. Now the Kingdom fears that a new government in Yemen may bring such changes to the draft constitution that most would agree to and usher democracy into Yemen. While democracy in the land now called Saudi Arabia may be better for the world, it is doomsday for the House of Saud.
It is commendable that the parliament of Pakistan has withstood Saudi pressure and has put up a policy course for its government that if adopted in letter and spirit would do the Arab people real good. It is the duty of the government to take all possible steps to uphold the self-respect of the Pakistani people who are being belittled in the statements bring issued by the so-called leaders of Gulf States on our parliament’s decision. It is also time for the government to prepare the nation for the economic costs of its bold decision and share all its concerns with its people. The government should rest assured that Saudi Arabia does not afford to up the ante beyond a certain level as it would harm its doctrinal assets in Pakistan who can be made to lose clout through a policy shift overnight. Such a policy shift by Pakistan would undo the Kingdom’s efforts of decades. It will go to any length to avoid this.
Mohammad Ahmad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org