Pakistan signaled to Iran that it’s leaning toward rejecting a request from Saudi Arabia to join its fight in Yemen as the South Asian nation looks to avoid becoming entangled in a conflict between the Middle East powers.
“There is broad consensus in the parliament that Pakistan’s involvement in the internal civil-war kind of situation that’s in Yemen would not be advisable, that Pakistan should not get involved in any offensive action,” Sartaj Aziz, the country’s de facto foreign minister, told reporters late Wednesday. He spoke at a briefing in Islamabad with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is on a two-day visit.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said this week he’d let lawmakers decide whether to send soldiers, aircraft and navy ships to assist the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has assembled a coalition of 10 predominantly Sunni nations to face what its officials say is a proxy of Iran, which has more Shiite Muslims than any other nation.
While Pakistani lawmakers are reluctant to get involved in Yemen, Aziz also said there is a commitment to help defend Saudi Arabia if the conflict were to spill across the border and pose a threat to the world’s biggest oil exporter. Pakistan will try to focus on facilitating a dialogue, he said.
Sharif echoed those points Thursday in an e-mailed statement released after he met Zarif. The situation in Yemen may undermine the unity of the Islamic world, he said.
Zarif Wednesday said that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are fighting to gain control of Yemen.
“We need to be cognizant of the threats emanating from Yemen and deal with them seriously through cease-fire and negotiations,” he told reporters at the news conference with Aziz.
Saudi Arabia is Pakistan’s third-largest trading partner and about 700 Pakistani troops are stationed in the kingdom for advisory and training roles, Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said in March. Sharif has close personal ties to the nation: Saudi Arabia helped negotiate his freedom and housed him for seven years after his ouster in a 1999 coup.
In Yemen, Shiite Muslim Houthis took over most of the capital, Sana’a, in September and have since advanced into other parts of the country. They say they have been marginalized by the central government for decades.
Saudi and Gulf Arab officials have said the aim of the military campaign is to restore the rule of President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi and force the Houthis to resume talks.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi said in Beirut that the coalition’s offensive is a strategic mistake that has killed and wounded innocent civilians and damaged infrastructure. The campaign against the Houthis will fuel regional animosity, Sarmadi told a news conference.
Iran has dispatched a destroyer and a logistics ship to the Gulf of Aden, Fars news agency reported Wednesday. Iranian vessels regularly patrol the area to protect shipping routes.
Many Pakistani lawmakers said that picking sides would fuel sectarian conflict in the country, which is already fighting militants. Pakistan’s army has been battling Taliban insurgents for most of the past year in Waziristan, a region close to the border with Afghanistan.
“Saudi Arabia needs to understand our situation,” Imran Khan, an opposition leader, said on April 8. “We still have to send back one million displaced people to Waziristan, and we are going elsewhere for adventure.”