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No Sunni Coalition... Yet?
Pakistan’s Yemen Vote, and Its Deep State

Pakistan’s parliament today dealt a blow to Saudi Arabia’s plan for pulling together a united Sunni front to stand firm against Iran’s regional ambitions. In a vote on whether to participate in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, it approved a resolution for the country to “maintain neutrality in the conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis.”

The statement echoes the words of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who met with the foreign policy advisor to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif two days ago:

“We need to work together to find a political solution. […] It is up to Yemen how it wants to do it. We can only facilitate as countries in the region.”

The thing is, the Pakistani constitution does not require the Prime Minister to get any kind of parliamentary authorization to commit troops, so why the kabuki dance over getting consent? And beyond that, what exactly is going on with Pakistan’s so-called “deep state”—the military and security establishment that ultimately calls the shots on these kinds of affairs?

One possible answer is that the government, working with the security services, might want to acclimate its voters to something it knows will probably happen anyway. Opposition to taking sides in what amounts to an intra-Muslim conflict is running hot on Pakistan’s social media networks. When the Yemen crisis gets worse—as Islamabad’s analysts believe it will—the public might be less hostile to a policy shift given this very public display of give-and-take.

And let’s not forget the other possible explanation. Pakistan may well be prodding Saudi Arabia for more money, insinuating that its mercenary services will not come cheaply amid such high public and parliamentary opposition.

In any case, none of this can be playing well in Riyadh, where much coin and effort has been spent on cultivating Nawaz through the years. The Saudis thought they had their man in Pakistan. They appear to have been wrong.

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  • Jerome Ogden

    “the Pakistani constitution does not require the Prime Minister to get any kind of parliamentary authorization to commit troops, so why the kabuki dance over getting consent?”

    The U.S. Constitution requires the President to get congressional authorization to commit troops, and he’s not bothering even with that kabuki dance anymore, as the AUMF for the war on ISIS slumbers in the bowels of some congressional committee.

    I’m confused.. Which nation is a constitutional republic and which is an authoritarian regime controlled by its “deep state” military?

  • Dan Greene

    Did it ever occur to you that maybe “the deep state” doesn’t want to get involved in Yemen when it has so many other pressing problems? I mean, it’s the obvious interpretation, but it’s one you obviously don’t like, so you ignore it. Bribery, “acclimatizing” the public, etc–anything but the explanation staring you in the face. Once again, TAI frustration is evident: “Doggone it, what’s with this kabuki dance? We want the Houthis dealt with, Pakistan, and you’re not showing the requisite enthusiasm for this little adventure the Saudis are proposing to you.”

    Yes, Pakistan could still end up in Yemen in some capacity, but it’s just one more stress on a country barely keeping its head above water. It makes zero sense for Pakistan to involve itself, other then in response to Saudi threats to cut off aid. Even (or especially) the deep state can grasp that.

  • ljgude

    Given that Nawaz Sharif is sometimes know as Mr. 10% I don’t think it is overly cynical to entertain the notion that the parliamentary vote is part of a bargaining strategy.

    • Dan Greene

      It’s possible but hardly the only, much less the most likely, explanation.

  • Dan Greene

    You gotta love the contrast between TAI’s Russia articles, constantly lamenting Putin’s undemocratic ways, repression of authentic democracy, suppression of gay rights, racy operas, etc, etc

    But when it comes to Pakistan’s devoutly-to-be-wished-for involvement in the Saudi invasion of Yemen (which is in desperate need of cheap and half-way competent infantry), the complaints about inauthentic democracy, though there is plenty of scope for them re Pakistan, go right out the window. No, in this case, a parliamentary vote is a “kabuki dance.” And why can’t the deep state just assert its will, so we don’t have to waste time with parliamentary fripperies?

    Democracy, it seems, is just a word in the TAI lexicon to be employed with the greatest degree of nuance and selectivity.

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