this was printed in PT in hardcopy but not online
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD?
By Rabia Ahmed
How right is it to install blockades against a helpless country?
Eid in Pakistan will of course take place when the relevant departments succeed in sighting the moon. While those attempts to spot the moon are ongoing, in a world that has studied the moon’s effect on the magnetic field of the Earth, on emotions, the universe and landed on it too, the government has announced a three day holiday for Eid. Comments on this announcement ranged from ‘Well done!’ to ‘Good job!’
Yay for a government able to achieve so much.
Meantime Saudi Arabia has already performed the incredible feat of spotting the moon, meaning it is Eid in that country today, Sunday. On Eid, the Saudis, already given to taking it easy will be taking it easier still.
While all this happens, Yemen is facing the world’s worst outbreak of cholera.
Yemen the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula is the poorest country in the Middle East. As an ultimate irony, in ancient times Yemen was called ‘happy Arabia’ by the Romans, as opposed to ‘deserted Arabia’ for the rest of the peninsula. The Romans seem to have been skilled at puns. And Yemen has clearly seen better days.
Cholera is an infectious disease caused by infected water. It leads to severe watery diarrhea due to which patients become badly dehydrated. In the worst cases this leads to death. It is mostly children who are affected. In India between the years 1900 and 1920 around eight million people died of cholera.
Risk factors for cholera include poor sanitation and poverty. Yemen as a desperately poor country proves this is true.
Yemen has been subject to political crises including civil war for the past five or six years. Mr. Hadi the President of Yemen has had a tumultuous tenure. In 2015 he fled to Riyadh but after a bombing campaign conducted by a nine member coalition led by Saudi Arabia in his support, he was able to return to Yemen a few months later.
This coalition led by Saudi Arabia is composed of mostly Sunni Arab states who have been alarmed by the rise of an opposing group (Houthis) who, the coalition believes, is backed by Shia Iran. The reason behind this coalition’s existence is therefore mainly sectarian, its aim is to restore a Sunni leader, Mr. Hadi of course being Sunni.
According to the BBC, the coalition receives logistical and intelligence support from the US, the UK, and France.
Air strikes by this coalition have led to the death of almost 8,000 Yemenis since 2015. The air strikes, the crises, and the blockades put in place by the coalition have led to a massive humanitarian disaster in Yemen.
A blockade should not be confused with an embargo, or sanctions, which are legally imposed trade barriers. A blockade is ‘an effort to cut off supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force,’ a prevention of all ingress and egress into and from that area. Blockades lead to famine and medical epidemics since food and medicines are not able to come into the country. It is what happened in Iraq when children died untreated, and it is happening now in Yemen.
Historically there have been many, many instances of blockades around the world. Some blockades in the recent past were the Indian blockade of East Pakistan during the Bangladesh War in 1971, the American, British and French no-fly zones against Iraq 1991 - 2003, and the 2001 - 2007 attempt by the Australian Maritime Border Protection agencies to ‘disrupt, deter, and deny’ the entry of boat people into Australia.
None of these blockades were popular internationally, with a substantial number of opponents even in the countries that set these blockades in place. All these blockades were condemned in Pakistan by those who were aware of the news. None of these blockades were humane and none of them produced any positive results. The only results were death, destruction and misery. In short, they led to humanitarian disasters. The blockade in Yemen which began in 2015 and is ongoing is no different. With this fresh humanitarian disaster in the shape of the massive cholera epidemic, it is time we re-examined our priorities.
Saudi foreign aid to Pakistan since that country came out of the desert so to speak has been substantial. In the ten years since 1976 it was USD 49 billion, second only to the aid provided by the US, although at present they both face competition in the shape of China.
In a blog written a couple of years ago for the Rand Corporation by Jonah Blank, Mr. Blank says that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have major reasons for seeking each other’s friendship. Pakistan’s seems to be financial aid (isn’t it always?) while Saudi Arabia views Pakistan as a major ally against Shia, oil rich Iran.
But in the case of Yemen when the Saudis asked for Pakistan’s support in fighting against the Houthis two years ago, Blank mentions that Pakistan refused.
It will remain one of Pakistan’s few sensible decisions.
Since then, Gen Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s retired Chief of Army Staff has this year taken over command of the forty one nation Saudi led military coalition.
Any Saudi led coalition is likely to have an anti-Iran thrust, and these days also an anti-Qatar thrust. And it is also likely to have a major patron in the shape of the US, which is as mentioned before, a major financial donor to Pakistan. It is a complicated swirl of khichri (kedgeree) with one flavor supporting the other in a myriad ways.
Given this new involvement in a Saudi led coalition...how many different coalitions can a country have with how many different aims...it will be difficult for Pakistan to make a choice based on what is right. The chances are high that as usual it will pick what is expedient. That has always been this country’s ultimate tragedy. In the end it is the mockingbird the innocent, helpless segment of humanity that suffers. And to kill a mockingbird is not just a crime, it is a sin. It is not just Harper Lee who said that.