A FLURRY of activity in the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf region points to the fact that the ruinous war in Yemen — now in its fifth year — could be wound up soon, if the protagonists agree to terms. This would come as welcome news to the beleaguered people of Yemen, who have been facing death, disease and starvation since the Saudi-led intervention in their country was launched in mid-2015. However, there should not be any premature conclusions, as the complex and volatile situation in the region can change within hours. Moreover, the road to peace in Yemen goes through Riyadh and Tehran, as the Saudi war against the Houthis is primarily seen as part of the larger regional confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
A number of recent events show that the Houthis are capable of inflicting major damage on Saudi Arabia if the stalemate drags on. While the Yemeni militia claimed responsibility for the devastating attacks on oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia last month, Riyadh and its Western allies put the blame on Iran. Even if there were questions involved regarding the Houthis’ capability to carry out such sophisticated attacks, fresh evidence has emerged that the Iran-allied militia recently launched a major incursion near Saudi territory; the Houthis claim they killed or wounded hundreds of Saudi-allied troops, along with having taken Riyadh’s troops prisoner. The group has released what it says is footage of the operation to back up its claims. Moreover, on Monday the militia, which controls the capital Sana’a, released hundreds of enemy combatants, including a handful of Saudis, calling upon the “other party to take a comparable step”. The moves are, apparently, not going unnoticed in Riyadh. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told American outlet CBS that he looked upon a Houthi ceasefire offer as “a positive step to push for … active political dialogue”. He also said in the same interview that the solution to his country’s stand-off with Iran lay in a “non-military solution”.
Perhaps these realisations have emerged after it dawned upon the powers that be in Riyadh that the war in Yemen is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, and a simple victory is out of the question if the current situation continues. From here, the Saudis should reach out to the Houthis and respond to their ceasefire offer; such an opportunity to end this atrocious campaign must not be lost. Moreover, a settlement in Yemen may help create the groundwork for direct Saudi-Iranian talks to bring peace and stability to the region. There are also reports in the media that Riyadh has approached Iraq to open a backchannel with Iran. Indeed, the relationship between Riyadh and Tehran is fraught with mistrust, so no miracles should be expected. But if there is a desire on both sides to negotiate a way out of the quagmire, it would be a much preferable alternative to conflict.
The ‘traitor’ label
The situation calls for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s intervention.
After four months in custody, MNAs Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir had a torrid time in the National Assembly on Monday; the proceedings illustrated how little we have learnt from our tempestuous history of nationalist movements.
The two independent legislators from North and South Waziristan, who are affiliated with the PTM, had been arrested for their alleged involvement in two separate incidents. One was the deadly May 26 clash between military personnel and PTM activists at the Kharqamar check post that resulted in 13 deaths, and the other an IED blast in which four army officials were martyred. On Sept 18, an anti-terrorism court in Bannu granted bail to Mr Wazir and Mr Dawar in the second case, enabling them to participate in parliamentary proceedings.
In the assembly, however, several cabinet members made it clear in a number of ways that they considered the two legislators to be traitors, and demanded proof of their loyalty to Pakistan in return for the government negotiating with them.
Parliament offers a platform where its members can disagree, even disagree strongly, with each other on important issues that concern the people they represent. However, to use it to accuse fellow legislators of treachery is an abuse of that privilege; indeed, such allegations undermine the very purpose of the institution — to bring together the many parts that make up the whole of Pakistan.
Mr Wazir and Mr Dawar were elected by the people of Waziristan to represent them.
To impute a sinister ‘agenda’ to them and question their patriotic credentials is tantamount to casting the same aspersions on their electorate. What can be achieved by that, except to further alienate a people who after decades of a terrible, devastating conflict in their native areas, have been brought into the constitutional fold for the first time in Pakistan’s history?
The prime minister himself has conceded that the PTM’s demands are not without merit. An appropriate intercession from him at this point could prevent negative repercussions in the long run, and the unintended consequences of which we should be acutely cognisant. Consider how Bacha Khan, Attaullah Mengal and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to name but a few, were declared traitors by a state wishing to silence genuine grievances and suppress legitimate political demands.
That resulted only in deepening the ethnic divides and, in one case, to this nation being torn asunder.