Yemen occupies the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula in West Asia. Its topography blends coastal plains, hills, mountains, and deserted areas. The coastal line borders the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and most significantly, it lies on the Southern entrance of the Red Sea. This exceptional strategic position of Yemen left it prone to major tussles in the past and unrest internally. The crisis in Yemen dates back to history, but the recent clutch of troubles started with the inception of the Republic of Yemen in May 1990. After discovering oil fields in the shared areas, the Northern and Southern parts came together to form a unified Yemen.
The unification among the historically, socially and religiously fragmented society proved consequential, albeit, of aligned economic and strategic goals. Further exacerbated by arrival of Arab Spring in 2011, Yemen endured internal dysfunction influencing the external intervention.
The vociferous threat to autocratic regimes in the whole of Arabia led to regulating the patronage system in Yemen. The system was adopted by President Ali Abdullah Saleh to ensure the consolidation of a society fragmented into tribes and sects. The demise of Saleh’s rule, the questioned legitimacy of Mansour Hadi, and the threat of increasing Wahhabism in Northern Shiite areas pushed the country into a deadlocked civil war. The minority Shiite group ‘Houthis’ picked up arms against the Hadi’s government. Subsequently, he was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia and the encroachment of Sana’a at the hands of Houthis in 2014. It opened up new dynamics in internal chaos. The strategic and economic vitality of Taiz; viewed by Houthis as a gateway to North, Hodiehah; an important seaport in the Red Sea, and Marib; an oil-rich field, led to the further intensification of the internal rift. As a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council articulated, “Beyond the active frontline lies a concern over economic and strategic lifeline that each side to the conflict is trying to secure.”
Ostensibly, the unstable Southern border is a major threat to Saudi’s internal security as well as its economic outlook. The presence of an influential Shiite group is also a concern to its ideological standing as a leader of the Muslim world. The security dilemma from Iran directed Saudis to start military intervention in Yemen led by the coalition in 2015 against Houthis. Conversely, Iran started providing the Houthis with military tutelage and sophisticated weapons. It provided Iran with a bargaining chip against its regional rival, KSA, and fed the opportunity to spread its religious ideology. On the Southern side, UAE fueled the separatist Southern Transitional Council, and after its abandonment over some internal brawl, the Council became the locus of militancy. The ensuing events provided safe havens to global terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State -Yemen Province (IS-YP).
Internal rift among the different factions and the tug of war among regional players on the external front blackened the future of Yemen. The country was declared the poorest nation with the largest humanitarian crisis in the world by the United Nations (UN).
Approximately 24.1 million People, 80% of the total population, need humanitarian aid and protection. The past struggles of reconciliation among the parties involved did not succeed or succumbed to varied interests.
Nevertheless, the recent Saudi-Iran rapprochement opens up the door to opportunities and a sign of relief for war-torn Yemen. Saudis desperately seek regional peace to materialize its Vision 2030 of “a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation,” which is impractical without securing southern borders. Similarly, Iran cannot stand against the Arab-Israel alliance supported by the USA without diversifying its regional options. Both countries look forward to cooperating in various sectors, burying their past hatchets. The collaboration between international institutions, regional powers, and internal factions can pave the way toward the sustainable development of Yemeni society.
International institutions like the UN have a huge responsibility to enforce a ceasefire under its auspices and initiate peace talks among the parties involved in clashes. Subsequently, regional powers should ensure the complete cooperation of their allies in the region and influence them to uphold the sanctity of peace dialogue. A sub-national peace agreement among the fighting factions will refine the peace process. A holistic approach should be adopted by including women, young people, and other society members.
Ending the discussion with Plato’s note, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
The author is a graduate in International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad. With a profound commitment to scholarly pursuits, His focal areas of expertise encompass the intricate domains of Climate Change, Global Politics, and Soft Power.