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Pakistan Army contingent to be deployed to Saudi Arabia


News Analysis |

Pakistan Army is sending a contingent to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on a training and advice mission according to a press release by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Thursday. The troops will not be employed out of Saudi Arabia, the press release claims. The decision to deploy troops was made public after a meeting of the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia with Pakistan on the same day.

Mr. Nawaf Saeed Al-Maliki, Ambassador of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, met Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters (GHQ) on Thursday and discussed matters of ‘mutual interest’ including regional security. ISPR stated that Pak Army maintains good relations with many other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and regional countries.

Strategic experts believe that Pakistan is facing a number of challenges on its soil to assist another country in its war. They advise that Pakistan should avoid becoming part of Middle Eastern wars and maintain its neutral stance.

Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen is currently at a critical position after the airstrikes against the Houthi rebels failed to achieve victory, and the Saudi allies on ground turned on each other. They have repeatedly requested troops from Pakistan ever since the start of the Yemen war in 2015 but the Pakistan Army has been in a dilemma about sending troops even though the Parliament had passed a unanimous resolution on staying neutral in the Saudi-Yemen war.

Interestingly, the Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) General Zubair Mahmood Hayat met the Iranian Ambassador Mustafa Yurdakul one day before deploying troops in Afghanistan. They reportedly discussed matters relating to strengthening of bilateral relationships, specifically in the field of security and defense cooperation.

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But Iran and Saudi have been rivals for many decades and the Iranians will not look favorably upon the deployment of troops to aid Saudi Arabia . Media analysts speculate that the meeting with the Iranian ambassador was a step to take them into confidence regarding the deployment of troops. Pakistan is in a critical situation with Iran and Saudi Arabia and it has to maintain a delicate balance between the two to ensure its own interests.

Saudi Arabia will not be seen as a positive move by human rights circles within Pakistan. Media reports state that ISPR will soon be conducting a press conference to give the details of the deployment and their role in Saudi Arabia.

Last year, Pakistan had become part of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) headed by Saudi Arabia. Former COAS General Raheel Sharif was made the commander-in-chief of the military alliance. The move was highly criticized in Pakistan by political and human rights activists because they considered the alliance to be Saudi’s attempt to strengthen its own hegemony in the Middle East.

The alliance, purely based on Sunni dominated governments, did not include any Shia dominated governments like Iran, Iraq and Syria. It further intensified the suspicions that the alliance was made purely to further Saudi interests in the region and had little to do with fighting terrorists. Pakistan, who has always maintained neutrality, should have excused itself from becoming part of such a group according to many international relations experts.

Read more: Pakistan sends an Army Brigade to Saudi Arabia’s southern border..?

On the other hand, economic experts argue that Pakistan has much more to gain from Saudi Arabia than Iran since a huge number of Pakistanis are working inside the Kingdom and the send a huge amount of remittances back home every year. Foreign remittances are considered the backbone of Pakistan’s economy so ensuring good relations with Saudi Arabia should be a priority for the country.

Pakistani FO immediately released a statement condemning the attack and vowing their support for the kingdom. Human rights activists like Pervez Hoodbhoy have strongly condemned Pakistan’s silence over atrocities committed in Yemen.

Pakistani troops have been continuously stationed in KSA after a protocol was signed between the two countries in 1982. The Foreign Office (FO) of Pakistan has repeatedly said that the defence of the holy places in Saudi Arabia is a top priority for Pakistani forces. The deployment of extra troops might simply be an attempt to cope up with increasing military needs of the kingdom and to assist them in training owing to the Yemen war.

Read more: Pakistan demands more work visas from Saudi Arabia

The civil war in Yemen that KSA is a part of is considered to very controversial. They have been accused of war crimes by a number of human rights agencies in the world including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for the alleged atrocities committed in the Yemen war. A huge number of civilians lost their lives to Saudi bombs; they also reportedly cut the food and water supplies of a number of areas in Yemen which created a huge outrage in the international community.

Pakistan, who has always maintained neutrality, should have excused itself from becoming part of such a group according to many international relations experts.

Foreign Office (FO) of Pakistan has not condemned any of the human rights violations by KSA in Yemen, and when a small missile reportedly attacking an airport in Riyadh was intercepted, Pakistani FO immediately released a statement condemning the attack and vowing their support for the kingdom. Human rights activists like Pervez Hoodbhoy have strongly condemned Pakistan’s silence over atrocities committed in Yemen.

Further deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia will not be seen as a positive move by human rights circles within Pakistan. Media reports state that ISPR will soon be conducting a press conference to give the details of the deployment and their role in Saudi Arabia. Strategic experts believe that Pakistan is facing a number of challenges on its soil to assist another country in its war. They advise that Pakistan should avoid becoming part of Middle Eastern wars and maintain its neutral stance.