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.