Pakistan has chosen to remain neutral in the Yemen conflict; the civil society protested, the parliament voted, the Prime Minister restated that stance on national television – and that should have been the end of it. Yet there still is activity on that front, quite a lot of it. Breaking from diplomatic protocol, Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab, travelled to Riyadh to meet with the Saudis, instead of a Foreign Office representative. On the eve of the Chinese president’s visit, the Saudi king called Xi Jinping, and immediately afterwards, a high powered delegation – comprised of the two most powerful men in the country, General Raheel Sharif, and Nawaz Sharif – head out to the Kingdom to discuss the Yemen crisis. Pakistan has chosen to remain neutral, but has it really?

The visit coincides with the end of the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign. The Saudi statement says that all military objectives have been achieved and now it is time to proceed with a new operation, titled ‘Restoring Hope’, which will shift focus towards security, counter-terrorism, aid and a political solution in Yemen. Most critically – from a Pakistani point of view – the statement said that the coalition forces “have successfully managed to thwart the threat of the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries”. This should mean that Pakistan will not send troops to Saudi Arabia, as the only proviso in the Parliamentary resolution which might have mandated their deployment is rendered inoperable; that too by Saudi Arabia’s own admission. Furthermore, the end of the bombing campaign has been welcomed by several countries, including Iran, and its end signifies that perhaps backdoor diplomacy may yet lead to a political solution to this terrible war. Yet there remain several hurdles in this process, despite Saudi Arabia claiming that the military operation is successful, Houthi fighters still hold Sanna, and clashes continued in the southern city of Aden. The coalition hasn’t ruled out a military solution just yet.

This brings us back to Pakistan. Despite electing neutrality, Pakistan is continuously finding indirect ways of supporting the Saudis. It has made several public statements condemning the Houthi rebels and their foreign backers – read Iran. Under the guise of a UNSC mandated arms embargo, Pakistan has sent several navy vessels to blockade Yemen. The constant back and forth visits to Riyadh suggest that Pakistan’s role in this conflict is not over yet. What the Kingdom will demand from the Sharifs and to what extent they are willing to work around the words of the parliamentary resolution remain to be seen.