The Greenhorn Warrior
When it comes to triggering manmade disasters among people, there is hardly any difference between a monarchy and a democracy. However while monarchy does it by royal right and imperatives of imperial power, democracy does it on nebulous principles. That makes the imminent or ongoing rigor more sufferable but no less painful. While democracies have pretensions about the rule of law, human rights and being elected voice of the people, kingdoms normally have no such reservations when it comes to royal indignation or an impolite divergence from the royal pleasure or preference. Were it not for the assassination of the Arch Duke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand World War 1 would not have taken place. Imperial Austro-Hungarian dignity was hurt. That hurt turned out to be worthier than millions of lives lost, cities obliterated and countries destroyed.
Then comes World War 2,a dreadful monument to savagery, mass extermination and unprecedented destruction of life and property to right the wrong suffered by leading democracies. This war also had the dubious distinction of letting loose the ultimate destructiveness of nuclear holocaust. World and regional powers, in the name of democratic principles have devastated vast territories and annihilated very large populations. Afghanistan, Somalia, North African littoral, Sudan and finally the cauldron of Syria –Iraq are but a few examples. It is instructive how some of the established democracies manufactured false intelligence as a leading pretext to invade Iraq. It is equally amazing how US and her allies refused to regard the very basic lessons of Afghanistan’s military history before repeatedly invading that country in anger. As a result they have created a terrible mess larger than ever before for themselves and for the peoples of the region itself. No amount of diplomatic sharpshooting, strategic posturing or sublime negotiating skills including the size of their purse is going to help them carry their dignity intact, out of this horrible destroyer of invaders called Afghanistan.
On a much smaller but nevertheless equally destructive scale Saudi Kingdom in the Middle East has chosen to confront a pernicious Iranian theocratic autocracy in the barren battle fields of Yemen. Yemen is a country which is a prisoner of its geography. ‘Geography is destiny’ as Robert D. Kaplan says in The Ends of the Earth, but let me add ‘ history is how it unfolds, however the benefits are not guaranteed’. Madagascar and Oman reaped the fruits of their opportune location on the world’s major sea trade route between East and West for thousands of years.But with the Suez Canal coming up their honeymoon with destiny ended abruptly reducing them to mere mentions in the sea travelogues and adventurer’s memoirs. Yemen had the opportune geographical location to benefit from this man made change in the sea route.
Red Sea became the world’s chosen watery highway and Aden the mighty port of call and strategic control. From a small time midway fishing port Aden and alongwith that Yemen were suddenly catapulted to the global stage, a transformation this essentially inward looking country and its limited commercial , social and military capacities could neither absorb nor handle. It was duly colonized and turned into an imperial naval bastion. On the other end of this trade highway, Egypt having the privilege of managing competing interests of empires since the times of Pharaohs, fared better but continues to grapple with the attendant issues ever since.
Other countries and peoples along the Red Sea coasts were accidental beneficiaries from this floating bonanza but generally kept away from the unfolding global maritime struggle for supremacy over this vital sea route. Till a new and more unsettling phenomenon occurred, again in the same region, which qualitatively altered the contours of strategic balance and regional alliances; oil. Ever since 1929 oil politics have tended to dominate global power maneuvers where three countries out of this huge oil basin have continued to occupy the center stage: Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. Iraq has been effectively decimated into an burning island of instability. That leaves Saudi Arabia and Iran to practice their mutually destructive art of ethnic rivalry and sectarian caprice which is pulling the Muslim world into this huge black hole through the irresistible power of their petro dollars and ornate sectarian obstinacy. Sloppy control over purse strings and wild runs by their overzealous clergy were to give a horrible twist to this rivalry epitomized by OBL’s Al Qaeda with all its shades, reactive but equally belligerent Shia militias in the Shia arch around Saudi Arabia and finally the most vicious of them all, the ISIL. With Houthis, backed by Iran, having ousted the Saudi friendly government in Yemen, worst Saudi fears seem to have come true.
This was a particularly inauspicious time for the Houthi adventure for two reasons.One, that Houthis like Janjavids in Sudan, AL Shabab in Somalia, IS in Iraq or Boko Haram in Nigeria are utterly incapable of handling responsibilities of national power and interact constructively with fellow countries being absolutely unacceptable state ideologies. Second, a momentous change in Saudi rulership occurred as Prince Salman Bin Abdal Aziz became the King early this year. His physical condition forced him to nominate his young son Prince Mohammad bin Salman as the all important Defence Minister , second vice regent and deputy prime minister besides many other important portfolios. He is regarded as the most powerful spark in the Saudi court and is the locomotion behind all his father’s policies. Experienced senior Saudi princes were made to relinquish important ministries who could exercise a sobering influence over the youthful Defence Minister just as Houthis in Yemen began their successful rebellion.
Inexperience, volatility, ambition and unrestrained power are the elements that have come together in an equation for disaster. Saudi Arabia’s boy Defence Minister is just that and much more.He carries with him the insufferable arrogance of a royal brat and a strong indiscretion to bad mouth countries and the entire people. It is open to question if he has had the occasion to face the business end of a gun, fired a shot in anger or handled any force in battle. This young colt is pushing the region into a bush war whose consequences he is quite incapable of assessing or controlling. However he is the architect of a sputtering Saudi invasion of Yemen which is turning out to be such an embarrassment for the might of the powerful Saudi military. As a matter of fact their call for Pakistan Armed Forces to join in the patchy invasion right in the beginning bespoke of a serious military shortcoming and an absence of determination to engage in serious fighting inside Yemen.
It is hard to understand where did they get this unlikely idea of requisitioning Pakistani forces to fight against Houthis in Yemen, a conflict which was never initiated with any consultation with Pakistan and in which our national interests do not appear to be served. No nation in the world, not even Zulus or Mayas would have entered a battle just for its sake let alone for another state just because it happens to be their royal pleasure. Strangely this time Pakistan had to not only contend with the organ grinder himself but also his little tweeting monkey. Personal equations based on gratitude for a favor done are very shaky foundations for building relations between nations. Responsible and wise national leaderships always keep national interest uppermost. Pakistan, as a friend, must insist with Saudi Arabia to call off this misadventure and resort to diplomacy to resolve the badly knotted situation in Yemen.