Pak govt refuses to disclose details of fresh troops deployment in Saudi
Islamabad, Feb 20 : Pakistan government has refused to provide details of its decision to send over 1,000 soldiers to its close-ally Saudi Arabia for deployment, prompting Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani to threaten Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir with "contempt of parliament proceedings".
Pakistan Army announced on February 15 the decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia on a “training and advise mission”.
Making a policy statement in the Senate, the upper house, Defence Minister
Dastagir said that "Pakistani troops are being dispatched to Saudi Arabia and they are only meant for imparting training to Saudi security personnel instead of entangling themselves in Yemen war".
He told lawmakers that over 1,000 contingent will be dispatched shortly as part of the decision.
Currently, around 1,600 Pakistani troops are on deputation in Saudi Arabia under a bilateral agreement.
The minister said Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has approved deputing additional Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia for training and advisory purposes, which is a continuation of an existing bilateral agreement.
He rejected the impression that by sending troops the government had violated April 2015 resolution by parliament which had asked the government to stay away from the Yemen war.
However, the Senate Chairman rejected Dastagir's briefing to the upper house after the minister said he could not divulge "operational details" of the deployment.
"Why don't we proceed against you and the prime minister over 'contempt of parliament'?" Rabbani asked.
He asked why the parliament was not informed by the minister and the prime minister since they knew about the decision to deploy the troops.
"The parliament found out (about the deployment) through a press release," Rabbani said, adding that the executive has itself "rubbed parliament's nose in the dirt".
Rabbani asked the minister to provide all details about the deployment and offered in-camera session for the purpose and urged him "not to give us a lollipop" as "we are not children."
The minister refused to accept the offer and even refused to share the location where the troops will be deployed in Saudi Arabia.
He told the Senate that the troops will not be deployed outside the Saudi Arabia's territory, but Rabbani expressed a lack of confidence in his words, saying this information was already known.
Saudi Arabia has been pushing fellow Sunni-majority Pakistan to provide troops since 2015 when it joined Yemen’s civil war but Pakistan steadily refused, saying it would not become party to any regional conflict.
The civil war in Yemen stalemated and the situation has aggravated with the rebels firing missiles at regular intervals towards the oil-rich kingdom.
The alliance of Muslim nations set up by Saudi Arabia and led by former Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif is also still in an early stage to play any role in the conflict.
Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa earlier this month visited Saudi Arabia for three days and met officials including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Commander of Ground Forces Lt Gen Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz.
It was his second visit to the kingdom in two months and reportedly played a role in Pakistan’s decision to deploy troops.
Pakistan is treading a fine line in maintaining relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and other regional players and the decision of deploying troops may annoy Saudi Arabia’s rivals like Iran and Qatar.
The decision may also create tension in Pakistan’s internal politics as parliament had passed a resolution at the start of the Yemen crisis that said Pakistan would stay neutral in the conflict.