Report: Pakistan rejected Iran offer to join anti-Saudi coalition in Yemen


Report: Pakistan rejected Iran offer to join anti-Saudi coalition in Yemen
Roi Kais, AP/Ynetnews
Published: 04.11.15 / Israel News

Pakistani parliament votes to stay neutral in fight against Houthi rebels, so that it could help negotiate a diplomatic solution. Pakistan, whose parliament on Friday unanimously voted not to join the Saudi-led air campaign targeting Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen, has reportedly also refused an offer from Tehran to join a coalition with Turkey against Saudi Arabia, Al-Hayat reported on Saturday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the commander of the Pakistani army, General Raheel Sharif, met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Islamabad this week. According to Al-Hayat, while officially Zatif called for a cease-fire and negotiations on creating a broad-based government in Yemen, behind closed doors he also raised the option of forming a counter-coalition. The Iranian-Turkish cooperation was reportedly bolstered this week after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Tehran and met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Turkey has publicly supported fellow Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies against the Iran-allied Houthi insurgents in Yemen. On Saturday, Reuters reported that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan held telephone discussions with both the Saudi king and the emir of Qatar on Friday evening. Turkey, which has the second-largest army in the NATO military alliance, has not taken an active role in the operations in Yemen so far, although it has said it is able to offer logistic and intelligence support. Saudi Arabia’s coalition, made up of fellow Gulf nations as well as Egypt and Sudan and backed by the United States, has waged a nearly 3-week campaign of airstrikes against the rebels, known as Houthis, and is reportedly considering a ground incursion. According to Pakistani officials, Saudi Arabia asked Pakistan to send troops to take part in the campaign. Pakistani troops have considerable experience fighting militants in mountainous terrain similar to Yemen’s. But Pakistan’s legislature declared the country “should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict” so that it can help negotiate a diplomatic solution. Sirajul Haq, the head of Pakistan’s powerful Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan party, said Islamabad could “play the role of a mediator.”

In a nod to Saudi Arabia, they expressed “unequivocal support” for the kingdom and vowed to “stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with it if its territory or people came under threat.
Pakistan’s decision is unlikely to greatly affect the Saudi-led coalition’s military capabilities. But it was an embarrassment to the kingdom from a traditionally close ally, now reluctant to get pulled into a conflict that is threatening to escalate into a new proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States, accuse Iran of arming the Houthis. The Gulf countries view the rebels’ power grab as a move by Iran to establish a stronghold on their southern flank. Iran says it backs the rebels politically and with humanitarian aid but denies sending weapons. The Houthis have full or partial control over 11 of Yemen’s 22 provinces, backed by military units loyal to ousted autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The debate put Pakistan in an awkward position. It has long had military ties to Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sheltered by Saudi Arabia after the coup that overthrew him in 1999. For weeks, Sunni hard-liners, including a group linked to militants, have organized rallies around Pakistan denouncing the Yemeni rebels and urging Islamabad to join the coalition. But participation threatened to enflame Pakistan’s own sectarian divisions. Pakistan is predominantly Sunni but has a Shiite minority that is frequently targeted by Sunni extremists. It also has important ties with Iran, with which it shares a long border. The United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, lashed out angrily at Pakistan, accusing it of choosing Iran over the Gulf nations at a time when they face an “existential confrontation” in the Yemen conflict. “Contradictory and ambiguous positions in this existential matter will cost (Pakistan) dearly,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

 Reuters contributed to this report.