Islamabad | Pakistan today dispatched a high- level delegation to Riyadh to hold talks with Saudi leadership that requested military help to a coalition of mainly Gulf states fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, officials said.
Defence minister Khawaja Asif is leading the group that includes Prime Minister’s advisor for foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz, and military and other officials. A government official said that a special plane is taking the delegation to Saudi Arabia for discussion. The delegation will discuss the issue of Yemen with top Saudi officials and will report back to the government, he said.
The issue of deploying troops will be taken in consultation with army and political parties, he added. Last week, the Saudi government approached Pakistan with a request to provide troops in support of its operation in Yemen where Shia Houthi rebels have taken control of the country.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had said a delegation will be sent to see the security situation on ground before deciding whether to send the troops. Asif had told Parliament that Pakistan was committed to the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia and so far, no decision has been taken to become part of Yemen conflict.
There is widespread opposition to Pakistan joining the war in Yemen, and several politicians and retired army officers have cautioned the government to avoid becoming part of a conflict which has sectarian faultlines and can create domestic troubles. Pakistan has about 300 troops already in Saudi Arabia currently taking part in joint exercise with Saudi troops.
Pakistan Army said yesterday that they were not on ‘operational deployment’. The Saudi-led military coalition is conducting airstrikes against the Houthi rebels’ southward advance on the port city of Aden, the last bastion of Saudi-backed president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The country enjoys close ties with Saudi Arabia but it has also equally good relations with neighbouring Iran which has criticised the Saudi intervention in Yemen.
Pakistan needs to weigh the relations with both these countries and decide. It is expected that it may deploy troops inside Saudi Arabia to ensure territorial security while the Saudi forces concentrate on Yemen.
The idea is similar to the 1980s deployment of thousands of Pakistan troops in Saudi Arabia when Iran-Iraq war threatened the security of the oil-rich monarchy. Pakistan had also sent troops for security of Saudi Arabia during first Gulf war against Saddam Hussein.
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