ISLAMABAD - Terming Saudi Arabia a ‘strategic ally’, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday expressed the resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi brethren in case of any threat to the Kingdom’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In a policy statement following the Parliament’s resolution on the issue of Yemen and the ensuing ‘disappointment’ expressed by certain officials in the Gulf states, PM Nawaz said his government will intensify efforts for a negotiated solution to the Yemen crisis.

Flanked by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, Tariq Fatemi and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, Pm Nawaz in his speech upheld Parliament’s recent resolution to stay ‘neutral’ in the Yemen conflict, but repeated the words of the resolution regarding the importance of Saudi Arabia as an ally. “We stand with them shoulder to shoulder,” he said.

Speaking after chairing an urgent consultative meeting of top civil and military leadership, PM Nawaz Sharif made it clear that Islamabad did not abandon friends and strategic partners, especially at a time when their security was under threat. “We want to assure the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that their frustration was due to a miscommunication in the interpretation of the stand of our Parliament. There should be no doubt about our policy; we do not abandon friends,” he said.

Nawaz Sharif said some media reports were speculative and tended to create misunderstanding between Pakistan and its Arab brothers. “We have not responded to these speculations because we believe that public comments will be counterproductive,” he said. “We will continue to follow the policy of fortifying and strengthening the bonds of friendship with the Gulf countries. There should be no doubt about our policy of solidarity with the GCC states.”

Pakistan firmly believes that restoration of President Mansur Hadi’s government would be important to maintain peace and stability in Yemen, said the prime minister. He said that Pakistan would step up diplomatic efforts in the coming days, in consultation with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, to resolve the crisis.

The prime minister said he had seen many media comments in Pakistan and abroad on the Yemen crisis, particularly after the resolution was passed by the Parliament on April 10, and he thought it was necessary to clarify Pakistan’s position on different dimensions of the crisis. He said they were in touch with the GCC countries to assure them that their disappointment was based on an apparent misinterpretation of the Parliament’s resolution.

He said that from the very start, Pakistan’s policy was based on the following principles: The importance of Saudi Arabia as one of our most important strategic allies; the sanctity of the two Holy Mosques and full support to their Custodian; Pakistan’s long-term commitment to Saudi sovereignty, territorial integrity and stability which has been the main pillar of our foreign policy pursued by successive governments; and our firm assurance to our Saudi brothers that we shall stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

PM Nawaz said the resolution expressed strong condemnation of actions by the Houthis and other non-state actors to overthrow the legitimate government of Yemen and serious concern at the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation; and the urgency of finding a peaceful solution to the crisis through dialogue among the warring factions.

The resolution passed by the Parliament on April 10, he said, fully endorsed these principles and strengthened the hands of the government for playing a positive and constructive role. He said the resolution had affirmed, in clear and categorical terms, that any violation of the Saudi territorial sovereignty or threat to the two Holy Mosques would evoke a strong response from Pakistan. “This assurance had been given despite the massive commitment of our armed forces in the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb, in which hundreds of our brave soldiers and security personnel had laid down their lives,” he said.

“We have already intensified contacts with Saudi Arabia to monitor the ground situation and possible threats to the security and territorial integrity of the Kingdom. We believe that the restoration of President Hadi’s government will be an important step forward towards establishing peace in Yemen,” the prime minister said.

Nawaz Sharif said he also conveyed to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during his visit to Pakistan on April 8-9 that the violent overthrow of the legitimate government in Yemen by the Houthis had set a dangerous precedent that was fraught with serious risks for the entire region. He said he also urged him to use Iran’s influence to bring the Houthis to the negotiating table.

Earlier, an urgent high-level meeting was called by PM Nawaz Sharif on the Yemen-Saudi Arabia issue at the PM House. Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Sartaj Aziz, Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry attended the meeting chaired by the premier.

The fresh controversy over Pakistan’s role in Yemen crisis developed when United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash lashed out at Pakistan for what he termed ambiguous stand on the issue as he further accused Islamabad of siding with Iran, which is said to be backing Houthi rebels. Issuing an open threat to Islamabad, Gargash said “Pakistan will have to pay heavy price for it.”