Pakistan debates military involvement in Yemen

Parliament discusses request by Riyadh for fighter jets as Saudi-led coalition continues to bomb Houthi positions.

    Rival Pakistani rallies have been held for and against the Saudi-led campaign on Yemen [Reuters]
    Rival Pakistani rallies have been held for and against the Saudi-led campaign on Yemen [Reuters]

    Islamabad, Pakistan - Saudi Arabia has asked for Pakistani fighter jets, ground troops and naval warships to join its campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, Pakistan's defence minister has said.

    Khwaja Asif was addressing a joint session of the Pakistani parliament, which met in Islamabad on Monday to begin a debate on whether to join the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, where air strikes against Houthi rebels have been ongoing since March 25.

    Pakistan has regularly voiced support for the Saudi mission, but has so far not committed to taking material part in the air strikes against the Houthis, who are said to be backed by one of Pakistan's neighbours, Iran.

    Saudi officials and state media, however, have been citing Pakistan as one of 10 countries that are actively engaged in the military campaign in Yemen.

    Asif said that while no decision had yet been taken on joining the military coalition, "any violation of Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity would elicit a strong response from Pakistan", echoing the position publicly stated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif repeatedly in the last week.

    Terming the Houthi rebels "non-state actors", who had overthrown the "legitimate” Yemeni government, led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Asif stressed that Pakistan, along with regional ally Turkey, was calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

    "The situation is grave and might endanger the safety and security of the whole region," Asif said.

    In the last week, more than 980 Pakistanis have been evacuated from Yemen by the Pakistani government, which has sent commercial aircraft and naval ships to aid in this effort, in conjunction with Saudi military authorities. The country is host to approximately 3,000 Pakistanis.

    'Give peace a chance'

    Asif, along with Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and several high-ranking military personnel, visited Saudi Arabia on March 31 to discuss the situation in Yemen.

    While there, he told parliament, the Pakistani delegation assured Saudi officials that Pakistan would protect Saudi territory if need be, but that it was pursuing the path of dialogue, and wanted "to give peace a chance".

    He confirmed that during this visit, Saudi officials had "requested us for aircraft, naval vessels and ground troops".

    PM Sharif met his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Friday, where the leaders discussed possible diplomatic solutions to the crisis in Yemen, in addition to expressing support for Saudi Arabia.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is due to visit Islamabad on Wednesday to discuss the crisis.

    Muslim-majority Pakistan is a long time ally of Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina. It is also a major recipient of Saudi aid.

    Pakistan has been walking a tight rope on the issue, analysts say, balancing its alliance with Saudi Arabia against the possibility of military involvement souring relations with neighbour Iran and possibly inflaming sectarian tensions at home.

    Pakistan's military is also currently engaged in ongoing operations against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its allies in the country's tribal areas, with roughly 170,000 troops committed to that fight, in addition to fighter jets, the defence minister said on Monday.

    The session adjourned late on Monday without a resolution being passed, and Speaker Ayaz Sadiq reconvened the debate for Tuesday morning.

    Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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