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Old Friday, June 05, 2020
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Default Please evaluate and point out mistake "WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY"

It was hoped that the Arab Spring would usher in the Arab world a new era of democracy, prosperity and a promising future. No one imagined that it would sow the seeds of destruction for many states like Yemen. People rose up against the autocratic regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, envisaging better prospects in the coming times. However, their legitimate struggle was marred by geo-political rivalry. With its ill-equipped health infrastructure, outbreak of cholera, malnutrition and now the Covid-19 pandemic, Yemen has been dragged into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Since the Saudi-led coalition has announced a unilateral ceasefire, this opportunity must be seized by all parties as a peace-building measure so that further damage could be averted.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has always been politically unstable. Prior to its unification in 1990, it remained divided into North and South Yemen. Later Ali Abdullah Saleh emerged as the ruler of unified Yemen. Despite several abortive attempts to dislodge Saleh, the people of Yemen, having been inspired by the Arab Spring, protested against Saleh. After he stepped down, his vice president Abd Rabbu Mansoor Hadi took over, paving the way for unending instability.

In 2014, the Houthi rebels seized control of vast territories and internationally recognised President Hadi was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia. The Zaydi Shia Houthis and their growing influence was bolstered by Iran. The Saudi-led Sunni coalition comprising Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan and the UAE intervened to restore the Hadi government in 2015.

It is assumed that the war was initiated to achieve many objectives. Firstly, to push back Iranian influence and reinstall the pro-Saudi Mansoor Hadi. Secondly, to bring the then 29-year old Saudi deputy crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman into the spotlight and paint him as the victor and the defender of the kingdom. Thirdly, the Saudi monarchy calculated that it would be a short war that will reassert Saudi influence in the region. To Riyadh’s utter surprise, it has been five years and victory remains a distant dream.

In this fierce escalation, it is humanity that is the ultimate casualty. Since 2011, when the clash erupted, out of the pre-war 28 million people, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) Project estimates that the death toll has exceeded over 100,000, including more than 12,000 civilians.

The UN has rung alarm bells by saying that 80% of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance and almost 10 million are considered “one step away from famine”.

Shockingly, the cholera epidemic in Yemen was the worst outbreak ever recorded in the modern era that has resulted in more than 2.2 million suspected cases and 4,000 deaths.

The plight of children is equally distressing. The Save the Children organization in 2018 estimated that almost 360,000 children were struggling to survive. Of equal worry is the fact that almost 3.65 million souls remain internally displaced. Due to the war, resultant blockade and funding shortages, it has become challenging for the international agencies to conduct relief operations, including provision of medicines and food.

In the Middle Eastern geo-political chessboard, the pursuit of vested interests has taken a heavy toll on the civilian population, yet the conclusion remains blurred. Considering that billions of dollars have been poured into this bloody war, threats to KSA have not yet subsided. Budget deficits offer dangerous security challenges. In September 2019, Abqaiq and Khurais oilfields came under attack that exposed Saudi vulnerability and despite its heavy investments in defence hardware, it could not neutralise attacks on its soil. The Saudis held Iran as being responsible for the attacks; the same allegations were made by the Trump administration.

The Saudi misadventure has proved too costly for them as it has also brought about rifts in the alliance. The UAE has supported the Southern Transitional Council (STC) against Saudi expectations due to divergent interests in the war-weary country.

Owing to the Covid-19 outbreak, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has appealed for global cessation of hostilities in order to focus, as he referred, “on the true fight of our lives”. The Saudi coalition has announced a temporary unilateral ceasefire so that Covid-19 containment activities can be conducted by the relief agencies. The Houthis, in response, have urged for lifting of the air and sea blockade before agreeing to a ceasefire.

Yemen already faces famine, malnutrition and cholera and now they have Covid-19 to contend with. The war-torn country is short of critical healthcare infrastructure, personal protection equipment, ventilators, etc. and is fast-gearing towards another disaster. The cumulative effect of various diseases, food deficiency and the virus will further aggravate the already alarming situation. The most discomforting issue at present is that there is no clear and unified authority to enforce WHO guidelines such as social distancing, lockdown and convincing the people to stay indoors.

It is incumbent on the Saudis and the Houthi rebels to seize the opportunity and announce a permanent halt to conflict to provide unfettered access to the relief agencies so that the pandemic can be contained; the fighting has already caused irretrievable damage.

For a permanent ceasefire, the Houthi, Saudi Arabia and other stakeholders should directly negotiate; however, in the interim, a temporary halt to fighting is urgently required along with lifting of the blockade. The Houthis should also provide guarantees to the Saudi kingdom that they will not be attacking Saudi Arabia, neither will they act as a proxy for Iran, otherwise the Saudis would be justified in retaliating.

In addition to the international relief and development agencies, all those countries that have multiplied the sufferings of the Yemenis, must now wholeheartedly contribute for relieving their woes in these testing times, including donating money, providing medical assistance, food, masks, ventilators, rehabilitation, etc.

The Yemeni nation dreamt of greener pastures during the Arab Spring that motivated them to dislodge Saleh. They were not familiar with the bleak future and that their dreams would be stolen by geo-political rivals for their vested interests. The window of opportunity must be utilised for establishing permanent peace. The warring parties must withdraw from the war because the human catastrophe provides them a face-saving.
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