Deliberations in Pakistan’s parliament are in their second day over the decision of whether and how to intervene in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, which has given Pakistan billions in aid, has called on Islamabad to send ships, planes and troops to help in its efforts to roll back Houthi advances. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, mindful of public opinion which opposes getting involved in a conflict which splits the Islamic ummah, asked parliamentarians to “help guide” the government’s decision.
Beyond fears of inflaming sectarianism within its own borders, Islamabad is afraid of inflaming a long-simmering conflict along its border with Iran and in its own restive Balochistan. In a potent reminder of just how live this issue is, violence flared earlier today, with eight Iranian border guards killed by Sunni militants who escaped back into Pakistan.
Pakistan careful and reluctant calibration has been matched by Turkey, which has also tried to take a measured stance on the conflict. Turkey’s Reccep Tayyip Erdogan is in Tehran today for consultations, and Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is expected in Islamabad on Wednesday.
Where Pakistan ultimately ends up on this question could be instructive. Saudi Arabia’s longstanding support for Islamabad has been a bet on being able to quickly procure a nuclear deterrent of its own should the situation in the Middle East deteriorate past a certain point of the Kingdom’s comfort. The fact that Pakistan is dragging its feet over Yemen and trying to find a balance between its Saudi patrons and the Iranians may be a wake-up call of sorts for Riyadh.