Oh the Humanity!
What is the greatest humanitarian crisis facing the world right now? Is it terrorism in Kashmir? Is it the situation in North Korea? Or perhaps the illegal settlements in Palestine? In fact, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world is the convoluted geopolitical tangle in Yemen. Yemen is not often spoken about in India. In fact most people in India don’t know where it is. The situation in Yemen began with the Arab Spring and has evolved into a complicated proxy war with multiple international stakeholders. Over 90,000 people have been killed in Yemen since the crisis began in 2011 and according to International NGO Save the Children; around 85,000 children have died of starvation. The youth of Yemen have lost any semblance of a normal future to civil war and deserve our sympathy and attention.
So what exactly is happening in Yemen and how did it start? It began with the Arab Spring demonstrations that took the Middle East and Northern Africa by storm. It was a series of anti-corruption and pro-democracy protests that went horribly wrong for Yemen. Yemen was one of the poorest countries in the Middle East to begin with. As the youth took to the streets in demonstrations against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, they were successful in removing him from authority. After intervention from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) power was transferred to his Vice President Abed Mansour Hadi. This was an initiative led by Saudi Arabia and was supported by the United States and the members of the European Union.
Hadi made constitutional and budget reforms that sparked outcry by Houthi rebels in the north of Yemen. The Houthis belong to the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam. In the 1990s the Houthis emerged in resistance to Saleh’s corruption under the leadership of Hussein al Houthi. The Houthis considered Hadi a corrupt Saudi puppet and rose up against him. They received support from Iran and Hezbollah which was alarming to regional rival Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia launched Operation Decisive Storm which was a heavy bombing campaign.The Iran vs Saudi rivalry is a hallmark of Middle East politics and once these two got involved it was only natural that the United States would back Saudi Arabia and Russia would back Iran.
Yemen has thus become a proxy battlefield for great powers to play out their rivalries as they battle for dominance and influence in the region. While this happens, most Yemenis are now in need of some form of aid. In addition to the human casualties, 23 UNESCO heritage sites have also been bombed and destroyed. India shares good relations with both Saudi Arabia as well as Iran but has chosen to remain silent on the crisis in Yemen. Due to the large presence of the Indian diaspora in the Gulf, India launched operation Rahat in 2015 to help evacuate Indian citizens and foreign nationals from Yemen during the Saudi intervention in the Yemen crisis. India has had historical ties with Yemen and was supportive in Yemen gaining independence from the British. Due to India’s unique position as an ally on both sides of the conflict, India’s stance on Yemen may very well change the balance of power and have a great impact on the future of Yemen.