Can Pakistan afford to interfere in Yemen?
Saudi Arabia's request to Pakistan seeking military in Yemen has put the latter in a major spot of bother. Not just Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but even the Pakistan militia is in a spot of bother over this request and it has become like choosing between the devil and the deep sea.
While the opinion between the Pakistan government and the military is divided most of the times on this issue they are united and both are of the view that staying away from the war in Yemen is in the best interest of the country.
Pakistan's parliament would debate this issue and most likely may not extend help to Saudi Arabia in Yemen and would look for ways to get out of this. The reasons are several and Pakistan is well aware that any interference in Yemen could lead to major sectarian violence in the country.
Pakistan has plenty at stake:
Pakistan relies on Saudi Arabia for several things. Saudi is one of the biggest donors to Pakistan and the grant of 1.5 billion US dollars last year tells the story. Pakistan cannot outright reject an offer made by Saudi since the ties between the two countries run the risk of breaking.
Nawaz Sharrif on the other hand is personally indebted to the Saudis. In the year 1999, when he was overthrown in a military coup led by General Pervez Musharaff, it was the Saudis who sheltered him. While Pakistan may be able to come up with a lot of excuses to avoid joining the war, one of the biggest worries is that any interference in Yemen could lead to a major sectarian crisis in the country.
The sectarian violence:
Pakistan is already reeling under a major problem when sectarian violence is concerned. It has already doing a balancing act in ensuring that the Sunni attacks on the Shias decreases. Moreover, any aggression against the Shias would anger Iran and this is something Pakistan cannot afford as of now.
Pakistan, moreover, hosts a large number of Shias in its country. While the Shias have been at the receiving end in Pakistan due to Sunni aggression, there is no guarantee that they would continue to keep quiet. Moreover any interference in Yemen against the Shia Houthis would result in a unifying act in Pakistan only ensuring that the sectarian clashes get worse.
Angering Iran is also not an option for Saudi. Pakistan is well aware that it is Iran which is backing the Shia Houthis in Yemen and going against them could prove counter productive for them.
Pakistan, which shares a long porus border with Iran has always looked up to the country in times of crisis. Moreover the visit by the Iranian foreign minister this week is seen as a major diplomatic development in Pakistan. Interference in Yemen ahead of this visit could spark of tensions.
Public opinion is against Yemen action:
The public perception in Pakistan is very much against any action in Yemen. The people are well aware that the clashes between the Sunnis and Shias will spill into the road and it is the general public which will be affected at large.
In addition to public perception, the other question is whether Pakistan can afford to send its troops to Yemen and back the Saudis. It is already engaged in several conflicts in a bid to guard the Afghan border.
Moreover, it is also engaged in a full fledged war against various groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban and in such an event cannot afford to divert any of its forces to Yemen.