By Sulaiman Wasty for Gulf State Analytics
Aitzaz Ahsan, a prominent member of Pakistan’s opposition, once famously wrote, “We [Pakistan] are, and very much remain, a South Asian Muslim country: sharing aspirations and history with India – due process, habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari. We are not a Middle Eastern Arab Muslim country.” Such words have some bearing on the April 10, 2015 resolution – passed by the Pakistani parliament and endorsed by the Prime Minister – to avoid taking sides in the Yemeni conflict.
For all intents and purposes, it appears highly unlikely that Pakistan’s army will enter the fray in Yemen. Pakistan’s somewhat neutral position vis-à-vis the Yemeni crisis has confounded “Pakistani watchers” in the West. Islamabad’s stance is understood as a means of balancing Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia and neighboring Iran, while countering the risk of heightening sectarian tension given the staunch opposition to Riyadh’s war in Yemen on the part of Pakistan’s Shi’ite minority and the government’s efforts to combat terrorism. In its more blatant interpretations, the Pakistani government’s position is viewed as a betrayal given Islamabad’s reliance on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members for economic and energy assistance.
Nonetheless, many analysts and commentators who are surprised by the Pakistani parliament’s resolution ignore Pakistan’s historical ties with non-Arab Muslim countries, most notably Iran and Turkey, that transcend (or at least stand on par with) the religious affinity toward the Sunni Arab countries. A reflection on the history of Pakistan’s post-war foreign policy sheds light on Islamabad’s decision to avoid contributing ground troops to the Saudi Arabian-led military campaign in Yemen.
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