Pakistani delegation in Riyadh for talks on Yemen

Around 750 to 800 Pakistani servicemen are believed to be in Saudi Arabia but none were combat troops

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A delegation of senior Pakistani officials arrived in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday as Islamabad weighs how much support to provide the kingdom in its fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The delegation, led by Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif and top foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz, held talks with Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman and other high-ranking Saudi officials over “Operation Decisive Storm” and Pakistani participation.

Asif asserted his country’s commitment to safeguard the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia through all means.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also emphasized Pakistan’ stance on the conflict in Yemen:: “Pakistan holds Saudi Arabia in very high esteem and considers the security of the holy land of utmost importance,” Sharif’s office said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Any violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Saudi Arabia would evoke a strong reaction from Pakistan,” it added.

Around 750 to 800 Pakistani servicemen are believed to be in Saudi Arabia but none were combat troops, a Pakistani official told Reuters.

"Saudi Arabia had always helped Pakistan like an elder brother," Asif told a seminar in Lahore shown on television channels according to Reuters.

"Pakistan will extend all support to Saudi Arabia if the country's security is threatened," he added.

For six days, a Saudi-led coalition of ten regional countries has bombed Iran-allied Houthi fighters and army units linked to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in a bid to quell Iranian influence in the region.

Saudi Arabia has vowed to keep up the raids until the rebels abandons their insurrection against Hadi, who has fled to Riyadh and whose last bastion in the southern city of Aden was heavily shelled overnight.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan shares a long border with Iran, considered to be the centre of Shiite power, and has a warm relationship with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival. An estimated 20 percent of Pakistanis are Shiite.

Right-wing religious groups demonstrated last week vowing to defend Saudi Arabia. But some civil society groups and opposition politicians spoke against intervention, on the view that it could further inflame sectarian tensions at home.

Sharif has long enjoyed close relations with the Saudi royal family. After his second term as prime minister was ended by a military coup in 1999, he was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia lent $1.5 billion to Pakistan last year to help Islamabad shore up foreign exchange reserves. Pakistani officials initially refused to divulge the source of the loan.

[With Reuters]

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