- As Saudi Arabia, allies launch airstrikes against Shia Houthis in Yemen, Pakistan responds positively to ‘need to ensure Kingdom’s defence’ while analysts warn Pak against joining intra-Arab conflict which can also affect Pak-Iran ties
Pakistan on Thursday decided in principle to join the Saudi-led Gulf countries’ alliance against Shia Houthi rebels to “defend the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Saudi Arabia”.
However, it is yet to be ascertained whether this assistance would be extended to Saudi Arabia in its offensive against the Shia Houthi militia into Yemen or the forces would be offered to ensure territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia had formally sought military support from Pakistan during the recent visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. A high-level delegation would visit Saudi Arabia today (Friday) to assess the situation.
While defence experts have cautioned Pakistan against any role in the Kingdom’s endeavours inside the Yemeni borders, PM Sharif has hinted at provision of troops to safeguard Saudi borders from any external threats.
PM SET IN MOTION:
As the situation in Yemen took a new turn with Saudi planes bombing the Shia Houthi rebels inside Yemen, Sharif Thursday evening chaired an emergency high-level meeting at the Prime Minister’s House to discuss the recent developments in the Middle East and a request forwarded by the Saudi government for military assistance.
The meeting was also attended by Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, Minister for Defence Khwaja Muhammad Asif and Advisor to PM on National Security Sartaj Aziz.
“The meeting concluded that any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan,” said an official statement issued following the meeting.
The meeting also decided that to send a delegation, comprising defence minister and adviser to PM on national security, to Saudi Arabia today to assess the situation and seek the needs of the Saudi government in their fight against Yemeni rebels. Senior representatives from the armed forces would also accompany the delegation.
“The prime minister said Pakistan enjoys close and brotherly relations with Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries and attaches great importance to their security,” the statement added.
QUANTUM OF SUPPORT:
Although no quick official word was available as to what sort of support Islamabad was going to extend to Saudi forces, the presence of the army chief and the air chief reflected that Saudi Arabia had sought air and ground assistance against Shia Houthis.
A Defence Ministry official said that the decision had been taken in principle to join the coalition against the rebels. However, the official said no specific help had been sought from Saudi Arabia as yet.
“The civil and military experts would ask from Saudi authorities about their assistance from Pakistan. Later, the government would decided how much support could be extended,” the official added.
Speaking on the issue, noted defence analyst Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi warned prime minister against becoming a party in conflict in the Arab World. However, he said it was premature to comment over the nature of Pakistan’s assistance to Saudi Arabia.
“It’s good if this assistance is aimed at safeguarding the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia. However, it would be unfortunate for Pakistan if it decides to support any Saudi role inside Yemen. We need to stay away from the intra-Arab conflict,” he added.
Elaborating his views, Dr Rizvi said that in the Arab World, animosity and friendship are short-lived and any role in conflicts may undermine Pakistan’s interest.
“Rather, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should play a role of an elder and advise the Kingdom for using political means to settle the problem in Yemen. Any adventure inside Yemen would undermine our relations with Iran and would come out as a big loss,” he added.
“Pakistan Army is already fighting a war against terrorists on its western borders while threats are already looming on our eastern borders. We should not push our army into a new war,” he concluded.
SAUDIA STRIKES YEMEN:
Earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia said that five Muslim countries, including Egypt and Pakistan, wanted to participate in the Gulf-led military coalition against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Together with Jordan, Morocco and Sudan, they have “expressed desire to participate in the operation” against the rebels, which the kingdom dubbed “Firmness Storm”, Saudi SPA state news agency said.
Saudi Arabia and four other Gulf states, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, announced earlier a decision to “answer the call of President Hadi to protect Yemen and his people from the aggression of the (Shia) Houthi militia.“
The Kingdom and its allies launched air strikes in Yemen against Houthi fighters, who have tightened their grip in southern city of Aden where the country’s president had taken refuge, the Saudi envoy to Washington said on Wednesday.
The kingdom’s ambassador to the United States announced from Washington that a coalition of 10 countries, including the five Gulf monarchies, had been set up to protect the Yemeni government. However, he declined giving any information on Hadi’s whereabouts, but said the president, who has fled his residence, was still running the government along with members of his Cabinet.
Jubeir said Iranian-backed Houthi Shia militants were now in control of the Yemeni air force and of the country’s ballistic weapons. He told reporters that Saudi Arabia had consulted with the United States but that Washington was not participating in the military operation.
A US official said that the United States was providing support to Saudi Arabia as it carries out its operation, but gave no details.
Jubeir said the operation, which was launched at 2300 GMT on Wednesday in response to a request for assistance by Hadi, was not limited to one particular city or region.
Gulf broadcaster al-Arabiya TV reported that the kingdom was contributing as many as 150,000 troops and 100 warplanes to the operations.
These latest developments follow a southward advance by Houthi militants, who are said to be backed by Iran, who took control of the capital Sanaa in September and seized the central city of Taiz at the weekend as they move closer to the new southern base of US-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.