Why is Pakistan not supporting its old friend?

Pakistan risks losing a vital ally by refusing to cooperate in Yemen operations. The question is this: can it afford to do so? Ayesha Almazroui asks

Pakistan has benefited greatly from UAE's assistance. Christopher Pike / The National
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Pakistan’s refusal to join the Saudi-led operations in Yemen could have serious consequences for its relations with the UAE. This was made clear in comments by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, after a unanimous resolution was passed by a special session of Pakistan’s parliament to remain neutral in the Yemen conflict.

He wrote that it is such times that reveal the Gulf’s true friends and allies, as the region enters a critical confrontation that puts their “strategic security at stake”.

The UAE has every right to be upset and disappointed over Pakistan’s contradictory position regarding the conflict in Yemen. Judging from the vote on Yemen, Pakistan’s foreign policy does not seem to consider the long-term implications of such a decision.

Pakistan’s decision, if it was made final, not only compromises the security of long-standing allies and friends, but also could undermine its own stability. The success of the operation in Yemen will not only remove the Houthi threat, but will also aim to destroy Al Qaeda’s stronghold there, which would have consequences far beyond the Arabian peninsula.

It might also lead to a situation of mistrust between old friends, Pakistan and the GCC countries, that have co-operated for decades on military and security issues.

The relationship between Pakistan and neighbouring Iran has cooled in recent years with increasing tensions over border issues.

Last year, Islamabad lodged a diplomatic protest after 30 Iranian security force personnel crossed the border searching for anti-Iranian militants and shelled Pakistani territory, facing an unusual retaliation from the Pakistani forces.

In addition, Iran began to develop closer ties with India, using Indian military expertise in the development of a strategic road connecting Iran’s Chabahar seaport and Afghanistan. It has also sought nuclear technology from other sources.

In contrast, UAE-Pakistan relations have been flourishing. The bilateral trade volume jumped from $7.6 billion (Dh27.9bn) in 2012 to $10 billion in 2013. Reports say there is a big potential to further enhance business relations. The UAE has been a strong supporter of Pakistan’s development over the past decades, helping the country during natural disasters and improving the access of its people to education and health facilities.

The UAE has always been among the first countries to deliver humanitarian relief and assistance to Pakistan in times of need – especially during the floods – including emergency food and shelter.

In 2011, the UAE’s Pakistan Assistance Programme (PAP) was launched to mitigate the effect of natural disasters by redeveloping Pakistan’s infrastructure and offering long-term development projects. The programme rebuilt roads and bridges, including the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Bridge. It has also built 64 water treatment and purification plants to provide Pakistanis with clean water.

PAP has also built schools, colleges, vocational training institutes, hospitals, clinics and medical institutes. The programme launched a far-reaching polio eradication campaign last year, in which millions of Pakistani children were vaccinated, and many more will get their vaccination by 2018.

The President, Sheikh Khalifa, praised UAE-Pakistan relations when he met prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan last year. He described relations as “distinguished and developing”, stressing the need for the two sides to continue their role for mutual benefit and emphasising the UAE’s keenness to continue to support the Pakistani people.

But is that about to change?

The Pakistani stance on the Yemen conflict is a potentially big setback for relations. Dr Gargash said Pakistan could pay a heavy price for its “unexpected” position. The question now is: are the Pakistanis willing to compromise such a close relationship?