Pakistan must not pay the price for PM Nawaz’s honour

Published: April 6, 2015

Between the ongoing fight with the Taliban in the north, and the resurgent tensions with India to the south, Pakistan’s army has more than enough on its plate.

The government of Saudi Arabia has formally asked Pakistan to help militarily in the on-going crisis in Yemen. And Pakistan has been quick to offer its aid to the Saudis. Now this is not based on strategic necessity for Pakistan, even though there is an argument that the Saudis could do with the extra help on ground.

The reasons why Pakistan has been so keen to get involved are rather more prosaic. Also, much more misguided. They are largely grounded in the personal relationship that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has with the Saudis from the time they persuaded the then president, Pervez Musharraf not to put Nawaz on trial after the coup, in which the general took power. The Saudis also gave Nawaz sanctuary in Saudi Arabia.

These may all be very good personal reasons for Nawaz to get involved in the Yemen situation, and one could say that for him it is a matter of personal honour. But herein lies the problem. Personal debts should not, in any circumstances, dictate foreign policy. Especially when honouring those personal debts demands a course of action which is truly counter-productive to Pakistan’s internal and international position.

For one, Pakistan has more than enough security problems of its own without getting involved in this conflict. Between the on-going fight with the Taliban in the north, and the resurgent tensions with India to the south, Pakistan’s army has more than enough on its plate. And if it were doing such a sterling job at its current commitments, perhaps there might be a case that it had the capacity to spare to help friends/allies. But that is hardly the case.

Then there is the very serious issue of the sectarian ramifications of this move. The Shia minority in Pakistan is already under constant attack by extremist Sunni groups, and members of this community are killed on a regular basis without any concern from the state. Sending Pakistani troops abroad to kill even more Shias on behalf of the state will only make inter-sectarian relations worse – if that is even possible.

Many Shias in Pakistan already believe that extremist groups, sponsored by their own government, are looking to exterminate them, and this would only serve to confirm that belief. Could you blame these people then, if they look to Iran for support – with all the security implications that they have?

Nor is there any reason to believe that the Pakistani intervention in Yemen would actually have any kind of positive outcome. If history is anything to go by, they will probably make the situation much worse. Last time the Pakistani military intervened directly in Arab affairs was in September 1970, when King Hussain of Jordan declared martial law to neutralise all Palestinian movements in his country and called upon the Pakistani military to assist.

The soldier who was tasked for this operation and took command of Jordan’s second division was none other than Brigadier Ziaul Haq (the later President of Pakistan). In a matter of days, the Pakistani-led forces had killed tens of thousands of Palestinians – some estimates point as high as 25,000. Arafat described the episode as ‘genocide’ and it became known as Black September.

When Israeli general, Moshe Dayan, noted that the Pakistan military had “killed more Palestinians in 11 days than Israel could kill in 20 years”, he was sadly not exaggerating. Now this may all have been some time ago, but I can’t imagine the Arabs in the region have forgotten this. And I can’t imagine that any of them, with the exception of the Saudi government, are in any way looking forward to see the Pakistani army trampling around the place.

They will be targeted and undermined every step of the way by all locals they meet. And under such provocation, the likelihood that they will repeat the acts of brutality from the last misadventure only increases.

And at the end of the day, this is simply a very, very unwelcome distraction. While Pakistan’s southern neighbour and arch rival, India, is tackling corruption and making serious economic progress, Pakistan is allowing itself to be dragged backwards. It’s hardly dealing with its internal security crisis, and now it is rushing headlong into an even bigger mess, the ramifications of which it does not even understand.

I put it to you that Pakistan should not be paying the price for Nawaz’s honour.


Azeem Ibrahim

An International Security and Geopolitics Lecturer at the University of Chicago. Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and a former Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and World Fellow at Yale. He is the Strategic Policy Advisor to Imran Khan and he tweets as @AzeemIbrahim (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Shuaib Hussain

    Our relationship with Saudia is deeper than this personal relationship.

