Pakistan readies defense delegation to head to Saudi for engagement talks
Pakistani officials told Reuters talks between their defense delegation and Saudi officials in Riyadh in the coming days could lead Pakistan to a role in the multi-state military operation in Yemen, but their specific place is still unclear. (AFP/File)
Amid a deepening international crisis in Yemen, a high-level Pakistani defense delegation was preparing to leave for Saudi Arabia Monday afternoon to discuss the possibility of joining Saudi's airstrike campaign against Shiite rebels in Yemen, Reuters reported.
Headed by Defense Minister Khawaja Asif and foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani team was scheduled to leave for Riyadh either Monday or in the coming days to discuss Pakistani involvement, which one official said hinged entirely on the upcoming talks with Saudi officials and the delegation. He added there were already some 800 Pakistani servicemen in Saudi Arabia but that they were not fulfilling combat duties. He declined to answer questions from the news agency about the troops specific role, and it was not immediately clear the support being sought by Riyadh.
The move comes on the heels of Pakistan's decision to evacuate some 500 citizens living and working in the embattled Gulf country by plane Sunday between near-constant bombing raids carried out by Saudi and supporting warplanes, according to a Saudi military spokesperson who spoke with the news agency.
A regional ally to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan could join a 10-nation coalition involved in Yemen airstrikes against Shiite Houthi rebels attempting to overthrow the country's president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Monday marks the fifth day of strikes against the rebels' weapons positions in the north as well as areas under their control within the capital Sanaa.
Saudi's agressive leadership, coupled with its resolve at the Arab Summit Saturday to remain engaged militarily in Yemen until the Houthis' surrender, has raised regional and international concerns over a proxy war between Sunni-led Saudi and Shiite-ruled Iran, with whom the Houthis find their largest ally.