Is Pakistan Saudi Arabia’s gun for hire?

Dawn: Heads of state do not typically flock to oversee military exercises in which their country’s troops are participating. But war games in Saudi Arabia are clearly an exception.

Our prime minister and army chief last week joined dignitaries ranging from Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to watch the ‘Thunder of the North’ military exercises — the largest in the region, involving forces from 20 Muslim-majority countries.

Pakistan’s hearty participation in the exercises once again raises questions about the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia. The exercises follow Riyadh’s surprise announcement in December of a 34-member coalition to fight terrorism, in which Pakistan’s involvement appeared a fait accompli. The kingdom has announced that the coalition will share intelligence and develop strategies to combat violent extremist ideologies, but also deploy troops if necessary.

Examine: Pakistan joins ‘Thunder of the North’ military exercise in Saudi Arabia

Clarity is required on Pakistan’s ties with the Saudis.

Pakistan’s Senate last month expressed concerns about Pakistan’s inclusion in the coalition, fearing that it would drag the country into the Syrian conflict. Our participation in last week’s exercises may lead us down a slippery slope on which we cannot embark without a better understanding of the implications.

Most importantly, the public deserves a clearer indication of the potential for Pakistani troops to become involved in conflicts in Syria and Yemen as a result of growing counterterrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia, particularly after parliament in April last year decided against sending Pakistani troops to join the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen.


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