In the backdrop of the government’s decision to defend the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia, the media, particularly foreign news agencies, are already resorting to speculative stories about Pakistani jets and naval ships participating in the Saudi assault in Yemen. Such indiscretions by international media outlets are not surprising at all. The foreign office spokesman outrightly quashed these rumours saying, “They are speculative, misleading and incorrect.” The ISPR has also dispelled these reports and clarified that joint military exercises between Saudi military and 292 Pakistani troops in Sanaa are being held since March 19 in Taif. These troops were already in Saudi Arabia on a training assignment.

It may be pertinent to mention that both the countries have been pursuing defence training exchanges for a while, and the possibility of joint production of armaments between them was discussed in February 2014 when the current King of Saudi Arabia and then Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz visited Pakistan. Both countries have been deliberating on a plan to begin a new era of Strategic Partnership between them and have maintained close military ties with each other over the years. Pakistan has always stood by Saudi Arabia in warding off dangers and threats to its territorial integrity. Pakistani troops were deployed in Saudi Arabia in the 1880s during the Iran-Iraq War which posed a security threat to the Kingdom. The same policy was adopted during the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussain.

As is evident, the deployment of Pakistani troops in Saudi on both these occasions was of a defensive nature to protect territorial integrity of Saudi and not directed against any third country. The decision of the PML(N) government and the security establishment to stand by Saudi Arabia and do whatever it could do to repulse threats to her security therefore is very much in line with the policy Pakistan has been pursuing in regards to territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia.This approach is dictated by the special relationship that has existed between the two countries since the inception of Pakistan, understanding and agreements on defence cooperation and commitment for a strategic partnership; a well considered policy initiative.

What kind of assistance Pakistan would be extending to Saudi Arabia has not yet been decided and will be known when a formal decision in this regard is made in light of the discussions that a high-level Pakistani delegation has had with Saudi authorities. But as one can safely infer from the developments that have taken place so far and the decisions made in meetings between the Prime Minister and the military leadership, Pakistan while remaining committed to defend Saudi Arabia is desirous of a resolution to the conflict through UN and OIC and is willing to even play the role of a mediator if asked to do so. The Prime Minister is reportedly trying to contact all stakeholders in the region’s stability to explore the possibilities of ending hostilities and finding an amicable solution to the raging storm in Yemen on a permanent basis.

Pakistan is not joining any coalition to invade Yemen and its role would remain confined to defending Saudi Arabian territory. Pakistan has never participated in any such adventure and it has been its avowed policy not to meddle into or be part of any military confrontation in any third country, though it has invariably responded to UN calls for a peace mission; which is not only appreciated by the UN but also the international community. Pakistan knows full well the implications of being involved in conflicts in other countries and the Saudis are also appreciative of this stance and would not expect Pakistani troops to be part of any ground offensive into Yemen against the Houthi rebels.

In view of the foregoing facts, there is no cause for Iran to resent deployment of Pakistani troops in Saudi if it is eventually decided by the government of Pakistan. The move in no way would pose any security threat to Iran and affect our relations with her and accentuate the problems of sectarianism in Pakistan, as being feared by some political circles opposed to the commitment made by Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. They probably are not aware of the implications of Pakistan not standing by Saudi Arabia at this critical juncture and wriggling out of the commitments and agreements made with her. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have a special relationship which has gone from strength to strength with the passage of time and the latter has always supported Pakistan on issues of concern and provided generous economic assistance as and when it needed resources and money to stem the burgeoning economic rot or to provide succour during natural calamities such as earthquakes and floods. How can Pakistan abandon a friend and sympathiser like Saudi Arabia when it is faced with a perilous security threat? Nonetheless, in view of the complexity of the situation and its potential to erupt into a bigger conflagration involving countries of the region and beyond—-if no immediate solution is found by the UN, OIC and world community, the Pakistan government must take all political forces into confidence to give the decision national ownership.

For now, pending the decision regarding troop deployment in Saudi Arabia, the top priority of the government has been to repatriate stranded Pakistanis in Yemen. As they say, credit must be given where it is due and the government has done a tremendous job in this regard. The foreign office and our embassy in Yemen who were closely monitoring the event in Yemen had warned Pakistani expatriates in Yemen about the impending danger in early February. The warning was probably not heeded by them and when air strikes began finally, nearly 3000 Pakistanis found themselves stranded. The embassy was in constant touch with Pakistanis and reportedly only 900 of them expressed a willingness to be evacuated. Out of these, 502 have already been repatriated and arrangements are in the offing to bring back the rest of them with the help of the Chinese and our own Navy frigates through sea. Efforts are also being made to evacuate Pakistanis stranded at Sana, shift them to Djibouti and then airlift them to the safety of their homes in Pakistan. The entire operation has been personally supervised by the Prime Minister, and on this we congratulate him.