Lo and behold, part one of Anwar Gargash’s heavy price has arrived. In April, the UAE foreign minister tore into Pakistan’s vague and contradictory stand on the Yemen war and promised payback. His country has now made good on that pledge. In subtle yet firm speak, the joint statement issued after Indian premier Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the Emirates accused Pakistan of exporting terror.
Both countries condemned efforts by states to use religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism against other countries. The Indian media gloated that this joint message to Pakistan would hit where it hurts. That the Taliban-sponsoring Emiratis should accuse anyone of propping up radicals is laughable. As for India, talking up the other countries clause does not excuse Modi sarkar of letting Hindutva goons harass the Muslim minority.
Though puzzling at the time, Gargash fuming over Pakistan’s polite refusal now makes sense. The UAE had to send 3,000 of its own troops to Yemen recently to force an outcome in a conflict that should have ended quickly. Scores of its soldiers have died and the Houthi rebels have seized ammunition and armoured vehicles. The Emiratis are obviously livid; they prefer other people dying for their cause. Meanwhile, the Saudis, who started this war have taken on the US’s mantra of no boots on the ground and are content to carpet-bomb their southern neighbour. In trying to liberate it from the Houthis, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has made Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years, according to Peter Maurer of the International Red Cross.
Though the money stakes are significant, I am sure Modi realises there is a catch to the Emirati promise of $ 75 billion in direct investment. This deal has less to do with recognising that India is emerging as the new frontier of investment opportunities and more to do with the GCC’s need for mercenary infantry. Let us be real: if India was such a golden goose to the UAE, it would not have taken 34 years for its Prime Minister (PM) to get an official invite.
Modi, surely, is also aware of how the Arab amirs (leaders) like to meddle in foreign affairs. For starters, the UAE’s position on democracy ranges from dubious to active sabotage. In March, Egypt’s Mekameleen television channel ran a leaked audio recording of how the Emiratis supported and funded the military regime in Egypt and helped them to stop the Arab spring there. In short, the amirs crowned General Fattah el-Sisi at the expense of an elected government. This should send some alarm bells ringing in the world’s largest democracy although money is more persuasive than a moral compass.
Back in the good old days, when the GCC firmly clutched the US’s security umbrella, Pakistan was Uncle Sam’s local sheriff to handle any trouble in the Arab kingdoms. After President Obama decided that his second-term foreign policy would pivot towards China, the GCC lost its big stick to counter Iran in the Middle East. Reeling from homegrown terror, Pakistan wisely drew back from an alien war despite Gargash’s threats.
Seeing the mental and material cost in Yemen, the GCC may not let Pakistan live this down, and more bonhomie could surface between India and the monarchies. The Emiratis have already backed India for a UNSC permanent seat and the Qataris recently lobbied for its inclusion in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). There are also reports that Saudi Arabia informed Pakistan of a Modi-led conspiracy to isolate it among the Arabs by offering the Indian army alternative. However, this eagerness to come clean means there is traction for the idea in the region and that the Saudis want to play good cop for now.
The GCC could also make it more difficult for Pakistani expats to live and work in the Gulf States and relax the process for Indians looking to do the same. While it is true that 1.7 million Pakistanis work in the UAE, and the country does need personnel, nobody is indispensable. South Asia is teeming with people looking for a better payday, especially for the semiskilled and manual labour positions most needed to build Arab real estate.
That said, there will be no need for GCC handouts if Pakistan plays it smart. With the Islamic State (IS) rising in Afghanistan, the country’s strategic importance is assured. After the US stops bankrolling the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) in 2016, China and Russia will find means to make up the difference since IS directly threatens their interests. Also, when resource-rich Iran opens up, Pakistan’s value as a trading partner and crucial pit-stop on China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project will increase manifold.
Both countries plan to build gas pipelines in Pakistan to ease the energy crisis and increased defence ties, like the planned war games with Russia, should follow. PM Nawaz Sharif may seek to appease his personal patrons but it behooves him to focus on national interests and not outdated Arab alliances. Let us not make the Cold War mistake again.