Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan
The recent re-intensification of conflict in Yemen after Houthis’ latest drone and missile attacks on United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 17 January 2022 killing and injuring civilians including South Asian expatriates, has deepened the already worsening humanitarian crisis that has been plaguing the country since 2014 when Houthis rebelled against Saudi-backed Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government that later on led to a full-scale military conflict. The attack has drawn strong condemnation from Arab states but has fallen on deaf ears of the Western powers.
The Hothis, a Zaidi Shia militant outfit formally called “Ansar Allah” captured Sanaa, the capital of Yemen in September 2014 after a fierce fighting, and the Saudi-backed Yemeni President Hadi resigned under pressure in January 2015 and fled to Saudi Arabia and took political asylum there.
With Hadi in exile, the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign in Yemen towards the end of 2015 with logistic and intelligence support provided by the US, UK and France ever ready to do so to crush the Hothi uprising and restore the Hadi administration in Sanaa thus triggering an unending conflict in Yemen that has ultimately led to a large-scale humanitarian crisis unprecedented in recent human history. Taking advantage of the instability in Yemen, other militant outfits/combatant groups including Islamic State (IS), an al-Qaeda affiliate as well as other rival factions within the groups have jumped into the fray and have been carrying out deadly attacks that has further compounded the already dicey situation.
It’s interesting to note that the recent drone and missile attacks by Houthi insurgents on the UAE comes at a time when a rapprochement was expected between the two traditional adversaries i.e. Saudi Arabia and Iran after the latter had taken a bold but risky initiative to open its embassy in Riyaz (Saudi Capital) and establish diplomatic relations, but the move couldn’t see the light of day due to the reason that the major world players see this move with disfavour as they would never want Iran and Saudi Arabia to bury the hatchet and become friends. Peacebuilding is never their priority and is not an easy proposition as there are disruptive forces and spoilers playing around to not let that happen as it goes against the core interests of such forces. They know that the day they quit fishing in troubled waters, that will be the last day of their existence as a major force.
As said earlier, peace-making is not the priority of world’s major powers due to the fact that bulk of their economy is dependent on arms sale to the third world countries with Saudi Arabia topping the list of arms purchasers followed by UAE.
According to security analysts, the conflict, now around eight years old, has finally turned into a formal proxy war between the two traditional adversaries waged on multiple levels in pursuit of regional hegemony with American support for Saudi Arabia and its allies and Russian support for Iran and its allies. Yemen’s Houthi insurgents who are pitted against a multinational military coalition led by Saudi Arabia are allegedly supported by Iran although it has never been accepted by Iran officially.
The conflict has reportedly displaced more than one million people and has created large-scale human disaster inside Yemen. It has given rise to severe health issues like infectious diseases, cholera outbreaks, medicine shortages and looming threats of famine. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already dismal health and food crisis hitting the country hard. The United Nations has termed the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the worst humanitarian disaster the world has ever witnessed, and the situation is likely to spiral as foreign aid has slowed due to corona pandemic. According to UN report, the conflict has caused around two hundred and fifty thousand deaths that includes the deaths caused due to lack of food, healthcare facilities and infrastructure.
There is a growing concern among the Muslim community that the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran may ultimately turn into direct military confrontation any time if both sides fail to exercise restraint and persist with confrontational policy. If that happens, the Muslim world alone would be the loser. In a bid to achieve regional hegemony and subdue each other, they have been seeking foreign assistance; consequently, they have forfeited their right to find fault with others after they have allowed the proverbial elephant in their room.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen can greatly exacerbate not only regional tension but it can also impact the entire globe adversely. The country has become a living hell for its inhabitants.
UNICEF says, “humanitarian crisis in Yemen represents a tragic convergence of four threats: violent and protracted conflict, economic devastation, collapse of social services that includes health, nutrition, sanitation, education, and a critically underfunded UN system”.
The war is destroying infrastructure; schools roads, bridges, hospitals and homes are hit regularly with bombs through air raids besides taking a heavy toll of human lives, but unfortunately, the world prefers to look the other way.