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Yemen: Another Afghanistan in the making

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Yemen: Another Afghanistan in the making

Since the underwear bomber attempted to bring down Northwest 253 on 25 December 2009, Yemen has bounced back to the front page of the newspapers and has occupied a top spot in the US diplomacy. Previously, in October 2000, the USS Cole was attacked by Al Qaeda suicide bombers, killing 19 (17 sailors and the two bombers). Yemen was likely the venue for the attack because it was a country where Al Qaeda operatives found it easy to operate. A second attack destroyed a French oil tanker in 2002, spilling 90,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Aden. Yemeni region is already struggling to cope with the challenges posed by  Islamic extremism and terrorism. Basically, the south, which was an independent state from 1967 until Yemen was united in 1990, has been the scene of protests against the government’s policies and its attempts “to amalgamate the southern movement and al-Qaeda. At present Yemen is facing big insurmountable challenges like: the rebellion in the north, which is intensifying, the southern question, which has turned into a separatist movement and is no longer peaceful; the al-Qaeda threat; internal political opposition; and the economic crisis. Yemen’s mountains are rugged, hard to reach, and best of all from a jihadi point of view, they are not controlled by the central government.

Although the United States and the  international community are imploring Yemen to be more aggressive in their efforts to suppress al-Qaeda, but the government seems to be crippled to flush out the threat alone. An influential Yemeni cleric has warned the country not to allow “occupation” by foreign powers as it co-operates with the US in counter-terrorism. Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, is named as a terrorist by the US and the UN for suspected links to al-Qaeda. The Zaydis, a sect within the folds of Shia Islam, was against the regime led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

At present Obama is not interested in direct action against Yemen. Infact the US military is helping to train Yemeni counter-terror forces, and assisted them with intelligence and logistics to carry out air strikes last month against suspected al-Qaeda hideouts. At the same time, the US was also planning to double economic aid to Yemen. Foreign Minister Abu- Bakr al-Qirbi has denied reports about agreement between Sana’a and Washington on security coordination allowing the latest to wage missile attacks and air raids against Al-Qaeda nest in Yemen. At the same time Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula established itself in Yemen after it was forced out of Saudi Arabia, taking advantage of the fact that large swathes of Yemeni territory are controlled by powerful, well-armed tribes, not by a government. It has to be clarified that the Government is close to USA and not the rebels. Yemen Government has blamed US. US has failed to focus on al-Qaeda’s growing stature and a misunderstanding of Yemen’s complex political terrain. US has been also criticized for its policies in the region, as US policies have often alienated top Yemeni officials and did little to address the root causes of militancy. At the same time, there  were insufficiency of funds. As in Pakistan, al-Qaeda militants thrive on the support and protection of tribes, who are highly sensitive about outside interference, even from the government. The militants live among the population, raising the odds of civilian casualties. US has also failed to respect the tribal autonomy.

Why Yemen is important?

1. Given the strategic location of Yemen, which borders energy-rich Saudi Arabia to the north, Oman to the east, and significantly to the south, the Gulf of Aden —one of the principal gateways of international trade and energy transit.

2. Also in close proximity is Somalia, from where Islamic radicalism is permeating into Yemen, though it is unclear as to what extent it is influencing the insurgency in the country’s south.  This makes Yemen strategically important.

3. Its strategic location between, the oil supply routes of the Gulf and the piracy haven of Somalia, means its stability is regarded as a key western interest.


North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The British, who had set up a protectorate area around the southern port of Aden in the 19th century, withdrew in 1967 from what became South Yemen. North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The British, who had set up a protectorate area around the southern port of Aden in the 19th century, withdrew in 1967 from what became South Yemen.

