ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan has made no decision on whether to give military support to a Saudi-led coalition intervening in Yemen, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said on Friday, while pledging to defend Saudi Arabia against any threat to its solidarity.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office said on Thursday it was considering a request from Saudi Arabia to send troops to Yemen.
“We have made no decision to participate in this war. We didn’t make any promise. We have not promised any military support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,” Asif told parliament.
“In Syria, Yemen and Iraq, division is being fueled and it needs to be contained. The crisis has its fault lines in Pakistan too, (we) don’t want to disturb them.”
Pakistan has been plagued with sectarian violence for years, with militant Sunni Muslim groups targeting its Shi‘ite minority.
“So many minorities and sects live in Pakistan,” Asif told Reuters. “Whatever assurances we give Saudi Arabia is to defend its territorial integrity, but I assure that there is no danger of us getting involved in a sectarian war.”
A military official said on condition of anonymity that it would be extremely difficult for Pakistan to commit troops as it was already overstretched on its own borders.
“Before the PM’s Saudi visit (this month), he already spoke to the army chief and they decided that committing brigades would not be possible,” the official told Reuters.
Warplanes from Saudi Arabia and Arab allies hit Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital and the Shi‘ite Muslim group’s northern heartland on Friday, the second day of a Saudi-led campaign to stop the militia establishing its rule across the country.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said on Thursday any threat to Saudi Arabia would “evoke a strong response” from Islamabad.
Sharif has long enjoyed close relations with the Saudi royal family. After his second term as prime minister was ended by a military coup in 1999, he was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia last year loaned $1.5 billion to Pakistan to help Islamabad shore up its foreign exchange reserves, meet debt-service obligations and undertake large energy and infrastructure projects.
Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik in Karachi; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Simon Cameron-Moore