Pakistan agrees to send ships to block arms shipments to Yemen rebels
ISLAMABAD — Yielding to pressure from staunch ally Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has agreed to help an Arab military coalition enforce an arms embargo against Houthi rebels in Yemen and is expected to announce the deployment of navy warships to the busy commercial shipping lanes off Yemen’s coast.
In a statement posted late Thursday, the office of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said a high-powered Pakistani delegation had “affirmed to the Saudi leadership that Pakistan would fully participate and contribute to the implementation” of the arms embargo, which was set in place Wednesday by a United Nations Security Council resolution.
The U.N. Security Council approved the resolution, proposed by Qatar, a member of the Saudi-led coalition, after Russia, an ally of Iran in Middle East politics, abstained.
The Pakistani army chief of staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif, is also expected to travel to Saudi Arabia soon for consultations. He’s not related to the prime minister.
Pakistan still is declining a Saudi request to contribute ground forces and attack aircraft to the Saudi-led coalition of 10 Arab nations and has not drawn up any contingencies to deploy ground troops or warplanes to Saudi Arabia, according to sources in the army’s military operations directorate, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were disclosing classified information.
Pakistan’s Parliament voted unanimously a week ago to remain neutral in the Yemen conflict. But the resolution gave the government leeway by authorizing it to commit forces in the event Saudi Arabia’s territory came under threat.
The resolution shocked Saudi Arabia, which was so confident that Pakistan would join the Arab military coalition that it had displayed Pakistan’s flag at its press briefing center in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
The Pakistani delegation, which met Wednesday in Riyadh with Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and the Saudi defense and foreign ministers, was led by the prime minister’s younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of populous Punjab province.
The unusual departure from diplomatic protocol reflected Pakistan’s desire to soothe Saudi anger at Pakistan’s refusal to actively participate in the Yemen conflict.
It also reflected the family’s debt to the Saudi ruling family, which saved Nawaz Sharif from possible execution after he was overthrown by the military in October 1999. Intervention by Riyadh persuaded the junta’s leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to allow the Sharif brothers to live in exile in the kingdom.
Pakistan’s naval contribution to the arms embargo against Houthi rebels in Yemen is an easy option, because two warships already are deployed in Indian Ocean waters near Yemen as part of multinational task forces patrolling the area to interdict al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula militants and pirates based in the Horn of Africa.