Pakistan confirmed its participation just a day after Saudi Arabia announced a joint military exercise called ‘North Thunder’, in a bid to train and increase coordination of countries involved in the coalition before committing troops in Syria. The Saudi Arabian government claims that it is almost ready to take on Daesh in Syria. If this is truly the case, then this newly-acquired drive to take on IS should be commended; however, it must be remembered that the kingdom had a large part to play in creating the terrorist organisation in the first place. Also, given the tacit support for other Sunni factions of rebels, it is not out of line to suspect if Saudi’s intentions to take on IS are as genuine as stated.

North Thunder will involve ground, air and naval exercises over the course of 18 days. Out of the 34-member coalition, at least 20 including Pakistan have confirmed their participation. Saudi Arabia’s sectarian biases might prevent this coalition from being the success that the kingdom claims it will become. Iran’s exclusion has not been forgotten, and while Saudi Arabia claimed that it was ready to tackle IS in Syria last week, one can only wonder if it has gotten over its sectarian issues. However, given IS’ aggressive attempts to carve territory wherever it can, the kingdom might slowly be coming to terms with the very real threat to its own stability.

The government has played its role as Saudi’s ally very carefully in order to deflect the criticism of the opposition ever since the announcement of a coalition being formed. After the Foreign Office first rejected participation in the coalition outright – which was probably because Nawaz Sharif kept this one close to his chest – the FO was made to retract its original statement and confirmed that Pakistan was taking a part, although in a very limited capacity; mainly for training and intelligence-sharing. This steadily increasing level of Pakistan’s inclusion into plans to deploy troops in Syria has to be stopped at all costs. While the military exercise itself is of little consequence, its implications for the future have to be analysed very carefully. Considering Saudi Arabia’s announcement to send troops into Syria, the government’s unswerving loyalty to the Saud family might make it consider doing the same. Given the inherently sectarian nature of the conflict, Saudi Arabia is likely to pick and choose between who to fight as it always has in the past. Pakistan should not get embroiled in the same issue, not should it ever consider sending troops to fight a foreign war on terror, especially when the IS is already trying its hardest to make space for itself in Pakistan. Fight and win this war first, and then consider moving to the next.