India had actively supported Yemen’s independence from the British. India was one of the first countries to recognize Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) in 1962 and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) in 1967. In 1990, YAR and PDRY merged to become Republic of Yemen. Yemen and its people are favorably disposed to India and have supported her in international fora.

India’s championship of independence and recognition of Yemen Arab Republic and People’s Democratic
Republic of Yemen laid the foundation for relationship in the post-colonial era that began to deepen during the 1980s. Yemen is a member of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) among others. Yemen has been steadfast in its support for permanent membership for India in an expanded UN.

Yemen Crisis and India’s Stake

Origin and Development of Crisis

Origin and Development of Yemen Crisis and Houthis

Arab spring in Yemen in 2011 led to relinquishing of charge by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and a
GCC– sponsored agreement culminated in the formation of a two year transitional government, under a new President Abdo-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Mr. Hadi struggled to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by Al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south, the continuing loyalty of many military officers to Mr. Saleh, as well as corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.

The Houthi movement, which champions Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority fought a series of rebellions against Mr. Saleh during the previous decade and took advantage of the new President ‘s weakness by taking control of their northern heartland of Saada province and neighbouring areas.

The civil war began when in September 2014, the government of Yemen was deposed by the Houthis following a battle between them and the government forces in the capital of Sana’a.

In January 2015, the Houthis reinforced their takeover of Sanaa, surrounding the presidential palace and other key points and effectively placing Mr. Hadi and his cabinet ministers under house arrest. With the assistance of UN, as envisaged in the various agreements between political parties and groups, a new Government has been attempted to be formed, which still has not happened.

After about a month of his resignation, President Hadi left for Aden from Sana’a, where he retracted his resignation which exacerbated the fragile political situation.

Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr. Hadi’s government. The coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France Stalemate was continuing till aerial bombings into Yemen by a group of coalition forces started on 26.03.2015 in order to restore the Presidency of Hadi. The operation continues.

Houthis Insurgency
Houthis
  • The Houthis are an Islamist political and armed movement that emerged from Sa’dah in northern Yemen in the 1990s. The movement was called Houthis because its founder is from the Houthi tribe.
  • The Houthis are followers of the Shia Zaidi sect, the faith of around a third of Yemen’s population. Officially known as Ansarallah (the partisans of God), the group began as a movement preaching tolerance and peace in the Zaidi stronghold of North Yemen in the early 1990s.
  • The group launched an insurgency in 2004 against the then ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh that lasted till 2010. Their opponents view them as a proxy of Shia Iran.
  • The group is hostile to the United States but has also vowed to eradicate Al-Qaeda. They participated in the 2011 Arab Spring inspired revolution in Yemen that replaced Saleh with Abdrahbu Mansour Hadi.
Yemen Crisis

Why is Saudi Arabia in Yemen?

Saudi Arabia’s Intervention:

  • Saudi Arabia interfered in Yemen after the Shia Houthi rebels captured Sana’a, the capital city, and the internationally recognised government of President Hadi moved to the country’s south.
  • The rapid rise of the Houthis in Yemen set off alarm bells in Saudi Arabia which saw them as Iranian proxies.
  • Saudi Arabia started a military campaign in March 2015, at Hadi’s request, hoping for a quick victory against the Houthis. But the Houthis had dug in, refusing to leave despite Saudi Arabia’s aerial blitzkrieg.
  • With no effective allies on the ground and no way-out plan, the Saudi-led campaign went on with no tangible result.
  • In the past seven years, the Houthis have launched multiple attacks on Saudi cities from northern Yemen in retaliation for Saudi air strikes.

Houthis response

  • The Houthis have not been dislodged from Sanaa and north-western Yemen.
  • They have been able to maintain a siege of the third city of Taiz and to launch regular ballistic missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.
  • In September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil fields of Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by air, disrupting nearly half the kingdom’s oil production – representing around 5% of global oil output.

Ceasefire

  • After six months of fighting, the warring parties agreed on a ceasefire at talks in Sweden.
  • The Stockholm agreement required them to redeploy their forces from Hudaydah, establish a prisoner exchange mechanism, and to address the situation in Taiz.
  • The UN hoped the agreement would clear the way for a political settlement to end the civil war, but in January 2020 there was a sudden escalation in hostilities between the Houthis and coalition-led forces, with fighting on several front lines, missile strikes and air raids.
  • Saudi Arabia announced a unilateral ceasefire in April 2020 due to a coronavirus pandemic but the Houthis rejected it, demanding the lifting of air and sea blockades in Sanaa and Hudaydah.