    For example the Saudis funded our nuclear program.Recommend

  • Headstrong

    I don’t get it. Does this really merit an argument? Why has Pakistan’s government not dismissed KSA’s command/request out of hand? What is there to debate about or indeed have a special Parliamentary discussion? Or is it just a smokescreen to show due process? Recommend

  • Divyo singh

    This is the time to think and deliver in Pakistan’s interest…Pak involvement in Yemen will bring this war at your country,remember you were pushed into the war in Afghanistan and still paying heavy price for it..forget about Muslim umma and brotherhood, sometimes its right to be selfish..Recommend

  • Divyo singh

    Remember you were pushed into Afghanistan war still paying heavy price for it… Pak involvement in Yemen will bring back this war to pakistanRecommend

  • Ricky Smith

    there is no proof they funded it and even if they funded it, they did not buy Pakistan.

    It would be the height of foolishness if Pakistani leaders have still not learnt their lesson from East Pakistan, Afghanistan and other involvements.Recommend

  • Karachiwala

    First of all, its a myth that KSA has fiunded our nuclear program. They might have supported through some funds.
    Second, Pakistan has paid back that funding many times more.
    1-Pakistan brought china and ksa together.
    2-Its Pakistan who facilitated CS2 missile shipment to KSA.
    3-Its Pakistan army, who train and manage their strategic defense in terms of Technology.

    Last of all, If the relationship is deeper that this relationship then why they stop the OIL delivery on deferred payments for 5 years in zardari terms?

    we are equal muslim, and we cater the same sentiments about our holy places. But this war is something else.
    Kingdom ship has to go, my religion does not permit/allow kingdom ship of any nature.
    KSA is merely trying to save its kingdom ship. they know what is brewing underneath.Recommend

  • Yusuf

    The Saudis ‘ fund ‘ a lot more, but if your idea of a deep relationship is how much blood their money has and can buy therein lies the problem.Recommend

  • aaaaa

    One would have to be extremely stupid to not realize that the army will make the last decision on this. Or wilfully ignorant to the point of being disingenuous.Recommend

  • nADIr

    Anyone actually believe that if NS gives an order to the Army the Army will follow it if the Chief disagrees? This is all between the Saudi’s and the military and the military will make the decisions. It is irrelevant whether NS is PM or not in this case. It is just fortunate for the army that NS is around as he can take all the blame, thanks to blogs like this.Recommend

  • Tahir Khan

    The Shias in Yemen follow the Zaidi school of thought which is closer to sunnis than it is to shias in Pakistan. It isn’t a sectarian issue and shouldn’t be viewed that way.Recommend

  • vishnusharma

    It will be nice if Pakistan sends more and more troops to Saudi Arabia to annihilate the Houthi Shias.


  • Latif

    They have also funded our little terrorism problem…. Recommend

  • Homayoun

    So? Allama Iqbal wrote in Persian, not Arabic. One could argue that Pakistan has much, much, much more in common with Iran than Saudi Arabia. I have no doubt that if Pakistan needed Saudi Arabs help in a similar position, they would not give it. Iran would.Recommend

  • Babbarsher Khan

    Do not expect too much from Pakistani leaders, they are in competition to prove who is more loyal slave to the Sauds all these years.
    As Sauds have not reason to take side in Yemen’s civil strife (this is equally true for Ayatollah regime of Iran) Nawaz has no right to put Pakistani lives at risk. Yemen crisis has potential to widen the gulf between major sects within Islam and resorting medieval way of settling depute will take us back to dark ages only. Sambhal jaao Nawaz while you still have time!Recommend

  • fze

    And Saudis fund our Madrassahs which are a front line for recruitment for Jihad, lately against Shias in our country and across the border. I think we have done more than our share in repaying back the debt that we owe.Recommend

