Bringing in some extra muscle can stop a fight from escalating into an all-out war. Just as Saudi Arabia invited the US to put Saddam Hussein back in his place after he invaded Kuwait in the 1990’s, the Saudis are now turning to Pakistan for a little extra support in their efforts to battle the Yemeni Houthi uprising. At the very least, the Saudis hope their willingness to bring in a heavy-hitter will intimidate Iran enough to cease its alleged support of the Houthi rebels.
As wealthy Saudi Arabia and densely-populated Pakistan have Sunni majorities, both countries have common interests that can be addressed through economic and military cooperation. Given Yemen is home to one of Al Qaeda’s most active branches and Pakistan has been struggling with Al Qaeda, as well as the Taliban, for years, they also have a common enemy in Al Qaeda and the common need to stabilize their own dysfunctional neighbors.
Where Saudi Arabia conflicts with Iran on a multitude of issues, the Pakistani-Iranian relationship is much friendlier. In accordance, the last thing Iran wants to do is start a fight with the much larger, nuclear Pakistan. Although intervention in Yemen on behalf of Pakistan could create friction between the two neighbors, the presence of Pakistani troops would make it far more costly for Iran to influence Yemen. Because Pakistan gets financial support from Saudi Arabia and the globalizing Sunni populations of both countries identify with the plights of each other, Pakistan needs to avoid conflict over failing to support Sunni efforts in Yemen.
The reality is that instability in Yemen directly undermines Saudi Arabia, which undermines Pakistan’s interests. This means Pakistan has every reason to defend its ally from an escalating national security threat. As long as Pakistan is only intervening in Iran-subsidized conflicts by battling Iran’s beneficiaries, Iran can balance its interests when it comes to Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and Iran, but it can only do so by doing something to defend the Saudis from harmful Iranian influence.
Beyond the Saudi-Pakistani relationship, it is important to recognize the greatest threat created from instability in Yemen is the spread of terrorism. It is, however, also important to recognize Yemen is not the only place where terrorism threatens Saudi and Pakistani interests. After all, the Islamic State and various other extremist groups are still waging a war on civilization in Iraq and Syria while their reach continues to spread throughout the region.
Where Iran crossed a line when it came to their backing of the Houthi uprising, those responsible in Iran will seek alternative means to undermine the Kingdom, unless there are consequences for their trespasses. Currently, the West is attempting to reign in Iran’s nuclear activities by completing a nuclear deal. Because the easing of international sanctions will bolster Iran’s ability to support its beneficiaries, it is the perfect time for Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and all other Arab countries to reshape how Iran negatively influences the region.
Consequently, Saudi Arabia would be wise to pursue Pakistan’s help in the fight against the Islamic State. Because Iran’s support of the Assad government and Hezbollah makes it impossible to unify those forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria, intervention by Pakistan and the Saudi-led Arab coalition on behalf of the Free Syrian Army, along with the support of the US, could pressure Iran to finally drop support of Basher Al-Assad. It would also counteract Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. In other words, Pakistan could be used to balance Iranian influence and make the foreign policy of Iranian moderates far more appealing.
There is, of course, the issue of India. Pakistan and India have long had a troubled relationship while India, for example, owes Iran somewhere around $9 billion dollars for oil, thus there is always a potential for a proxy war when it comes to Pakistani military intervention. Because Iran’s isolation makes Iran far more reliant on India than India on Iran, India has considerable influence over Iran. As such, India and Pakistan could easily use the Middle East as a battleground.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heavy focus on foreign affairs, however, mitigates this potential. Not only does Modi want closer ties to the US, he wants to make peace with Pakistan. Meanwhile, a Pakistan focused on its Western borders is far less likely to conflict with its Eastern neighbors, thus Pakistan’s engagement in the Middle East is within the interest of India. Not only will it make it easier for India to pursue peace with Pakistan, it will give India a chance to focus on its relationship with China. As such, India has an interest in exerting its influence over Iran to help Pakistan
Finally, the US-Pakistan relationship is a complicated, dysfunctional one that has long been plagued by serious conflicts. That said, it is important to recognize those conflicts have been over America’s efforts to combat insurgents within Pakistan’s territory. Given the role of Pakistan and the US in the Middle East would be to fight insurgents on the territories of other nations, greater Pakistani involvement throughout the region could give both allies a chance to cooperate and rebuild their relationship.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s efforts to secure Pakistani intervention against the Houthi rebels in Yemen offer an opportunity for the West and pro-Western forces of the Middle East. Not only could Pakistan help curtail the counterproductive influence of Iran, it has the ground forces needed to address threats like the Islamic State without relying on Iran, i.e. the conflict of interests the US and other allies now faces with Iranian involved in Iraq would dissolve. Instead, Iran would find itself increasingly pressured to embrace moderate foreign policy stances and unable to pursue its interests by undercutting its neighbors.
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