ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir on Monday assured the Senate that Pakistani troops in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) will operate within the geographical bounders of the kingdom but refused to reveal operational details of their deployment, stirring a new debate.
“I recuse myself from sharing operational details of the deployment of our troops. This is a matter of national security and cannot be disclosed,” the defense minister said in response to a volley of questions raised by lawmakers who remained unsatisfied with his much-awaited policy statement.
The defense minister was summoned to the Senate for a briefing after the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced last Thursday that Pakistan will be sending additional troops to the oil-rich kingdom as part of ‘the ongoing bilateral security cooperation’.
On minister’s plain refusal to disclose as to where the additional troops will be deployed, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani offered him a closed-door session.
“Even in an in-camera session, we’d request not to ask questions on the exact deployment. This is a matter of security of our troops,” the minister replied, much to ire of the senators who tried to ask more questions. However, the chairman said it would be no more than a futile exercise.
“It is pointless. Let us not talk about supremacy of parliament. You (minister), as the executive, are rubbing the nose of parliament in it,” Rabbani said.
Earlier in his policy statement, Dastgir said military cooperation between Pakistan and the KSA dates back to nearly five decades. Pakistani forces have maintained bilateral and multilateral cooperation globally with its allies, partners, and friendly countries, especially the Muslim countries in the Middle East.
“Our engagement has included bilateral exchanges of troops and deputation of our training teams. The training of Saudi forces is governed by the 1982 bilateral Pakistan-Saudi Protocol on the Deputation of Pakistan Armed Forces Personnel and Military Training,” he said.
He said for training of the Saudi forces, Pakistani troops have remained deputed in the kingdom and continue to be so today in various geographic zones and areas of Saudi Arabia.
Around 1,600 Pakistani armed forces personnel are currently on deputation in Saudi Arabia. Another contingent of more than 1,000 troops will augment the existing strength.
The prime minister approved the recent decision to depute additional troops for training and advising the Saudi forces, Dastgir added.
PM sanctioned troop deployment to Saudi Arabia for ‘advisory purpose’
He said this contingent, once deputed in the KSA, will perform its training and advisory mission while remaining within the geographical boundaries of the kingdom. Once the minister completed his statement, senators from different parties expressed their dissatisfaction over it.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar, who had raised the issue through a point of public importance on Friday, asked if the troops are going to be deployed in Sharora, a town bordering the war-torn Yemen.
The minister replied that the troops are being deployed as part of an agreement with Saudi Arabia in 1992. But he cannot share operational details.
The senators also asked why the government did not take parliament into confidence before making the decision.
Dastgir claimed that he was about to brief the house and was waiting for a decision in this regard. The members said they should have been taken on board before the decision was taken.
When asked when the minister himself came to know about the new deployments, Dastgir said he and the PM were privy to the development as it was being discussed for the last many months.
This revelation further enraged the Senate chairman, who said, “Why shouldn’t parliament initiate a contempt proceeding against you and the prime minister for not taking parliament in confidence!”
The minister said Pakistan will stay away from the conflict in Yemen according to a parliamentary resolution passed in April 2015.
The government had promised before the Senate a number of times that it will take parliament into confidence before taking any decision on Saudi request for sending troops to the kingdom or moving ahead for Saudi-led coalition of Islamic countries.
The Senate chairman declared the motion ‘talked out’ amid his and other Senators’ serious reservations.
Earlier, the house passed five bills and adopted three resolutions sponsored by private members. The chairman Functional Committee on Human Rights presented a report on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2017.
The House dropped four private members’ bills due to the absence of concerned lawmakers.
A lawmaker belonging to the Awami National Party (ANP) introduced the Members of Parliament (Salaries and Allowances) (Amendment) Bill, 2018. The house referred the bill to the relevant standing committee for further deliberation.
The house passed the National Assembly Secretariat Employees Bill, 2018; the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2017; the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2018; the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2017; and the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
The house was informed that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 and the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, 2017 had been received back from the standing committees and were awaiting notices for consideration.
The house unanimously passed a resolution recommending the government to stop the process of delimitations of constituencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and hold the elections 2018 on the previously delimitated constituencies.
As many as 12 lawmakers including the minister for parliamentary affairs debated on the resolution, consuming half an hour of the proceedings.
The house adopted a resolution recommending the government to launch Chinese language courses for Pakistanis in view of the growing collaboration between Pakistan and China under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). As many as 14 lawmakers voted in favour of the resolution, but 9 opposed it.
The house also adopted a resolution recommending the government to take necessary steps to set up separate branches of the National Bank of Pakistan in Tehsils Dadak and Kangri of District Musakhel of Balochistan.