  • Humza

    The US, Egypt, Gulf States are all supporting the Saudi lead effort. The majority of Yemenis also support the Saudi effort. To me it is no brainer for Pakistan to help work towards restoring law and order in Yemen. Especially when millions of Pakistanis also work in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan is set to join a multinational effort which is supported by the majority of Pakistanis. The nation stands to gain the good will and support of allies when the nation really needs it. Spin it anyway you want but Pakistan needs to be part if this effort and the common man understands this. If you disagree with this democratic reality that is your problem alone.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Oh really? we have been paying the price of his whims for quite a long time so I am sure that we will also be paying the price of his honour. Although he has no honour so the title is kinda incorrect. Anyway, he has sold himself to the Wahabi mindset of the Saudis and therefore he will do whatever they say, sit, shake hands, roll over, good boy now bring us an army.Recommend

  • KHK

    It seems the quality at Yale and Harvard is on the downside. There must be sond reasoning to put forward a view.Recommend

  • This whole line of argument is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. PM Nawaz isn’t the decision maker here, the Pakistani state is. One more instance of PTI-walas lying through their teeth to undermine Nawaz and rock the boat. Worst kind of opportunism.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Agree with much of what you have said……what struck me as very wrong was your equating honour with Nawaz…….self interest, greed, self preservation would have been more apt……… not honour.Recommend

  • shaheen42

    Azeem has made very objective evaluation of ground realities and rightly pointed out that Nawaz Sharif shouldn’t settle his personal debts to Saudi rulers and retrieve his personal honour by dictating foreign policy of the country. The ground realities need to be grasped comprehensively and inferences drawn objectively to decide right line of action in the best interest of our country under prevailing situations and at this conjuncture.Recommend

  • Abeera Khan

    Wonderful Article !
    If Nawaz Sharif has Personal Links then Why Pakistan has to pay for that ?Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    There was a city called Lyallpur, third largest city of Pakistan whose name was changed to Faisalabad, why? because Faisal was king of our best friend and brotherly country. Nobody knew at that time who was Mian Nawaz Sharif. Everything in Pakistan of any importance was called Faisal or Khalid in those days. Telling us that we have great friendship and brotherly relations because of Mian Sahib is intellectual dishonesty. The writer has absolutely zero knowledge of Pakistan Saudi Arabia relations.Recommend

  • Adil

    Your “sond” reasoning behind disparaging Yale and Harvard is pretty ironic.Recommend

  • billu

    Ameen to this article. And I would further add that Pakistan’s strategic interest in this conflict is the protection of holy places of Makkah and Medina and not “the territorial integrity of house of saud (present day saudi arabia)” as Nawaz Shariff is claiming. Pakistan should stay away from the politics of house of saud.Recommend

  • Taha Muneeb

    i extremely disagree by this point of view..
    Pakistan is fort of Islam,and #HarmainSharifain are the most sensitive places for a Muslim so,defense of #Holy sites is at top for everyone who declares itself a #Muslim..Pak army can go #SriLanka for their help on the base of friendship,even they are not Muslims by religion,but if #Saudi govt calls for help to Pak army the most breviest army of the world for defense of #HolySites then we say it as a sold army…
    why we forget the role Pak army in UN Mission in the different disputed areas of the world ,,,serving non Muslims ….
    we should think o0n it ,being a MsulimRecommend

  • Taha Muneeb

    absolutely rightRecommend

  • Gul Zaman Gorgasht

    Have you packed your bag yet? Yes the one sitting under your bed?
    Put your two shirts and two pants together and hurry back to Pakland.
    First quit your two jobs, as a taxi driver, day, and gas station, at night.
    You can volunteer to go to Yemen. And fight the Shia Houthis. Who
    have done nothing to Pakland OR to you. They had a revolution in their
    own country. And overthrew a Saudia stooge. Who ran away to London.
    Since you you are from Punjabistan, you can join the Punjab Brigade. the
    one assembled by the Raja of Raiwind. Just DON’T ask other Pakistanis to spill their blood in a foreign war. It is not their war.

