ISLAMABAD: The Thursday announcement by the army to send a contingent of troops to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as part of ‘the ongoing bilateral security cooperation’ sparked a debate in both houses of the parliament with the lawmakers calling for an explanation for the move from government.
“These [troop] or [the] troops already there will not be employed outside KSA. Pak Army maintains bilateral security cooperation with many other GCC/regional countries,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had said in a statement, without specifying the exact number of troops being sent.
Reacting to the development, the Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani on Friday directed the Defence Minister Khuram Dastgir to appear before the house for a policy statement on the decision.
Contingent of troops sent to Saudi Arabia: ISPR
The order was issued when the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar raised the issue as a matter of public importance, saying that he had also filed a notice of adjournment.
Referring to the ISPR’s announcement, he said the development took place after a meeting between the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Saudi ambassador in Islamabad.
He said the meeting was preceded by the army chief’s ‘quietly undertaken’ recent 3-day visit to Saudi Arabia, the second in two months, during which the army chief also met Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and military commanders.
“The number of troops is not known but the disclosure that it will be less than a division indicates that almost a full-fledged army division is being sent to the kingdom,” he said.
Babar said the Yemini allies of Saudi Arabia were losing the political battle because of internal fighting and the air campaign and blockade by Saudi Arabia had received a backlash, adding 'this provides a disturbing context'.
He said the deliberately nuanced Foreign Office (FO) statements recently condemning the Houthi missile attacks as threat to the kingdom and Holy Mosques also seemed aimed at justifying sending Pakistani troops to actively engage in the Yemen conflict on the side of the Saudis.
“Has anyone given a serious thought to its grave consequences?” he asked.
Reminding parliament's unanimous resolution seeking strict neutrality in the Yemen conflict, he asked who was making unilateral decisions by passing parliament and to the detriment of the country. Later, the chairman asked the defence minister to appear before the house on Monday.
Saudi coalition ToRs allow Pakistan to decide its role
Lawmakers’ concern in the National Assembly
Opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly on Friday also questioned the army troops’ deployment in the KSA and asked the government to tell parliament the reason behind this deployment. They also raised concern over Pakistan ‘not being able’ to continue neutrality in the Yemen crisis.
On a point of order, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Shireen Mazari said impact of the resolution passed by parliament on the Yemen crisis in 2015 was getting diluted.
“On the floor of the house, the government had committed that details of the Saudi Arabia led alliance will be presented. The alliance was formed and General (retd) Raheel Sharif was made head of it. However, the house was not told anything about this Islamic alliance,” she further said.
Mazari demanded an explanation from the government in this connection and asked it to tell the house under what terms and conditions Pakistan became part of this alliance.
The Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Nafisa Shah said after the army chief visit to KSA, the army troops are being deployed in Saudi Arabia. “The war in the Middle East is of a very complex nature,” she added.
She said earlier parliament had decided not to become part of the war in the region especially the war in Yemen. She said the KSA is an all-weather friend but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should brief and assure the house that these troops will remain limited to Harmain Sharifain.
“Former COAS Raheel Sharif is heading the KSA-led alliance and the house should also be informed about terms of reference (ToRs) of this coalition.
Portrayal of Pakhtun as terrorists
Lawmakers of the PTI expressed deep concerns and annoyance over portrayal of Pakhtuns as terrorists in a recent mock anti-terrorist operation in Multan.
On a calling attention notice moved by Shehryar Afridi, the government said the mock anti-terrorist operation in question was a routine exercise and it had nothing to do with any race or nationality.
Minister for State on Interior Talal Chaudhry said the exercise had occurred last month in Multan and the police officials were given the task to disguise themselves as terrorists.
According to him, a sub-inspector, Sharif Khan, who is a resident of Tank and serving in Multan police force for the past 32 years had dressed himself like a Taliban.
“The happening in Multan was not intentional and it does not mean to target some specific community. Anyone could dress up as he wanted. It was a routine exercise to tackle untoward situation,” he stated.
However, Afridi seemed not satisfied by his explanation and asked how it was possible that only a Pathan was selected for this purpose out of the whole lot. He termed it as a sensitive issue and alleged that only the CNICs of Pakhtuns are being blocked and they are targeted in snap checking.
Malik Amir Dogar asked whether the government considered the Pakhtun community as respectable citizens. “When a terrorist incident in Lahore occurred then only Pakhtun’s were screened,” he added.
Army kills five Indian soldiers after school van targeted along LoC
Responding to him, Chaudhry said the police officer in question was given multiple promotions. “Why he should have been assigned the job of an officer if there had been any biasness against a specific community,” he asked.
Culture policy on Feb 25
The house was informed that the National Culture Policy will be announced on Feb 25. The Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb told the house during the questions hour that the policy envisages measures to revive the endangered and extinct cultures.
She said this policy includes education on cultural diversity and necessary awareness campaigns. She said the policy has been framed after getting inputs from the provincial governments.
Minister of State for Maritime Affairs Jaffer Iqbal told the house that thirty railway stations are being upgraded at an estimated cost of 2972.95 million rupees.
Parliamentary Secretary for Cabinet Division Raja Javed Ikhlas told the house that two nuclear power plants of 2,400 megawatts are near completion. “The government is focusing on the exploitation of hydel resources as well as using LNG to produce cheap electricity,” he said.
Absence of top bureaucracy annoys speaker
The continuous absence of top bureaucracy of different departments and parliamentary secretary of a ministry invited the ire of the National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.
In the question house, the speaker inquired from Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry as to who would answer a question. Is there some person [top official] seated in the gallery with regard to the Climate Change Ministry, he asked.
He said: “It is the collective responsibility of the cabinet to answer questions raised at the floor of the House. If the minister or a parliamentary secretary is not present then the duty of some other minister is fixed to reply the question.”
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