Pakistan Assembly Rejects Saudi Request on Yemen
NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s Parliament has unanimously voted in favour of a resolution on the country’s “neutrality” regarding the conflict in Yemen. The move indicates that Pakistan will not be joining the Saudi-led coalition’s military offensive in Yemen, despite being asked by Saudi Arabia to do so.
A joint session of Parliament has been debating to join the conflict in Yemen, tabled by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, with the resolution passed on Friday afternoon stating the "desire that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict", while reaffirming Pakistan’s "unequivocal support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia".
Lawmakers reiterated that Pakistan will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Saudi Arabia if there is a violation of that Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity or a threat to Muslim holy sites in Mecca and Medina.
The vote on Friday comes on the heels of frantic diplomatic activity, with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif travelling to Turkey to discuss the crisis and Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif concluding a two-day visit to Islamabad.
A few days earlier, Sharif stated that Parliament’s resolution on whether Pakistan joins the Saudi-led coalition militarily will depend on the resolution passed. The debate in Parliament in turn seemed to indicate that lawmakers were largely against Pakistani intervention in the Middle Eastern country.
PPP Senator Aitzaz Ahsan said that “we need to be told clearly what exactly your stance is. Only then we will lend you the mandate you are seeking” and adding that Saudi Arabia was capable of defending itself without Pakistan’s assistance.
Senator Mushahid Hussain highlighted the consequences of getting involved in a war that was not Pakistan’s to begin with. "Yemen is like Afghanistan. It is unstable. It is like a quicksand, nobody can come out of this... there will be no winners in this conflict,” he said adding that "We should ask our Chinese friends to ask for a ceasefire in Yemen in the United Nations and for holding dialogue and fresh elections.” Hussain, whilst reiterating Pakistan’s support for Saudi Arabia said (according to Dawn News) that “Pakistan was fighting a major offensive in the northwest and it could not afford to send ground troops outside the country as the army's first responsibility was to protect the lives of Pakistanis.”
ANP lawmaker Ghulam Ahmad Bilour also maintained that Pakistan should not get involved, stressing instead on the country playing a mediatory role -- a sentiment echoed by JI chied Sirajul Haq and National Party (NP) President Hasil Bazenjo.
This emerging consensus was also alluded to by akistan’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz a few days earlier. “There is a broad consensus in parliament that Pakistan’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen is not advisable,” Aziz said whilst addressing a press conference with Zarif at the Foreign Office. “Pakistan should not participate in an offensive action, but try to mediate or to influence a peaceful solution through dialogue,” Aziz continued in reference to the position of the country’s lawmakers.
Pakistan has backed Saudi Arabia’s mission -- which began bombing Yemen on March 26 -- but has not committed itself to any military assistance. Saudi-led airstrikes meant to target Houthi rebels who are gaining ground in Yemen has not seen much success, raising speculation that Saudi Arabia may be considering a ground invasion. Such a ground offensive, analysts believe, would rely heavily on foreign troops -- such as that of Pakistan.
Pakistan, thus, was caught in a difficult spot. The South Asian country could not ignore the Saudi request, given its close relations with the Saudi monarchy that is keen on restoring Yemen’s exiled president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to power.. However, Pakistan has to be careful of its own relations with Iran -- with whom it shares a border; Iran, reportedly, supports the Houthi rebels -- and it has to be mindful of not overextending the Pakistani army, that is already embroiled in a military offensive within the country’s own borders.
Pakistan’s role in the crisis is in the context of its relationship with Saudi Arabia, with both being Sunni-majority nations. Saudi Arabia is committed to battling the Houthis in Yemen, who are believed to have the backing of the region’s other power -- Shia-majority Iran.
"Pakistan remains firmly committed to supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia in accordance with the aspirations of the people of Pakistan," a statement from Sharif's media office said. "Pakistan stands committed to playing a meaningful role in arresting the deteriorating situation in the Middle East."
This support was already a given. In addition to being allied in terms of Sunni sectarian identity, Pakistan continues to receive much-needed financial assistance from Riyadh. Last year, for instance, Pakistan reportedly received $1.5 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia to meet debt obligations and bolster its foreign exchange reserves. History, too, is indication of Pakistan’s commitment to Saudi Arabia. In 1990, Pakistan agreed to join an international coalition in defence of Saudi Arabia against Iraqi aggression.
This time around, however, reason seems to have prevailed with Pakistan realizing that the cost of its intervention in Yemen is perhaps too high as it will not only fuel sectarian tensions within the country’s own borders but also compromise the military offensive against Pakistan-based and focused militants.