ISLAMABAD: Saying ‘no’ to a Saudi request for troops, ships and warplanes for the Yemen military campaign wasn’t easy. The biggest concern the top policymakers had at the time was the potential fallout on Pakistan’s relations with the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia in particular.

Pakistan had always looked up to the Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whenever it faced international isolation—be it at the time of the nuclear tests in 1998 or imposition of military rules that invited crippling economic sanctions from the West.

Given Pakistan’s dependence on the Gulf states, turning down the Saudi request for military support for its campaign against Houthi rebels was fraught with the risk of losing a ‘trusted ally’, said two key officials during informal chat about the crucial foreign policy step.

During a flurry of high-level huddles prior to the key decision, the country’s civil and military leadership had candid discussion on the possible consequences of saying ‘no’ to the Saudi monarch with whom Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also has ‘personal relationship’.

But what really helped Pakistan ‘weather the storm’ was a Chinese assurance of economic investment and assistance to the tune no Arab country —let alone Saudi Arabia—could match, said one official.