People often say that Pakistan is a poor country. With weak institutions, shabby infrastructure facilities, limited provision of electricity and gas, inflation, illiteracy, extremism, terrorism, polio and a population growth synonymous with several underdeveloped African nations, Pakistan is truly suffering from numerous crises. It should however be noted that no matter how poor or impoverished we think our country might be, the world at large views Pakistan with awe and perhaps a hint of deterrence coupled with sincere sympathy.
The media in particular has focused a great deal on the various problems faced by our beloved nation. This should not necessarily be considered a negative thing, as it is important for our people to understand the challenges we face but it is also of paramount significance that our nation comprehends the strategic importance of Pakistan.
It is my opinion that the geography of Pakistan has been the most consequential factor in shaping our history. Pakistan shares its borders with China, a global economic giant, with India, an emerging global force both economically and militarily, with Iran, an oil rich nation of significant regional and global importance and with Afghanistan, a frequent warzone. The geographical location of Pakistan is such that our nation cannot afford to ignore what goes on in our neighboring countries. Even though every nation strives for peace and the security of their citizens, conflict is often times, inevitable.
In the last century, America has been the dominant force in global conflicts. It would not be unfair to say that almost every major conflict in the world in one way or another has something to do with today’s superpower. Because of Pakistan’s strategic location, we have in the past, found it wise to involve ourselves in wars which are not completely our own. An important man once said that without America, the Soviets could have been defeated in Afghanistan, without Pakistan, not so much. This one line is enough to explain Pakistan’s strategic importance.
We have fought three wars with our immediate neighbor, India. Much of Pakistan’s history is solely focused on competing militarily with our powerful neighbor. Our insecurity is somewhat justified as we have witnessed first hand, the damage a hostile nation can cause to a weaker neighbor. This was the reason why Pakistan had no other choice but to develop nuclear arsenal after India’s test in order to ensure that Pakistan and India do not meet in the battlefield again. Nuclear deterrence is perhaps the most important variable in modern conflict resolution.
The emergence of modern technology and innovative war machines has given birth to another kind of war, fought far away from the secure boundaries of a rich country’s well-protected borders. This kind of war is fought with money, intelligence and strategy. As powerful nations cannot afford to go into a conventional war with each other, they often choose to engage in proxy wars.
The Vietnam War was a cold war era proxy war, which lasted for 19 years, 5 months, 4 weeks and one day. While several countries took part in the conflict, it can be implied that the only real participants of this conflict were the Soviet Union and the United States. Estimates show that both sides lost over half million people each, while no side exactly got what they were hoping for. In wars like this, there is no clear winner or loser, since there is no clear player and no clear judge. It could perhaps be said that the episode of Vietnam was a source of immense irritation for the United States forces as their expectations were shattered and their resources plunged. Slowly and slowly, the inferior soviet backed force drained American resources before their ultimate withdrawal.
Afghanistan was the next venue for the proxy war to be fought between these super powers. The CIA along with the ISI found it wise to train mujahideen fighters on Pakistani soil, fueling a hatred of the ‘atheist/kafir’ soviets in their hearts. The soviet war is perhaps the only proxy war, which the United States has won, and Pakistan’s role in this victory has been most crucial.
It cannot be denied that Pakistan’s military is one of the finest in the world. Our Air force, artillery, corps, Navy and premier intelligence agency is a force to be reckoned with. This is why the world immediately thinks of Pakistan’s armed forces whenever a conflict arises in this region.
The proxy war currently being fought in Yemen is one of absurd contradictions. It is still not clear which side is fighting for which side because allies in one region are enemies in another. To be precise, Irani backed militias are allied with American backed forces to fight ISIS in the Iraqi border. However, the American/Saudi backed forces are fighting against Irani backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The former president has left Yemen, fleeing in the safe domain only Saudi Arabia could provide. The rebels are in control on the ground but they do not necessarily have an upper hand. When America and Saudi Arabia unite against a common enemy and they are genuinely serious in their efforts, it is quite hard to for the rebels to match the undisputed military strength of their enemies.
Saudi Arabia and Iran represent the Sunni and Shia Muslims of the world. Their global significance stems from being associated with a particular strand or version of the Islamic faith. Both are wealthy and powerful but one is blessed with more friends than the other. While Pakistan enjoys a good relationship with both countries, we are more inclined towards Saudi Arabia for very obvious reasons. Firstly, Saudi Arabia has been generous in its aid to Pakistan. At the start of this Government, Saudi Arabia provided over $2 Billion in aid so that our exchange rates could be in a better position. Secondly, Pakistan is Sunni majority state like Saudi Arabia and thus finds itself more ideologically aligned with their Saudi counterparts. Thirdly, Saudi Arabia is a very close ally of America, so is Pakistan, but Iran is isolated from the international community due to its controversial statements and actions.
So far a coalition of 10 countries has allied with Saudi forces and Pakistan is yet to make a formal decision. Our Prime Minister along with our Defense Minister have made it very clear that any attack on Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty will evoke a strong response from Pakistan. Our foreign office has briefly stated that a formal request has been issued to them on behalf of the Saudi authorities but a decision is yet to be made. Imran Khan has very clearly stated that Pakistan should not directly involve itself in this conflict while it should be at the forefront of the negotiations. There is one stakeholder, perhaps the most important one in this regard, which has kept an unnerving silence, Pakistan’s Armed Forces.
The decision makers of Pakistan’s strategic policy already have a lot on their plate. A war against the Taliban, escalating border tensions with India and frequent political instability is enough to keep an army busy for a long time but with great power comes great opportunities to benefit. Brother Zia Ul Haq is not generally considered to be a loved personality in Pakistan but there is more to the man than what meets the eye. He served in Jordan, annihilating Palestinian forces and he was a primary commander in the soviet war. He obliterated whoever rose against his interests. We can learn a lot from the old general, after all, he ruled with an iron fist for 11 years, developed a wonderful relationship with Saudi Arabia and America and won a great war of his time.
The consequences of Zia’s policies are evident today. Pakistan is involved in several international conflicts and is presently a battleground itself for various conflicts whether it is the fight against terrorism or sectarian extremists. Our land mass is already a battle field where innocents die by the thousands and killers are not always held accountable.
The decision whether to intervene in Yemen ultimately lies with the political and military leadership of Pakistan but I feel that the question is not of what, why, where or who but of how much?
[box_dark]Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not represent The CSS Point policies or opinion.[/box_dark]