Friday, February 16, 2018

Saudi troop deployment: Senate chairman summons defence minister


ISLAMABAD: Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani has summoned Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir to appear before the Upper House of Parliament on Monday with regards to the army’s announcement of sending troops to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking in the Senate today, Pakistan Peoples’ Party Senator Farhatullah Babar said the army’s media wing, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), has said the troops’ contingent will be less that a division’s.

He added that the announcement was made following a meeting of the army chief with the Saudi ambassador in Pakistan.

Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir-Khan - BBC

Later, the Senate chairman summoned the defence minister to explain the details of the decision on Monday. 

Following Thursday's announcement, the ISPR explained that the troops to be deployed, or the ones already there, will not be stationed outside the Kingdom.

The ISPR said that the military contingent is part of the ongoing Pakistan-Saudi bilateral cooperation, under which a number of Pakistani troops are already stationed in Saudi Arabia for advisory roles.

However, the number of troops being deployed at present has not been disclosed.

"Pak Army maintains bilateral security cooperation with many other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] and regional countries," the ISPR had said further, in a perceived assurance to Iran and Turkey owing to the hostile relationship of Iran with Saudi Arabia and Turkey's siding with Qatar in its conflict with Riyadh and other GCC countries.

On Monday, the newly appointed Turkish ambassador to Pakistan, Ishan Mustafa Yurdakul, called on Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The same day, the army chief met Iran's ambassador to Pakistan, Mehdi Honardoost.

For both meetings, ISPR had issued its customary press releases, stating that issues of mutual cooperation were discussed between the army chief and visiting envoys. 

In what may be a related development, the army chief visited Riyadh at the start of this month where he met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Saudi Commander of Ground Forces Lieutenant General Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz. 

Any details of the visit were not shared by ISPR but reported in news outlets of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Earlier in December, Pakistani and Saudi special forces took part in a joint counter-terrorism exercise ‘Al-Shehab-2’ in Prince Naif Security City, Riyadh.

A Pakistani contingent comprising 68 officers and soldiers of Special Services Group participated in the exercise.

The Pak-Saudi joint exercise helped the participating troops from both sides to learn from each others’ experiences in the counterterrorism field, ISPR had said.

Last year, former Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif was appointed as the head of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition based in Riyadh. 

The alliance includes 41 Islamic countries, excluding Iran, Iraq and Syria.