Pakistan exercises with Saudi Arabia; may not join Yemen strikes

Indo Asian News Service

Islamabad, March 31 (IANS) Pakistan is holding a joint military drill with Saudi Arabia, but has remained undecided over sending troops to assist Saudi Arabia in the military campaign in Yemen, according to media reports on Monday.

Pakistan Army spokesman Asim Bajwa said that the pre-scheduled joint military exercise "Samsam-5" was being held since March 19 in the Saudi Arabian city of Taif, Xinhua reported.

He said that the drill, however, did not involve an operational deployment.

The Pakistan-Saudi Arabia joint military exercise assumes significance in view of the Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen against the Shia Houthi rebels since March 26, and reports of Pakistan's possible participation in the military operation.

However, Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on Monday that no decision had been taken to send troops to assist Saudi Arabia, according to reports. He also said that Pakistan would not become part of the Arab coalition involved in the military operation in Yemen.

Asif had said on Friday that Pakistan would not take part in any conflict that would divide the Muslim world, in an apparent reference to Pakistan's possible participation in the Yemen conflict.

Earlier though, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had asserted that any threat to Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan.

A top adviser to the Pakistani government also dismissed as false and misleading, reports of Pakistani fighter jets taking part in airstrikes in Yemen, according to Xinhua.

"No Pakistani aircraft has gone out of Pakistani airspace," Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, said.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the drill was part of a series of pre-planned exercises aimed at enhancing the Saudi Arabia's military efficiency.

"The exercise is not related to any current military operations," the Saudi Press Agency quoted a senior Saudi commander, Fares bin Abdullah, as saying.

Bajwa said that a group of 292 Pakistani military personnel were participating in the drill.

The joint war game between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is held every year and last year, it was held in Pakistan's Punjab province.

Meanwhile, a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sharif in Islamabad on Monday concluded that Pakistan remained firmly committed to supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia, Geo News reported.

It was emphasised that Pakistan was committed to playing a meaningful role in arresting the worsening security situation in the Middle East.

Pakistan would call upon the UN, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and international community to play a constructive role for a political solution to the crisis.

Pakistan has planned to send a high-level delegation to Saudi Arabia to assess the situation arising out of the airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen.