Pak delegation to discuss Yemen military support in S Arabia
Pakistan is poised to send a high-level delegation to Saudi Arabia to discuss the situation in strife-torn Yemen before deciding whether to send troops.
Islamabad: Pakistan is poised to send a high-level delegation to Saudi Arabia to discuss the situation in strife-torn Yemen before deciding whether to send troops.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last week announced to send a delegation to assess the ground situation after a request by Riyadh to provide military support for its campaign against Shia Houthi rebels who have taken over the capital and other major cities.
According to government sources, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz will lead the delegation which will include military officials.
"The delegation will visit any time this week. It can go even tonight or tomorrow," said an official.
The delegation had planned to visit last week but it was postponed due to meeting of the Arab League which decided to set up an Arab army to fight the rebels.
Pakistan is under pressure to send troops to help the Saudis who stood with Pakistan in difficult times, including providing oil on deferred payments when Pakistan faced sanctions in the wake of the nuclear tests in 1998.
Last year the Saudi government provided USD 1.5 billion to boost the foreign exchange reserves of the country.
The committing of ground troops may land Pakistan in awkward situation due to its proximity to and relations with Iran, and a possible backlash from its more than 20 per cent Shia population.
Asif said last week that no decision has been taken about the sending of troops but that Pakistan would ensure geographical security of the oil-rich kingdom.
Different politicians including former cricketer Imran Khan publicly opposed the sending of troops to fight in Yemen. Others have asked the government to call a meeting of all parties before taking any decision.
So far there are conflicting reports about the presence of Pakistani troops and aircraft in Saudi Arabia.
CNN reported that about two dozen Pakistani aircraft were ready to take part in the operation in Yemen.
There are also reports that some 750-800 Pakistani forces are already in Saudi Arabia but are not combat troops.
Another report said that Pakistani and Saudi troops held joint exercises near the Yemeni border.
The government had said that any decision about sending troops will be made in consultation with parliament.