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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Do We need to Worry about Pakistan’s Planned Troop Deployment in Saudi Arabia?

News Desk |

On Friday, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi approved the decision to send Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia under a longstanding defense cooperation between the two countries signed in 1982 for Pakistan to give military training and an advisory role to the Saudi military forces.

This decision came after a meeting between Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf Saeed Al-Maliki at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi on Feb 15, 2018.

The ISPR release stated “In continuation of ongoing Pak-Saudi bilateral security cooperation, a Pakistan Army contingent is being sent to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on training and advice mission. These or troops already there will not be employed outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the army “maintains bilateral security cooperation with many other Gulf/regional countries”.  The size of troops might be a size of a composite brigade. Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said, “New deployment would be much less than a division.”

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Senate bringing up issues where none exist?

Senator Farhatullah Babar on Feb 16, 2018, raised concerns over the Pakistan Army’s deployment to Saudi Arabia; saying that the development is “tantamount to bypassing the parliament”. He said he had also given an adjournment notice to discuss the issue.

Criticizing the Foreign Office, he stated that the FO is paving the way for Pakistan’s involvement in the Saudi-Yemen conflict and is providing false justifications for the army’s deployment. In 2015, after a heated public debate in parliament, it was agreed that Pakistan would not get involved in regional middle-eastern politics. In the meantime, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani has called for Defense Minister Khurrum Dastagir to appear before the House on Feb 19, 2018, to give a policy statement on this decision.

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Security sources have confirmed that the proposed 1000 Pakistani deployment will be used for training purposes only and no Pakistani soldier will be sent to Yemen. According to Pakistan’s security officials, under the 1982 agreement, there are already 1,379 Pakistani troops deployed in Saudi Arabia with a few Pakistani Air Force personnel and Pakistan’s navy officials. 

Pakistan’s defence cooperation with the Persian Gulf countries is not restricted merely to Saudi Arabia, it has 627 Pakistani soldiers in Qatar, which include 165 army personnel and 462 from Pakistan’s navy and Air Force and another 292 army persons are expected to be deployed in the near future aiming at military training and advisory objectives.

Pakistan’s has also stationed one infantry unit in Bahrain consisting of 653 soldiers from 2008 to 2013. At the same time, Pakistan has maintained its military ties with Iran: currently, 10 pilots are training with the Pakistani military. Pakistan has tried to remain away from the Yemen crisis where Iran strongly opposed Saudi-led military coalition. 

Bitterness between Pakistan & Saudi Arabia and UAE

The Pakistani refusal to the Saudi request for forces to help them in 2015, against Yemen, has created a lot of bitter blood the last couple of years between the Saudis and the UAE with Pakistan. It has affected military, government to government ties, bilateral trade and diaspora employment opportunities. During this period, India used the opportunity to upend Pakistan and aggressively engaged the countries. UAE armed forces have participated in the last 2 Indian Republic Day celebrations.  

Pakistan remained away from Yemen crises where Iran strongly opposed Saudi-led military coalition.

Pakistan which is already under pressure from the US to serve the latter’s interests in Afghanistan and is suffering from proxy wars in its own territory from India and Afghanistan needs to deepen strategic relations with the Saudis and UAE, whilst not threatening Iran. Training exercise deployment ensure positive cooperation continues between the countries.    

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been working in a number of joint (military) training exercises in recent months. The most recent naval exercise “Affa Al-Sahil” was concluded on Feb 16, 2018. Since 2011, both countries have been pursuing joint ventures in navy to increase the ability of military equipment to operate in conjunction with each other with the objective to sharpen tactical proficiency to counter maritime human trafficking, piracy and terrorism.

Another naval exercise is taking place between Pakistan Marines and Royal Saudi Naval Forces on Saudi waters named as “Dera Al Sahil” to increase skills for coastal defense.  Pakistan and Saudi Special Forces conducted two joint counter-terrorism exercises “Al-Shehab-2” started on Nov 25, 2017, at Prince Naif Security City, Riyadh and continued till Dec 10. “Al-Shehab-1” was held last year in Pakistan, the army statement said.

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Currently, there are 200 Saudi cadets in the Pakistan Military Academy, Pakistan Air Force, and Naval Academy and almost 1500 Saudi officers were trained in Pakistan last year. Saudis are also training in Indian defence training institutes. 

In the coming March, around 21 countries which include Pakistan, US, and the UK will be participating in a military exercise in Saudi Arabia titled as “Gulf Shield”. Saudi special services also participated in the last Pakistan Day parade. Gen. Bajwa earlier this month visited Saudi Arabia for three days and met officials including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Commander of Ground Forces Lt Gen Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz. He has been five times the past year to Saudi Arabia.