Impact of Yemen Crisis

On Yemen Citizen

  • By 29 October 2017, at least 5,159 civilians – more than 20% of them children – had been killed and 8,761 others injured, according to the UN.
  • Saudi-led coalition air strikes were the leading cause of child casualties as well as overall civilian casualties.
  • The destruction of civilian infrastructure and restrictions on food, medicine and fuel imports have caused “catastrophic” humanitarian situation as stated by UN.
  • More than 20 million people, including 11 million children, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
  • Two million Yemenis are currently internally displaced due to the conflict and 188,000 others have fled to neighbouring countries.

On World

  • Yemen is strategically important because it sits on the Bab al-Mandeb strait, a narrow waterway linking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, through which much of the world’s oil shipments pass.
  • Intelligence agencies consider AQAP (AL Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula) as the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda because of its technical expertise and global reach, and the emergence of IS affiliates in Yemen is another serious concern.
  • Crisis in Gulf will impact global market through supply and price of crude.
  • The conflict between the Houthis and the government is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.

On India

  • The Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula form part of the extended neighbourhood of India. Any turmoil there would affect India in more ways than one; specifically, its oil imports and the presence of large workforce (remittances).
  • One of India’s most important shipping routes passes through the Gulf of Aden, accounting for imports of $50 billion and exports of $60 billion every year, according to the shipping ministry. The route is so important that the Indian Navy has maintained a presence in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 to protect Indian vessels and the Indian crew of ships flying the flags of other countries.
  • Indian nationals, including Hindus, Muslims and Parsis, have lived in Aden since the mid-1880s. 8 million expats living in the region with more than $80 billion of incoming remittance annually. Therefore the crisis in Yemen can affect the remittances and destroy the shipping routes.
Yemen

Critical Perspectives

  • Whatever the immediate outcome in Yemen’s civil war, the sectarian tensions in the region and the proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran are likely to become more intense in the coming years. But India has shown little sensitivity to the changing political dynamic in the Middle East.
  • Delhi continues to view the region from the perspective of the Arab-lsraeli conflict that no longer is the primary contradiction in the Middle East. India can’t secure its multiple interests in the region-including energy and the safety of its migrant workers-without a much greater Political engagement of all the contending forces in the Middle East.
  • If India fails to respond to the suffering in Yemen, and all we do is pat ourselves pompously for a few
    air evacuations from West Asia, we fail as a moral community and a democratic nation.
  • This is an opportunity for India to strengthen its own diplomatic and strategic interests in the Gulf, at a time when Pakistan is earning the ire of the entire Sunni Middle East.
  • Even though India has followed a policy of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other states as well as non-involvement in the security issues of other regions, it has not been able to isolate itself from the direct consequences of any security crisis in the West Asian region.
  • The energy security dimension and a seven million strong diaspora in the region have been significant factors in its policy formulation towards West Asia.

Operation Raahat

  • ‘Operation Raahat’, was a rescue operation launched by India to evacuate civilians stuck in strife-torn Yemen.
  • Prior to commencement of the rescue operation, the Indian diaspora in Yemen was estimated to be
    approximately 4000 people. The pooled resources of Air India, Indian Air Force (C17 Globemaster) and
    Indian Navy warships- INS Mumbai and INS Tarkash helped to successfully evacuate 5600 people of which 960 were foreigners.
  • India has provided food and medical aid to Yemen in the past and thousands of Yemeni nationals have availed of medical treatment in India over the past few years.
Significance of the Operation
  • With the West being handicapped in Yemen, it was India’s long standing neutrality in the Middle East’s sectarian battles that allowed it access to Aden.
  • No airlift or naval operations would have been possible without a combination of Indian military and aviation assets as well as goodwill for India on the ground among all combatants. The efforts were so effective that over 26 countries including the U.S. and U.K. sought India’s help in rescuing their citizens despite presence of their naval forces in the region.

Developments regarding the Yemeni Civil War

  • In January 2021, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his intentions of declaring the Houthi movement in Yemen as a “foreign terrorist organization”. Under the plan, the three leaders of the Houthis, known as Ansarallah, were to be listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
  • However, it induced fear among the diplomats and aid groups that the move would cause issues in the peace talks and in delivering aid to the Yemen crisis.
  • The United States provided intelligence and logistical support for the Saudi-led campaign. In March 2019, both houses of the United States Congress voted to pass a resolution to end US support to the Saudi Arabia war effort.
  • It was vetoed by President Donald Trump, and in May, the Senate failed to override the veto.
  • However, on 27 January 2021, newly elected President Joe Biden froze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and on 4 February 2021, Biden officially cut American support for the Saudi coalition.

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