On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif landed in Saudi Arabia to begin their 3 day long visit of the Kingdom. Arguably the two most powerful individuals from Pakistan were met by an equally high ranking Saudi delegation, which then ushered them to the closing ceremony of ‘Operation North Thunder’ – where Pakistani troops have been present for weeks taking part in the military exercises – described as “the largest, most important military maneuvers” ever staged in the region according to the official news agency.

This seems to be far cry from the sentiments of the government from just a few months ago. It adamantly rejected involvement in the Yemen crisis, and when the Kingdom announced its 34 member coalition against terrorism, Pakistani officials feigned ignorance and promised that Pakistan will only extend intelligence and peripheral support. Now its soldiers are among the 20 countries conducting the exercises, its armed forces effectively training their Saudi counterpart and its top military and civilian leaders there to lend it credence and promise further support. It may not be sending its forces to any direct conflict, but it does feel like the government is breaking its commitment to the people by quietly giving the Saudi’s what they wanted.

If it strengthens the relationship with the Kingdom, and Pakistani troops are kept out of conflict, then this seeming deception can be forgiven – after all the foreign office went to great pains to keep the definition of “intelligence and peripheral support” vague. What cannot be forgiven however is imbalance it causes between Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

According to the SPA the exercises send a “clear message” that Riyadh and its allies “stand united in confronting all challenges and preserving peace and stability in the region”. Considering the recent execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the dissident Saudi Shia cleric and the following standoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as the fact that the exercises are held in the extreme north of the country, it is not unfathomable towards whom this “clear message” is intended. And now with both Sharifs gracing the event, Pakistan is part of this message. This flies in the face of the government’s policy of maintaining good relations with both Iran and Iraq – in fact the parliament refusal to join the Yemen war was based on this consideration. Yet, Pakistan is decidedly leaning on one side again. How does it plan on balancing this equation and engaging with it’s much more immediate neighbour remains to be seen.