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Pakistan to deploy troops in Saudi Arabia

The country’s Parliament in 2015 had voted to not send soldiers to the kingdom for fears that they would become involved in the Yemen conflict. 

world Updated: Feb 17, 2018 07:40 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
File photo of Pakistani Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa
File photo of Pakistani Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa(NYT)

Pakistan will deploy troops in Saudi Arabia under an existing security pact even though the Parliament had voted in 2015 not to send soldiers to the kingdom for fears that they would become involved in the Yemen conflict.

In an apparent reversal of that decision after a visit to Saudi Arabia by Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, the army announced that troops will be sent to Saudi Arabia but they would remain within the kingdom.

“In continuation of ongoing Pak-KSA bilateral security cooperation, a Pakistan Army contingent is being sent to KSA on training and advice mission,” the military’s media arm announced on Thursday after a meeting between Bajwa and Saudi ambassador Nawaf Saeed Al-Maliki at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. The meeting had focused on the “regional security situation”.

Earlier this month, Bajwa quietly visited Saudi Arabia, where he stayed for nearly three days and his only known meetings were with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and ground forces commander Lt Gen Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz. This was his second visit to the kingdom in two months.

Last year, Pakistan sent former army chief Raheel Sharif to lead the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition formed by Saudi Arabia. Thereafter, it had been speculated that the Pakistani deployment would take place even though it did not happen as quickly as the Saudis wanted.

The military’s media arm insisted that the new deployment and nearly 1,000 Pakistani troops already stationed in Saudi Arabia would not be “employed outside KSA”. There was no word on the size of the new deployment.

Chief military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said the deployment would be smaller than a division, and he would give details at a news conference.

Following the army’s announcement, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani summoned defence minister Khurram Dastgir Khan to appear before the upper house on Monday to explain the move.

On Friday, senator Farhatullah Babar, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, objected to the planned deployment and described the development as “tantamount to bypassing the Parliament”.

Drawing the attention of the House to the matter, Babar said the deployment was an issue of public importance. He said he had given an adjournment notice to discuss the issue.