Middle East | More lives at risk as Yemen's warring parties play deadly chess game

More lives at risk as Yemen’s warring parties play deadly chess game

Salman Rafi August 9, 2016 6:17 AM (UTC+8)
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A day after UN-monitored talks in Kuwait to stop the civil war in Yemen ended in failure on Saturday, a Saudi-led military coalition carried out around 30 airstrikes throughout Yemen. Houthis won’t accept Hadi government’s demand for arms surrender and pull-out. They, along with the party of Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have announced a 10-member governing council to run the country, a state within a state, and fight the invading Arab coalition. Meanwhile, the whole of Yemen is facing extreme humanitarian crisis.  

Although the past few days saw UN-led efforts at reaching a negotiated end to the civil war in Yemen, the conflict continues as the “rebel” Houthis and the “internationally recognized” government of Yemen engage in establishing new coalitions and laying down virtually unacceptable peace terms respectively.

Supporters of Houthi rebels and Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh hold a poster of the Houthi movement's leader, Abdulmalik Badruddin al-Houthi, during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen
Supporters of Houthi rebels and Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh hold a poster of the Houthi movement’s leader, Abdulmalik Badruddin al-Houthi, during a rally to celebrate an agreement reached by Saleh and the Houthis to form a political council to unilaterally rule the country, in Sanaa, Yemen August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

The crisis in Yemen, however, moved from both warring parties rejecting the UN-brokered peace deal to Hadi’s government finally accepting it provided Houthis hand over their weapons and withdraw from Sana’a, Taiz and Hodeida in the first phase, according to Yemeni minister Abdulmalik al-Mekhlafi.

However, given the kind of “surrender” suggested in the terms, it is extremely unlikely that the Houthis will accept it. Already they have announced an alliance with Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces to establish “unitary administration” in the areas under their control.

The Houthis and Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) hold most of Yemen’s northern half, while forces loyal to Hadi, who is backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, share control of the rest of the country with local tribes.

The Houthis’ Revolutionary Committee and Saleh’s GPC party have formed a 10-member Supreme Council, which can very well be seen as an attempt to legitimize the Houthi rule and divide Yemen into two “states.”

The irony of the conflict is that both sides are fighting war and both of them lack popular credibility. The Houthis are demanding share in power because of being marginalized for years. Saudi Arabia is projecting Hadi’s government as “legitimate” though the UN-monitored election had taken place without any opposition on the ground.

With Hadi having already resigned a year and a half ago, and his official term in office expired even before that, the government’s claim of being the “legitimate” rulers of Yemen has been contested.

While a U.N. spokesperson warned that the formation of a coalition would reverse substantial gains made during the peace process, the parties involved in talks and the peace terms set by them lacked the potential to yield any result other than break-up at some point leading to escalation of war.

For instance, while negotiations were going on between the Houthis and Hadi, Ali Saleh was never made part of it. The decision by the House of Saud to exclude him from the talks was a fatal mistake.

What is more, Riyadh and Washington believed that Saleh was at loggerheads with the Houthis and the consequent inaction indirectly paved the way for the “unitary administration.”

A Saudi-led military coalition carried out around 30 air strikes throughout Yemen on Sunday, a day after U.N. peace talks ended in Kuwait.

Conflict in the Eastern and Southeastern parts of Sana’a has increased during the past two months. This has also been the case in the areas that border with Saudi Arabia. There are local clashes here and there in Najran. Riyadh had set guaranteeing security of their territories near the border with Yemen as its main task for the current round of peace talks.

Against this background, the Houthis are trying to maximize control over various regions of the country. They have been able to make significant progress in the Northwest province of Shabwah and dislodge the Arab coalition forces from the Usaylan district.

Fighting is going on in many parts of Yemen which is facing extreme humanitarian crisis with at least 6,400 people killed so far. The cost of failure to achieve peace may turn out to be too high for everyone, including the House of Saud. The war in Yemen has hit the heart of Saudi Arabia, the city of Medina.

Hence if the Saudi Arabia persists in imposing its terms, the Houthis and Saleh may decide to form their own “government”, taking a clue from the fact that Hadi lacks as much legitimacy and credibility as they do and that they have already taken the first step.

We got the very first glimpse of this possibility when during negotiations with Yemeni government representatives in Kuwait, the head of the Houthis delegation, Mohamed Abdel Salam, said they would reject any UN proposal to resolve the crisis that did not consider their demands.

Salam  said: “The UN representatives have told us that they are preparing the document. Our position is that we shall reject any proposal if it does not consider our demands.

“The main thrust of these demands lies in the establishment of a joint governmental regulatory authority consisting of the head of state, a national consensus government and a military committee, which will be supervised by a jointly-appointed body.”

Against this demand has come Yemen’s recognized government’s “charter of surrender”, which will anyway be rejected by the Houthis and provide the ground for a “rebel government” to establish and run a state within a state and, at the same time, fight the invading “Arab coalition.”

The big question then will be: Will Saudi Arabia be “tempted” again to intensify its offensive to “liberate” the areas under Houthi’s control?

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a freelance journalist and research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His area of interest is South and West Asian politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics. He can be reached at salmansheikh.ss11.sr@gmail.com

Salman Rafi
Salman Rafi Sheikh is a freelance journalist and research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His area of interest is South and West Asian politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics. He can be reached at salmansheikh.ss11.sr@gmail.com
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