    ET please print. Fair analysis of overseas Paks, egging the the country
    to go to war. When the country has a host of internal and external problems.Recommend

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht.

    So they will get one, eventually. Without doing the HEAVY LIFTING.
    All the hard work, research and testing done by Pak scientists and
    engineers. Suaudia simply does not have the these kind of qualified
    people. These bedouins, and their culture are too tribal, too egotistical,
    they simply do not produce the scientists, engineers technicians etc. They
    just throw money,…and buy it.Recommend

  • Fareed Khan Afridi

    How about you? Why don’t you fly over and volunteer? To fight. Whats
    holding you? As long as some other Pak does the dying, you’re happy?
    Set an example. Go tie yourself to a palace wall and say you’ll protect it.
    The Gulf States, Egypt are all supplicants of the Saudia Royal Family.
    The Family owns Saudia. Lock stock and barrel. Every nail, every oil well
    every pigeon, is owned. The people of Saudia live at the pleasure of the Family. And Pakistanis should go and protect the Royal Palaces, mansions, compounds? Act as Praetorian Guards? Because the Saudi’s armed forces
    are not loyal and reliable. And might start a revolution to dethrone the Monarchy? Your Liege Lord Nawaz Sharif does not own Pakistan. He only
    owns Punjabistan.Recommend

  • AA

    You are ignoring one fact when you wrote “I can’t imagine the Arabs in the region have forgotten this. And I can’t imagine that any of them, with the exception of the Saudi government, are in any way looking forward to see the Pakistani army trampling around the place.” that, the King Husain was also the Arab ruler and killing was to protect Arabs from other Arabs. The matter of fact is in the cold war it was all black and white, Russian supported Palestinians were fighting Western allied Jordan, and Pakistan was allied with Jordan. When we talk about one group of Ethnicity we forget the ethnicity of the other group. Here is Oxymoron, Taliban are supported by Pakistan against Afghans?? Are Talibans a lesser Afghans?? Hamid Karzai and his family took refuge in Pakistan, he sneaked into Afghanistan from Pakistan, then why Pakistan has to kill other Afghans such as Haqqanis for doing the same??? Self defeating arguments. Supporting Arabs or killing Arabs, you can put Pakistan’s military where ever you choose to, it does not change the fact that Jordan is an Arab country which Pakistan supported not wise versa. Now it all said, your argument that Pakistan should learn from the past and avoid helping one friend to fight another, It should take a role of mediator instead.Recommend

  • sundas

    Can we really say ‘no’ to a country that’s pretty much running Pakistan? This isn’t a matter of Nawaz Sharif’s honor as much as an indicator of how low we’ve fallen with decisions being imposed on us rather than being able to freely decide. We need to wake up and realize the deep water we’re in.Recommend

  • Hamidah Fawad

    @taha_muneeb:disqus Harmain Sharifain are not the target here nor are they under any threat. And neither is Saudi Arabia. In fact Saudis in Saudi Arabia are totally unconcerned with the Yemen war except for the Royal Family. Yemen is in the middle of a civil war and unfortunately KSA and Israel are using theinternal troubles of the Yemenis to fight a proxy war against Shia Muslims and Iran.
    Please read up on the conflict and you may get a more informed and accurate picture of what’s happening there. The Yemeni government that ran away to KSA was a farcical one put in place by the Amercians and Saudis oppressing the local Yemeni population. This is an internal matter which cannot be resolved with international military interventionRecommend

  • gp65

    the Houthis are Muslims too and are completely unlikely to attack HarmainSharifain so you have not been asked to protect it. you are being asked to attack Yemen which is also a Muslim country.’
    You are also under an incorrect assumption if you think that Pakistani soldiers were involved in Sri Lankan government’s war against LTTERecommend