In a major policy shift, Pakistan has decided to deploy additional troops in Saudi Arabia under bilateral security cooperation with the kingdom which is involved in the ongoing civil war in neighbouring Yemen.
The Pakistan Army announced the decision after a meeting between Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Saudi ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf Saeed Al-Maliki, at army headquarters in Rawalpindi Thursday.
“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 advise mission. These or troops already there will not be employed outside KSA,” the army said.
It also said the army “maintains bilateral security cooperation with many other Gulf/regional countries”.
About the meeting of the ambassador with Bajwa, it said that matters of mutual interest including regional security situation were discussed during the meeting.
Already around 1,000 Pakistani troops are deployed in Saudi Arabia in various advisory and training roles, according to officials.
There was no official word on the number of additional troops being sent to kingdom but the Dawn newspaper quoted “multiple sources” hinting that it might be the size of a composite brigade.
It also quoted army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor that the new deployment would be much lesser than a division, and that he would give details later.
Saudi Arabia has been pushing Pakistan to provide troops since 2015 when it joined Yemen’s civil war but Pakistan steadily refused, saying it would not become party to any regional conflict.
The war in Yemen stalemated and the situation has aggravated with the rebels firing missiles at regular intervals towards the kingdom.
The alliance of Muslim nations set up by Saudi Arabia and led by former Pakistan Army chief Raheel Sharif is also still in an early stage to play any role in the conflict.
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.
It was his second visit to the kingdom in two months and reportedly played a role in Pakistan’s decision to deploy troops.
Pakistan is treading a fine line in maintaining relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and other regional players and the decision of deploying troops may annoy Saudi Arabia’s rivals like Iran and Qatar.
Bajwa has been playing a major role in addressing concerns of regional countries and met with ambassadors of Iran and Turkey earlier this week. He also recently visited Qatar and met its ’emir’.
The decision may also create tension in Pakistan’s internal politics as parliament had passed a resolution at the start of the Yemen crisis that said Pakistan would stay neutral in the conflict.
(Picture for representational purpose/ The Express Tribune)