Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, two weeks after Pakistan’s parliament refused to assist the kingdom’s bombing campaign in Yemen.
Sharif will meet top Saudi leaders including King Salman Bin Abdulaziz and discuss the “evolving situation” during the one-day trip, his office said by text message. He was accompanied by Army chief Raheel Sharif, who isn’t related to the prime minister, and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif.
A Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Muslim nations on Thursday renewed its aerial assault on Shiite rebels in Yemen and vowed to keep using force when needed, even as it backed the resumption of peace talks. Pakistani lawmakers on April 10 called for an immediate cease-fire, triggering a rift with the United Arab Emirates.
“The verdict by parliament wasn’t taken well by the Arab states,” said A.Z. Hilali, former head of the Islamabad-based National Defense University’s Peace and Conflict Studies department. “So it seems it is more of a damage-recovery trip and also to boost the morale of the Saudis who may be feeling isolated.”
The option to provide assistance, either overt or covert, still exists and Raheel Sharif would be the one to decide, Hilali said. The military has ruled Pakistan for most of its history, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provide almost all of Pakistan’s oil.
Nawaz Sharif sought to soothe relations with Saudi Arabia last week, saying his nation stood “shoulder to shoulder” with its citizens and would react strongly to any violation of its territory.
Pakistan, which is home to the most Shiites outside Iran, risks triggering domestic sectarian violence if it is seen picking sides. Saudi Arabia says Iran is behind the rise of the Houthi rebels, a claim viewed with skepticism by many Western diplomats. The U.S. on Wednesday welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to wind down the bombing.