OPINION | RealPolitik in Pakistan by Khizr Imran Tajammul

OPINION | RealPolitik in Pakistan by Khizr Imran Tajammul


By Khizr Imran Tajammul

Statecraft is no place for a subjective, mutable concept like human sentiment. For years Pakistan has accepted breadcrumbs from a comity of nations, making bosom buddies instead of short-term strategic partnerships. Even today, when our politicians refer to Saudi Arabia and China, they often speak at length about the genuine love that binds us to them. Culturally, however, we have nothing in common with Bedouins or Chinese folk.


In fact, every year, when thousands of Pakistanis travel to Makkah and Medina for pilgrimage, they are disciplined and admonished for no apparent reason; my own personal experience made me wonder whether I had the hooves and features of an aimless sheep in search of shepherding. In general, and strictly in terms of people to people ties, China may not be similarly unfriendly towards us but they remain distant and largely unapproachable considering the obvious language barrier.



The purpose of this article, however, is not to compare and contrast the distinct, popular cultures of our allies but to understand why we romanticize about certain international ties as though there was more to our relationship than mere statecraft. Hopefully, understanding the above will also help explain why our shift in status from blind-unconditional-ideological-allies to democratic-consensus-dependent-friends vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia has been met with unguarded and somewhat sentimental criticism from selective leadership in the Middle East.



Firstly, there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia has come to Pakistan's aid when Pakistan needed it. Through natural disasters that wreaked havoc on millions and skirmishes on Pakistan's national borders, Saudi Arabia has stood by as a dutiful ally. Furthermore, over the years, Saudi leaders have enjoyed close ties with their counterparts in Pakistan. Zia-ul-Haq was the quintessential archetype of this bond, energizing the country with the uninterrupted import of oil and a certain inflexible brand of religiosity, all in exchange for precious manpower.



Later, in 1999, the Arabs plucked Sharif out of his darkest hour, and gave him refuge when his own politics did not allow him or his family to stay in Pakistan. In this time, Nawaz Sharif lived like royalty and was often seen finding solace in and around historical places of worship; places of worship revered by Muslims the world over and unique to Saudi Arabia.



Apart from all the times the Arabs have simply offered blank checks to Pakistan's exchequer, add the USD 1.5 billion Pakistan recently received to replenish its dwindling foreign reserves the USD 22 billion LNG deal it signed with Qatar, another long-standing Saudi ally. Furthermore, almost every drop of oil that fuels Pakistan comes from the Gulf countries, a group of nations that employs the largest percentage of Pakistani expatriates abroad; 50% of Pakistan's 7.6 million expatriate population lives and works in the Gulf region. The period between 2013 and 2014 was particularly significant in shaping this demographic, attracting a little over half a million Pakistanis to find employment in Saudi Arabia and UAE alone.



Also, let us not forget, 60% of Pakistans power is generated through oil. Indeed, the breadcrumbs from the Arab world keep us afloat. In 2013-2014, Pakistan received USD 15.8 billion in remittances from expats across the globe. Roughly USD 9.6 billion of the aforementioned amount originated from Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.



Considering all of the above, when Nawaz Sharif relegated decision making to the parliament and Saudi Arabia's invitation to use force against Houthi rebels in Yemen was met but with conditions, Sharif was applauded for not capitulating to Saudi demand for an attacking force. Instead, a resolution that promised to protect Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity was passed, allowing neighboring Iran and other actors in the mix an alternative arrangement to peace. A clear victory for democracy. Diplomacy, however, demands more attention since dialogue between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has only just begun.



Also, while the crisis in Yemen exposes the cracks in Pakistans strategic alliances, one cannot help but wonder whether Sharifs decision to involve the parliament stemmed from a sense of courage or inelasticity.



Considering how the entire Sharif fraternity was mollycoddled by the Arabs when their chips were down, their instinctive reaction to return the favor cannot be doubted. Why did the man who once wanted to declare himself 'Amir-ul-Momineen' the ruler of the Muslim Ummah not play ball then, even when so many self interests were at stake? Did the Saudis give refuge to the wrong Sharif? Did they fail to take the military into confidence? One cannot be sure but we have more than one battle to fight on our own land, which should make our exclusion from the Saudi-coalition easy for the world to understand.



Pakistani soldiers started hunting down violent-extremists on its North West frontier last year and the conflict has come to our doorstep. The Peshawar attack on school children was a stark reminder of the menace and its far-reaching tentacles.Furthermore, the COAS is also battling insurgents in Balochistan and widespread crime in Karachi. Saudi Arabia, however, is unwilling to empathize, and in typical tribal fashion, they expect on demand recompense in exchange for their largesse.



And for once, it seems, we will not mindlessly follow our bosom buddies into battle. As for the self-interests at stake, the Gulf countries need our low-income-high-yield expats to build their nations. Also, Iran, USA and China are working with Pakistan to reduce dependence on oil and develop other, more sustainable sources of energy. Pakistan's decision to steer clear of the crisis in Yemen can thus be seen as a healthy detachment from the clutches of a traditional ally.



Whether a heightened sense of realpolitik in this region eventually inspires Pakistan and India to reduce spending on their respective war machines is, in my opinion, the biggest of all questions. Considering Pakistan's reactions to the crisis in Yemen thus far, one can only hope better sense continues to prevail.


 is a Pakitan based Columnist; Award Winning Social Entrepreneur; 

Behavior Change Communications Specialist

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