Important questions remain unanswered
The UN Security Council has passed a resolution on Yemen. Pakistan government, under pressure from Saudi Arabia to join its military offensive, is agreeable to commit naval elements for the embargo on arms supplies to Yemen. Meanwhile, UN Sec Gen Ban Ki-moon is worried because, as he puts it, Yemen is “in flames”.
The situation in Yemen has been under the watch of the United Nations Security Council throughout the year. Whatever measures the UN took were, however, insufficient and failed to put an end to the conflict. The UN special envoy Jamal Benomar, a veteran Moroccan diplomat, had brokered a 2011 transition plan aimed at quelling political turmoil in Yemen. However, the plan subsequently unravelled leading to clashes between the Houthis and supporters of former President Saleh on one side and the Hadi loyalists on the other. Benomar’s efforts to resolve the differences between the factions involved in the fighting did not succeed because the parties involved did not cooperate with him. There is a perception that Saudi opposition to a peaceful settlement was the major factor behind the failure.
The UN Security Council passed a resolution drafted by the Gulf Arab states seeking to impose an arms embargo on Yemeni rebels. Russia had earlier suggested an all-inclusive ban on arms sales and a UN move to push all sides to the negotiations table. While a part of the Russian suggestion was incorporated in the resolution, some of the key points were ignored. For instance, yielding to the Saudi argument that stoppage of bombing would allow the Houthi rebels to consolidate their position the Council did not order an end to air attacks which are causing a humanitarian crisis. Similarly, instead of agreeing to the Russian suggestion to ban arms supplies to all the combatants, the resolution only demands arms embargo against the Houthis and Saleh’s fighters.
Ban says the UN-brokered talks offered “the best way out of a drawn-out war with terrifying implications for regional stability.” Unless the UN appoints a focal person to implement the plan, the Saudi aerial bombardment combined with artillery firing from the Saudi side would continue to deepen the miseries of the people of Yemen.
Ban says the UN-brokered talks offered “the best way out of a drawn-out war with terrifying implications for regional stability.” Unless the UN appoints a focal person to implement the plan, the Saudi aerial bombardment combined with artillery firing from the Saudi side would continue to deepen the miseries of the people of Yemen
The name of Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is being suggested as Benomar’s successor. Ahmed currently leads the UN Ebola mission in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. How long the appointment takes is one issue. Another is whether the Saudis would agree to a consensus setup in Yemen. In any case it is important to appoint a new special envoy at the earliest.
The new envoy will also face the type of problems that stood in the way of Benomar. The Saudis are not willing to have any consensus government in Yemen. They want instead a t government which remains subservient to them.
Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who has taken refuge in Riyadh, is still the Saudi favourite. Hadi is unpopular in Yemen and there is deep division among his own supporters also. Even the groups fighting against the Houthis in Aden do not want him to return. Hadi, who was also the supreme commander of the Yemeni army, failed keep the army united with the result that a part under the influence of former President Saleh joined hands with the Houthis against him. Realising this, last week the Saudi government got current Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, who is also in Riyadh, nominated as Vice President. Bahah said on Thursday he hoped to avert a Saudi-led invasion to restore unity to the country. This amounts to playing the good cop, bad cop game. It is yet not known how Hadi’s opponents react to the move.
King Salman’s moves to have a puppet government in Yemen are part of a grand design. The king is keen to project Saudi Arabia as the dominant power in the Arabian peninsula. With Egypt facing internal political turmoil and dependent on Saudi aid the king thinks it is time to assert the claim. The king also desires to promote his son Mohammad bin Salman who has been appointed Saudi defence minister at the age of 30. The arrangement is not acceptable to more senior Saudi princes. Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi visiting professor at LSE’s Middle East Centre, thinks that for this the young prince needs to earn a military title, “perhaps ‘Destroyer of Shiite Rejectionists and their Persian Backers in Yemen’, to remain relevant among more experienced and aspiring siblings and disgruntled royal cousins”. A successful military operation in Yemen would give Prince Mohammad bin Salman the credentials he needs.
A victory in Yemen would also generate a patriotic fervour which would unite loyalists and dissidents under King Salman. This will strengthen the king’s grip on the country and help in the fulfilment of his domestic agenda.
What is needed on the part of the UN is to urgently put the machinery for the implementation of the UN resolution in place. The longer this takes the greater the chances of the humanitarian crisis becoming unmanageable. Yemen is dependent on food imports. The country is short of medicines and there are fears of water shortage as some of the power stations have been destroyed in the bombing and pumping stations in certain areas having stopped working.
King Salman’s moves to have a puppet government in Yemen are part of a grand design. The king is keen to project Saudi Arabia as the dominant power in the Arabian peninsula. With Egypt facing internal political turmoil and dependent on Saudi aid the king thinks it is time to assert the claim
While the UN SC has passed the resolution favouring a political solution, Saudi air attacks and firing by Saudi heavy guns inside Yemeni territory continue.
Pakistan has been under immense pressure to join the Saudi military campaign against Yemen. What stood in the way is the parliamentary resolution and a widespread sentiment in the country against sending Pakistani troops to a war the country has nothing to do with. The PML-N government’s special relations with the Saudi royals are forcing it to look for any possible loopholes in the UNSC resolution providing it an excuse to support Riyadh.
With the resolution visualising a naval blockade, the government seems to be enthusiastic about joining it before anyone else does. The government, we are told, has assured Saudi Arabia of its support in enforcing the United Nations Security Council’s arms embargo on Houthi militia and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. An announcement is likely to be made about committing its naval vessels for the purpose.
Important questions remain unanswered about joining the blockade, foremost being who would command the fleet in the blockade? A naval blockade alone is not likely to satisfy the Saudis.
The embargo would have little Impact on the fighting capacity of the Houthis and other Yemenis the Saudis are keen to target. Yemen is already awash in arms, with an estimated 40 to 60 million serviceable weapons according to the latest Panel of Experts (PoE) report.
The GCC members claim that the Houthis are receiving arms from Iran. With an embargo already in force against Iranian arms exports what will an extra embargo do then? The GCC countries possess no armada while Pakistan can only make a few ships available. Their combined strength is going to achieve little.
What one fears is that the naval support being offered might turn out to be the thin edge of the wedge. It might pave the way for further military involvement that does not suit the country.