By Faisal Mahmood
Pakistan’s parliament adopted a draft resolution on Yemen on Friday urgingPakistan to stay neutral in the conflict, as expected, expressing support for Saudi Arabiaand calling on all factions to resolve their differences peacefully.
Sunni Saudi Arabia had asked its staunch ally, Sunni-majority Pakistan, to join the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and had requested warships, aircraft and troops.
Pakistani members of parliament have spoken out against becoming militarily involved inYemen all week and the draft resolution is bound to disappoint the Saudis.
“The parliament of Pakistan expresses serious concern on the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Yemen and its implications for peace and stability of the region,” the resolution said.
“(It) desires that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis.”
The Pakistan military, which has ruled the country for more than half its history, has said it will respect the civilian government’s decision.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has repeatedly said he will defend any threat toSaudi Arabia.
The resolution said parliament “expresses unequivocal support for the Kingdom of SaudiArabia and affirms that in case of violation of its territorial integrity or any threat to Haramain Sharifain (Islamic holy places), Pakistan will stand shoulder to shoulder withSaudi Arabia and its people”.
Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are rivals for power in the Middle East and many inPakistan fear being caught between them if Pakistani troops are sent to Yemen.
Last month, a Saudi-led coalition began air strikes in Yemen against Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and Yemen share a border and Saudi Arabia says it is afraid that instability might spill over to its territory.
Pakistan’s parliament began debating the request on Monday and no legislator spoke in support of sending troops for Saudi to use in Yemen.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wound up a two-day trip to Pakistan on Thursday in which he urged Pakistan to reject the Saudi request.
Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif had publicly remained silent on the request. Army officials have said they will defer to the civilian government.
Saudi Arabia’s request had put Pakistan in a tight spot. The nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people has strong economic, religious and military ties to Saudi Arabia but also a long and porous border with Iranin a mineral-rich region plagued by a separatist insurgency.