ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Raheel Sharif will leave for Saudi Arabia tomorrow (Wednesday) to witness the ongoing multinational military exercises.
This will be the second visit of the premier and the army chief to the oil-rich kingdom in less than two months. They last visited Riyadh on January 18 to show support for the Saudi-led military coalition against terrorism and extremism.
After initial confusion, Pakistan announced its support to the coalition and its troops landed in Saudi Arabia for the 21-nation military drill named ‘Thunder of the North’.
Premier Nawaz will join a large number of heads of state and government officials to witness the closing ceremony of the largest military manoeuvre ever staged in Saudi Arabia.
“Troops from 21 countries, including Pakistan, are participating in the exercise in the northern region of Saudi Arabia,” read a statement issued by the Foreign Office on Monday.
There are fears the Saudi initiative may ignite fresh tensions in the region as countries, including Iran, Syria and Iraq, are not a part of the coalition.
Pakistan has all along maintained that its participation in the coalition is not against any country and insisted it has nothing to do with the current unrest in the Middle East, particularly in Syria.
The FO statement said the main goal of the exercise was to improve training in responding to the emerging threats posed by terrorist groups.
“Pakistan enjoys cordial and brotherly relations with Saudi Arabia, which are characterised by strong bonds of affinity, mutual respect and solidarity, and draw strength from shared historical, cultural and Islamic values. Both countries enjoy multi-faceted cooperation, including in the fields of defence and counter-terrorism,” it added.
“The Pakistani government affirms we will always stand shoulder to shoulder with our Saudi brethren against any threat to territorial integrity and sovereignty of Saudi Arabia.”
The FO said Pakistan had consistently supported all regional and international efforts to combat militancy, extremism and terrorism and, to this end, had extended its full support and cooperation to the international community.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2016.