The Zaydis, a sect within the folds of Shia Islam, was against the regime led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Though Mr. Saleh traced his ancestry to the Zaydis, the latter never accepted the President as one of its own. Unlike the Houthi family that currently leads the rebellion, President Saleh is not a Sayyid. The al-Houthis are followers of a moderate Shia sect known as Zaydis, and their followers are now calling for the return of the so-called Zaydis caliphate which ran Yemen until 1962. After crushing the southern secessionists, the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh became increasingly authoritarian. Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and the civil war in the north is also seen as distracting the government from political and economic reforms needed to lift it out of poverty. With a population of about 24 million, Yemen has almost as large a population as Saudi Arabia, yet lacks much in the way of natural resources. What little oil they have is rapidly being depleted. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been able to benefit from Yemen’s abject poverty, its lack of responsive institutions.

It is located in the Middle East, bordering the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Red Sea, between Oman and Saudi Arabia; with total and boundaries: 1,746 km; border countries: Oman 288 km, Saudi Arabia 1,458 km; and coastline: 1,906 km. Population: 23,822,783 (July 2009 est.) country comparison to the world: 48 Capital: Sanaa; Area: 536,869 sq km (207,286 sq miles); Currency: Rial Executive: Chief of state: President Ali Abdallah SALIH (since 22 May 1990, the former president of North Yemen, assumed office upon the merger of North and South Yemen); Vice President Maj. Gen. Abd al-Rab Mansur al-HADI (since 3 October 1994) Head of Government: Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Mujawwar (since 31 March 2007). Cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Elections: President elected by popular vote for a seven-year term; election last held 20 September 2006 (next to be held in September 2013); vice president appointed by the president; prime minister and deputy prime ministers appointed by the president election results: Ali Abdallah Salih elected president; percent of vote - Ali Abdallah Salih 77.2 per cent, Faysal Bin Shamlan 21.8 per cent.

Legislative branch: A bicameral legislature consisting of a Shura Council (111 seats; members appointed by the president) and a House of Representatives (301 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve six-year terms) elections: last held on 27 April 2003 (scheduled April 2009 election postponed for two years) election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - GPC 228, Islah 47, YSP 7, Nasserite Unionist Party 3, National Arab Socialist Ba'th Party 2, independents 14

Lower House: House of representatives; Upper House: Shura Council Ethnic groups Predominantly Arab; African Arab  concentrations in coastal locations; South Asians in southern regions; small European communities in cities.

Languages Arabic (official) Religious affiliations Muslim, including Shafi’i (Sunni Muslim) and Zaydi (Shia Muslim) 99 percent Other (including Hindu and Christian) 1 percent. Main exports: Crude oil, cotton, coffee, fish.

Highest point: Jabal an Nabi Shu’ayb 3,760 m

Natural resources: petroleum, fish, rock salt, marble; small deposits of coal, gold, lead, nickel, and copper; fertile soil in west. Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, has reported meager growth since 2000. Its economic fortunes depend mostly on oil.

Agriculture - products: grain, fruits, vegetables, pulses, qat, coffee, cotton; dairy products, livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, camels), poultry; fish Industries: crude oil production and petroleum refining; small-scale production of cotton textiles and leather goods; food processing; handicrafts; small aluminum products factory; cement; commercial ship repair.

Exports: $8.977 billion (2008 est.) country comparison to the world: 91 $7.05 billion (2007 est.); Exports - commodities: crude oil, coffee, dried and salted fish Exports - partners: China 28.4 per cent, Thailand 23.6 per cent, India 16.1 per cent, South Africa 13.4 per cent, Japan 4.7 per cent (2008) Imports: $8.829 billion (2008 est.) country comparison to the world: 96 $7.49 billion (2007 est.); Imports - commodities: food and live animals, machinery and equipment, chemicals; Imports - partners: UAE 14.7 per cent, India 11.7 per cent, China 11.3 per cent, Saudi Arabia 6.9 per cent, Kuwait 5.2 per cent (2008); GDP (official exchange rate): $26.91 billion (2008 est.) GDP - real growth rate: 3.2 per cent (2008 est.); country comparison to the world: 118; 3.5 per cent (2007 est.); 3.2 per cent (2006 est.) GDP - per capita (PPP): $2,500 (2008 est.); country comparison to the world: 175; $2,500 (2007 est.); $2,500 (2006 est.)