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Pakistan to Send Delegation to Saudi Arabia Over Yemen Request

by AFP and Newsweek Pakistan
Courtesy PID

Courtesy PID

Defense minister says Islamabad’s sole pledge is to defend Gulf kingdom’s territorial integrity.

Islamabad said on Thursday it would dispatch a top civil-military delegation to Saudi Arabia following Riyadh’s request that it join a coalition to defend Yemen’s president, promising a “strong response” to any threat to the Gulf kingdom.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to send the group to Saudi Arabia on Friday after meeting with top defense and military officials in Islamabad late Thursday, his office said in a statement. “The meeting concluded that any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan,” it said, adding that the defense minister and Sharif’s national security adviser would travel to the country, along with top military figures.

Sharif told the meeting: “Pakistan enjoys close and brotherly relations with Saudi Arabia and other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries and attaches great importance to their security.”

The Gulf kingdom has begun airstrikes against Shia Houthi rebels and the Saudi ambassador in Washington said a coalition of 10 countries, including Pakistan, was being formed to protect the Yemeni government.

The rebels and their allies had been closing in on main southern city Aden, where President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has been holed up since fleeing the rebel-controlled capital Sanaa last month. Their advance raised Saudi fears that the Shia minority rebels would seize control of the whole of its Sunni-majority neighbor and take it into the orbit of Shia Iran.

Yemen is teetering on the brink of civil war as turmoil has grown since the Houthis launched a power grab in February.

Islamabad has longstanding close ties to Saudi Arabia, and foreign office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said the kingdom had asked Pakistan to join the coalition. “I can confirm we have been contacted by Saudi Arabia in this regard. The matter is being examined. That’s all I have to say at the moment,” she told a regular press briefing. Aslam said no decision had been taken yet on whether to close the Pakistani embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

Defense minister Khawaja Asif told Parliament on Friday that while the delegation would visit Saudi Arabia, Islamabad had “made no promise” to join the coalition against the Houthi rebels. He said Pakistan’s sole pledge is to defend Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity—nothing else.

The official Saudi Press Agency said earlier that Pakistan, along with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan, had all “expressed desire to participate in the operation.” Egypt and Jordan have confirmed they will join Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the coalition.

However, joining the coalition might irk Pakistan’s minority Shia community and neighbor Iran. Pakistan has suffered a rising tide of sectarian violence in recent years, most of it perpetrated by hardline Sunni Muslim groups against minority Shia Muslims, who make up around one in five of the population.

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