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February 17, 2018

Troops to Saudi Arabia: Senate calls defence minister

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February 17, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani Friday summoned Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir on Monday for a policy statement on the military’s announcement of dispatching troops to Saudi Arabia.

The announcement is being seen in total contrast to a joint resolution passed by Parliament that Pakistan will not send its troops to Saudi Arabia.

Rabbani issued the order when PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar raised the matter as a point of public importance. He already had given notice of adjournment.

Senator Babar asked if anyone had put on their thinking cap on the grave consequences of the decision.

Rabbani pointed out, “There is a joint resolution of Parliament that Pakistan will not send troops to Saudi Arabia…the Senate Secretariat is directed to issue a notice to the defence minister to come to the House on Monday and make a policy statement about the issue”.

Referring to the ISPR announcement a day earlier on sending troops to Saudi Arabia, Senator Babar said it came after a meeting between the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Saudi Ambassador in Islamabad.

The meeting was preceded by a recent three-day visit, the second in two months, quietly undertaken to Saudi Arabia by the army chief during which he also met Crown Prince Salman and military commanders.

“The number of troops is not known but the disclosure that it will be less than a division [consisting 1,500 combat troops and 8,000 support elements] is an indication that almost a full-fledged army division is being sent to the kingdom”, he said.

Babar noted that on the one hand the Yemeni allies of Saudi Arabia were losing the political battle because of internal fighting, on the other the air campaign and blockade by Saudi Arabia suffered a backlash, adding ‘this provides a disturbing context’.

He said the deliberately nuanced Foreign Office statements recently condemning the Houthi missile attacks as threat to the kingdom and holy mosques also seemed aimed at justifying sending Pakistani troops to actively engage the Yemenis in the conflict on the side of Saudis.

“Has anyone given a serious thought to its grave consequences,” Babar questioned.

Reminding Parliament’s unanimous resolution that sought strict neutrality, he asked who was making unilateral decisions bypassing Parliament to the detriment of country.

In a joint resolution on April 9, 2015, Parliament had refused to commit troops to the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, complicating efforts by Saudi Arabia to build a broad coalition for a possible ground offensive.

Meanwhile, the Capital Development Authority (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, was once again dropped by the House, following a head count in which 12 members rose in favour of laying of the ordinance while 17 members voted against. Treasury members belonging to PkMAP, Sajid Turi, a Fata Senator, and Mir Kabir Shahi of NP, also voted against the ordinance.

The House will resume Monday afternoon.

Muhammad Anis adds: The opposition in the National Assembly also raised concern over reports of sending Pakistan Army troops to Saudi Arabia without taking Parliament into confidence.

Speaking on points of order, Dr. Shireen Mazari and Dr. Nafeesa Shah wanted the government to explain as to why Pakistan had joined the coalition of Muslim countries and Pakistan Army troops were sent to Saudi Arabia.

Dr Mazari said the House was given an assurance that details of becoming part of coalition army of Muslim countries would be presented in Parliament but the defence minister was yet to fulfill his commitment.

“Pakistan became part of coalition while General Raheel Sharif also took over as its commander but nothing was shared with the Parliament,” she said.

Dr. Nafeesa Shah said the government should have informed Parliament before sending troops to Saudi Arabia.

“It is a serious matter as contingents are being sent to Saudi Arabia without taking Parliament into confidence,” she said.

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