Pakistan civil&military leadership stands with Saudi Arabia

Arif Qureshi/Analysis/Islamabad

Islamabad: Pakistan is sending a “contingent of troops” to Saudi Arabia, the military announced late on February 15. The news was announced after a meeting between Army Chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa and Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Saeed Al-Maliki, on Thursday at General Headquarters (GHQ), Rawalpindi. Matters of mutual interest including regional security and bilateral issues were discussed during the meeting.

Soon after the meeting Pakistan army mouthpiece Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) issued a statement, saying “In continuation of ongoing Pak-KSA bilateral security cooperation, Pakistan Army contingent is being sent to KSA on training and advise mission. These or troops already there will not be employed outside KSA”. Pak Army maintains bilateral security cooperation with many other GCC / regional countries, statement added.

Pakistan civil and military leadership clearly stands with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as Pakistan on first week of February condemned a foiled Houthi missile attack targeting a Saudi city and warned that repeated attacks by the Yemeni militia posed a threat to the holy places and the security of the kingdom. “We are deeply concerned over media reports of a missile attack by the Houthi militia towards Khamis Mushait on Feb 5, 2018,” a Foreign Office statement said. Khamis Mushait is located in South West of Saudi Arabia, some 900 kilometres from capital Riyadh.

“The timely interception by the Saudi Air Defence saved the civilian populated city from grave consequences. Such attacks targeting the unarmed civilian population are a violation of international law and condemnable,” it added.

Already around 1,000 Pakistani troops are deployed in Saudi Arabia in various advisory and training roles, there was no official word on the number of additional troops being sent to kingdom in ISPR press release. The ISPR cleared in statement that the new deployment and nearly 1,000 Pakistani troops already stationed there would not be “employed outside KSA”.

The new development came soon after a weeklong joint naval training of the Royal Saudi Navy and the Pakistan Navy, ‘Sea Breeze-11’ and ‘Coastal Shield-4’, in the Arabian Gulf waters at the King Abdulaziz naval base. The director of training, Brigadier General Sajir bin Raffid al-Enezi, said that during the training, many joint operations were carried out between Saudi Arabian and Pakistani naval vessels. These include submarine training and handling, landing operations on ships, vertical flights, refueling operations and rocket firing at fixed and mobile targets.

Gen Bajwa had earlier this month visited Saudi Arabia, where he stayed for three days and his only known meetings were with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Commander of Ground Forces Lt Gen Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz. This was his second visit to the kingdom in two months.

Pakistan is treading a fine line in maintaining relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and other regional players and the decision of deploying troops may annoy Saudi Arabia’s rivals like Iran and Qatar. Gen Bajwa has been playing a major role in addressing concerns of regional countries and met with ambassadors of Iran and Turkey earlier this week. Gen Bajwa reportedly made a trip to Doha to meet Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. During the meeting, both reviewed the ties of cooperation between the two countries in addition to a number of issues of mutual interest.

The decision may also create tension in Pakistan’s internal politics as parliament had passed a resolution at the start of the Yemen crisis that said Pakistan would stay neutral in the conflict.

In a fresh development Senator Farhatullah Babar on Friday raised objections over the army’s deployment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), terming the development as “tantamount to bypassing the parliament”. Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani then summoned Defence Minister Khurrum Dastagir. The minister is expected to appear before the Senate on Monday to deliver a policy statement on the recent development.

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