Crisis in Arabian Peninsula: Pakistan unlikely to budge on Yemen

Published: April 23, 2015
PM, army chief go into huddle before flying off to Riyadh. PHOTO: AFP

PM, army chief go into huddle before flying off to Riyadh. PHOTO: AFP


As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Raheel Sharif prepare to fly off to Saudi Arabia to discuss the armed insurrection in Yemen, officials say Pakistan is unlikely to change its position and commit troops, ships and warplanes for the Saudi-led nine nation coalition against Houthi rebels.

The trip comes a day after the Saudi-led coalition called off its aerial bombing campaign against the Houthis, codenamed Operation Decisive Storm “on a request by the Yemeni government and President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi”. However, it left open the option of resuming strikes if the movements of the rebels warrant it.

Premier Nawaz and Gen Raheel will be visiting the oil-rich kingdom, which has been pushing Islamabad to join the coalition militarily despite a resounding nay from the Pakistani parliament, to reassure the Saudi leadership of Pakistan’s support on the conflict in the Arabian Peninsula.

A senior government official told The Express Tribune that the message the prime minister and the army chief would convey was clear: political process needs to take precedence over the use of force. “Pakistan does not want to get involved in the conflict militarily,” said the official, who requested anonymity due to sensitivity of the matter.

“Our support for the Saudi integrity and sovereignty is unquestionable but when it comes to sending troops to Yemen the government will stick to the recommendation of parliament,” the official explained.

Earlier this month, a joint sitting of parliament voted against joining the Saudi-led military coalition against the Houthis but assured Riyadh of all-out support in the event of any threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The visit of Premier Nawaz and Gen Raheel is the latest in a series of trips undertaken by senior Pakistani officials as part of efforts to undo or minimise the damage done by the parliamentary decision. The visit has triggered speculations that Pakistan may finally give in to the Saudi demands seeking Islamabad’s direct involvement in the Yemen conflict.

But the official made it clear that there was no possibility of Pakistan joining the Saudi coalition, although it would extend all possible support in line with the UN Security Council resolution. The official said Islamabad had suggested that the use of force was not a solution to the crisis. According to Pakistan’s assessment, Yemen could prove for Saudi Arabia what Afghanistan has proved for foreign forces, he added.

Government sources, however, told The Express Tribune that it would be an uphill task for the prime minister and the army chief to convince the Saudi leadership. “This visit is very crucial. It will set the tone of Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia for the next few years,” one source said.

According to an official statement, Premier Nawaz chaired a high-level meeting at the Prime Minister House on Wednesday where the upcoming visit was discussed. Attendees included federal ministers Khawaja Asif and Ishaq Dar, Gen Raheel Sharif, Premier’s foreign policy aide Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry.

“It was decided that the prime minister would undertake a one-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Thursday to discuss the evolving situation in Yemen and express solidarity with the people and leadership of the kingdom,” it said.

The statement was silent on the agenda of the meeting in Riyadh but it said that the prime minister welcomed the Saudi-led coalition’s announcement of ending its air strikes in Yemen and launch of Operation Restoring Hope, which is likely to be more political than military.

Officially too, Islamabad welcomed the announcement. “This will pave the way for political solution of the crisis in Yemen. We share the desire of Saudi Arabia for peaceful settlement of the crisis,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office.

However, source said the Saudis would be planning a ground offensive with military help from Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council. It would be a huge challenge for the prime minister to convince the Saudi leadership to understand Pakistan’s opinion on the matter, sources added.

Sources said Wednesday’s huddle reiterated that Pakistan should not commit troops for any ground offensive in Yemen as Pakistani military is already stretched thin in its fight against Taliban militants in the tribal regions.

The Saudis are asking for regular army troops. And in return, Riyadh may offer cash, oil on deferred payment, purchase of weapons and other incentives, sources said. If this happens, then the Pakistani delegation may offer one division of troops from Rangers, Frontier Corps and Army. Moreover, Pakistan may also offer some specialised operations for Yemen if the Saudis refuse to budge on their demands.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2015.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Sohail
    Apr 23, 2015 - 8:37AM

    This article is all over the place because the author has no special insight on what the government is going to do and because the military is not bound by parliament and can do as it pleases. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that we already have forces on the ground in Yemen. Recommend

  • nadeem
    Apr 23, 2015 - 10:25AM

    I am just thankful that in Pakistan we have moved away from the ‘one phone call’ and ‘one window operation’ mentality of military dictators. Now that our PM and army chief have at least verbally shown respect for the will of the people as expressed through Parliament, I will not mind if in the face of relentless Saudi insistence we send some token force for the sake of preventing a major break in the relationship ( a minor break has already taken place irreversibly ). Recommend

  • Observer
    Apr 23, 2015 - 11:38AM

    Well played NS, 1st time our foreign policy seems indepemdentRecommend

  • Arnold Layne
    Apr 23, 2015 - 12:22PM

    I am really confused by two contradictory statements in this article:

    The article title says “Pakistan unlikely to budge on Yemen”.
    The last paragraph says “… Pakistani delegation may offer one division of troops…”.

    So, which of the above is the actual stand taken by Pakistan? Another article in the same issue of Tribune states outright that if the King of KSA is insistent, then the COAS may not have much of an option but to provide troops.

    Such contradictory reports add to the confusion when there should be no confusion whatsoever. Parliament decided that no troops would be sent, and therefore the matter is done and over with. Why do we keep reading about it over and over again? What is so ambiguous about the decision taken by Parliament? Even a child can understand it.Recommend

  • Nilofer
    Apr 23, 2015 - 1:00PM

    Pakistan cannot let go of this great opportunity to finally become an Arab nation and sever its ties with the subcontinent ! Recommend

  • Salman - SK
    Apr 23, 2015 - 1:16PM

    If Pakistan is able to resist Saudi pressure this would be the first time we will witness the power of people’s voice and fruits of democratic dispensation in Pakistan. Even the US and UK, supposedly paradigm of democratic virtues, have sent forces to foreign countries against the wishes of its’ own citizens. US & UK governments had to lie and deceive its’ own people about the presence of WMD to convince them about the need to invade Iraq. All of us are witnessing the disastrous results of that move in real time and people’s suffering in Iraq and Syria these days. Yemen would be no different if an alternative to military invasion is not pursued. People will not forgive Nawaz Sharif if Pakistan is dragged in this conflict.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Apr 23, 2015 - 1:59PM

    The Sharifs and their followewill in the future will be banned from getting preferential treatment for Haj pilgrimage and their business activities in the Gulf states will be curtailed. They will have to offer more hubaras in sacrifice to please arabian high priests.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Whiskey Khan
    Apr 23, 2015 - 7:56PM

    I think the PM has gone to the Saudis to offer them alternatives to their demand. Perhaps giving them token military force to appease the Arabs. Pakistan cannot afford to destabilize itself after the big Chinese investment . You don’t see the Turkish PM running around crazy to please the Kingdom. No means No Recommend

  • JSM
    Apr 24, 2015 - 12:36PM

    Now that Pakistan hopes to get big help from China, they can show the door to Saudis. They have done this to Americans in the past. And why not. These are the ethics of convenience.Recommend

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