World Pakistan unlikely to join anti-Houthi operation in Yemen

Pakistan unlikely to join anti-Houthi operation in Yemen

Defense Minister Khawaja Asif
Pakistan Defense Minister Khawaja Asif

(AA) – Pakistan has indicated on Friday that it will not immediately join a Saudi Arabia-led military operation against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen. 

Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told parliament that Islamabad was not going to participate in any conflict “that divides Muslim ummah (community).”

“We have not made any decision to join the ongoing military operation in Yemen. We have only pledged to safeguard the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia,” Asif said, referring to a Saudi request for Pakistani forces to join a military alliance against the Houthi rebels, who are advancing on the port city of Aden having previously captured the capital, Sanaa. 

Asif’s statement came only an hour before he postponed a scheduled visit to Riyadh to discuss the request. 

“Instead of aggravating the situation by participating in the military operation, Pakistan will do whatever it can to prevent it for the unity of Muslim ummah,” said Asif.

Asif also told local channel Geo TV: “if the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia is threatened, Pakistan will defend it. So far, the Saudi borders have not been violated.”

“But let me assure the nation that this government will not be part of any conflict that internally disturbs Pakistan,” he said, referring to Shia-Sunni sectarianism that has claimed thousands of lives in Pakistan in recent decades. 

Since the Saudi request, Pakistani security analysts have warned about joining alliance that some fear could become a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. 

“Joining military operations in Yemen would not be a wise decision as it will give a negative message to Pakistani Shias,” said Lt General (rtd) Amjad Shoaib, an Islamabad-based security analyst. “It will not only aggravate the sectarian divide in the country but will also affect our diplomatic relations with Iran.”

“It is a clash of interests between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East, which is very unfortunate. Pakistan should pursue a balanced policy vis-a-vis this conflict,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s army was already overburdened by operations against Taliban militants on its own territory. 

Another Islamabad-based analyst, Lt General Abdul Qayyum, pointed out that military cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia was nothing new. 

He also pointed out that Saudi Arabia has assisted Pakistan through economic and energy crises.

“Pakistan is between a hard and a rock place. It has to tackle this critical situation very carefully as it cannot say a plain no to Saudi Arabia,” Qayyum said.

Turkey also ruled out providing military support on Friday, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying “there is no need for a sectarian war.”

“We said we can give every kind of support, including intelligence, but not military support,” he said. 

Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition of Arab countries, all of them U.S. allies, to launch airstrikes against Houthi positions since late Wednesday.

Riyadh said the strikes were in response to calls by Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi for military intervention to “save the people from the Houthi militias.”

Fractious Yemen has been in turmoil since last September, when Shia militants overran capital Sanaa, from which they have sought to extend their influence to other parts of the country.

Some Gulf countries accuse Iran of supporting the Houthi insurgency which forced Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee the country.

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