Pakistan PM stands by Saudi on Yemen crisis

Sharif on Thursday called for a joint session of parliament to consider whether to join the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen

Paul Crompton
Paul Crompton - Al Arabiya News
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Pakistan is concerned by the overthrow of Yemen’s internationally-recognized government by “non-state actors” and will stand by Saudi Arabia as it leads a campaign against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels there, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Friday.

“We have agreed to extend all possible support in the defense of Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Sharif said while on an official visit in Turkey’s capital Ankara, Reuters reported.

Sharif called on Thursday for a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament to decide whether to join the Saudi-led military coalition.

Today’s gesture of support from the Pakistani premier comes a week after a previous announcement that the government had not yet made a decision to join a Saudi-led coalition striking Houthi rebels in the impoverished southern Arab peninsula nation.

Late in March, Shiite Iran-backed Houthi militias – as well as several army units still loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced to step down in 2012 after the Arab Spring protests again his rule - had forced internationally-recognized President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi to retreat to the southern port city of Aden.

Sharif’s remarks come as Pakistan evacuates hundreds of its citizens from Yemen.

Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani diplomat who is currently a professor at Washington’s American University, said that PM Sharif was “tilting towards” supporting the Saudis, yet Islamabad’s approval remained.

“Parliament is discussing this heatedly, it’s one of the hottest topics in Pakistan today,” Ahmed said.

Thomas Lippman, a scholar at the Washington D.C.-based Middle East Institute, noted while Pakistan’s “rhetorical support has been available from the beginning,” the country may refrain from direct military action against the Iranian-backed rebels in order not to provoke neighboring Iran.

An editorial in Dawn, a Pakistani daily, noted that while a joint parliament session “cannot issue a binding resolution directing the government,” lawmakers can mull what is at stake in a region where Pakistan has to “necessarily balance competing interests.”

Close ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan stretch back decades.

In the 1960s, Pakistan provided support to Saudi to repel an incursion from South Yemen, which was in 1991 incorporated merged into the rest of the nation. Since then, military cooperation and long-standing trade deals have continued.

Sharif has also long enjoyed close relations with Saudi Arabia. He sought refuge in the kingdom after being exiled by a 1999 military coup, he lived in the kingdom.

Last year, Saudi Arabia loaned $1.5 billion to Pakistan to help Islamabad shore up its foreign currency reserves, pay debt obligations, and to build large energy and infrastructure projects.

In the same year, King Salman, then defense minister, visited Pakistan, with his visit resulting in Sharif joining Saudi calls for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

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