And Pakistan’s priorities
The southwestern tip of Yemen juts into where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden. Across the water, on the coast of Africa, lies Djibouti. On its north, Yemen is bordered by Saudi Arabia. Yemen has the added misfortune of being the poorest country in the Middle East, the reason behind its unrest. The country has been the scene of riots due to shortage of food in 1992. On that occasion people died. By now the shortage has assumed famine proportions and the stage is set for the worst humanitarian crisis of recent times.
The unrest turned sectarian in 2004 when the Shia led Houthis staged an uprising against the Sunni government. They’re trying to take over the government, said the government; we’re trying to protect the Shia against discrimination, said the Houthis. In reality, the Houthis have the support of many among the Sunnis as well, given conditions in the country.
The BBC reports that more than 7,600 people were killed in Yemen since this civil war started, and 42,000 were injured, ‘the majority in air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition.’ That is a coalition of nine countries formed in 2015 by the Saudis with American support to intervene in the Yemeni civil war. In one of its few displays of sense, Pakistan turned down an invitation to form part of this coalition. One of the ‘achievements’ of the coalition has been to close all routes into the country, resulting in the humanitarian crisis mentioned above. Aid agencies are unable to access recipients at a time when 70pc of the population of Yemen is in need of aid.
More than half the people of Yemen is said to be ‘food insecure’, almost half of those ‘severely food insecure’. More than half the country lacks safe drinking water, and almost a quarter of the children are malnourished.
Despite this injustice, death and tragedy, the people of Pakistan remain focused on little other than the inadequacies of India and its people.
What of the inadequacies of a country that is silent when the rulers of a country we like to call a friend commit a holocaust against the people of another Muslim country? Not that it matters whether the victims are Muslim or not. It is enough that they are human, innocent, and helpless.
It comes of being a weak country dependent on handouts that one is silent when such things happen, when children die for lack of nourishment, and adults, who are short of food themselves, are forced to watch because forces beyond their power are strangling their country, forces that like to call themselves ‘keepers of the keys to holy places’.
Come December, Pakistan will be festive with wedding illuminations, and the greatest worry to furrow our brow will be the one-dish restriction at wedding functions. Enough food will be wasted to feed Yemen for a day, and women will wear garish clothes worth lacs of rupees. And any political conscience that exists will be focused on the freedom of Kashmir.
There are many forces operating in Yemen at present, although famine and death are the biggest. Al Qaeda and ISIL are among them. The Houthis are fighting against both of these, as well as against Saudi Arabia and its powerful allies. Yemen is after all an oil rich country, although probably not for long.
Yemen’s oil reserves are dwindling, and although oil is still one of its major exports, more and more of what it earns from petroleum is consumed by the civil war against the Houthis. Besides, the country is riddled with corruption and shoddy organisation, and spends more than six percent of its GDP on its military. Pakistan, which (officially) spends almost half, is not behind for want of trying.
With food running out and oil wells drying up, the only way out of Yemen’s dilemma is if the blockade imposed by its neighbours is lifted. That is for starters, but it would be a crucial start that would prevent millions of deaths by starvation and disease such as cholera.
Whatever other axes there are to grind, the reason behind the blockade boils down to sectarian egos, Shia versus Sunni, in other words the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region. Pakistan need support neither, but as in within its own borders, it finds it impossible to avoid partisanship.
Religion ought to be a source of unity rather than discord. Pakistan needs to get its priorities right even though it did not join the alliance.