Pakistan on Monday revealed it is training some 10,000 Saudi soldiers, injecting credence to the reports about ever-increasing security cooperation between Riyadh and Islamabad in recent months.
Defense Minister Khurram Dastagir, who was giving a policy statement in the senate on a recent government’s decision to send 1000 additional troops to the Kingdom, did not offer further details about the presence of such a high number of Saudi soldiers on Pakistan’s soil, and the nature of training being imparted.
Many, however, link the growing defense cooperation between the two countries to the Saudi Arab’s internal security following speculations about rifts within ruling Al-Saud family and a recent crackdown against corruption involving several ruling family members.
The statement came after several parliamentarians questioned the decision, fearing that the additional troops might be used against pro-Iran Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Some 1,600 Pakistan army officers and troops are already stationed in the Kingdom in accordance with a 1982 security protocol between the two sides.
Currently, some 647 Pakistani troops are also stationed in Qatar, whereas Pakistan air force is training 10 Iranian pilots, according to the local media.
“As far as deployment of Pakistanis troops outside the territory of Saudi Arabia or in Yemen is concerned, I want to assure you that it will not happen. Pakistan will remain neutral regarding any conflict in the Middle East in accordance with the parliament’s guidelines,” the minister said.
He was referring to a 2015 parliamentary resolution, which stated that Islamabad will not be part of any conflict in the Middle East, particularly Yemen.
His statement, however, further heated up the debate with several members belonging to left-wing Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani termed the clarification “insufficient” and demanded elaboration of operational and deployment details.
“I cannot tell that where will these troops be deployed in Saudi Arabia. But let me assure you, they will remain stationed within the Saudi territory,” Dastagir said responding to a question from former interior minister, and a leading PPP figure Aitzaz Ahsan, who said the troops might be deployed at the Yemen border.
Previously in a statement, Pakistan army insisted that neither the fresh contingent nor the already stationed troops would be deployed outside Saudi Arabia.
“In continuation of ongoing Pak-KSA bilateral security cooperation, a Pakistan army contingent is being sent to the KSA on training and advise mission. These or troops already there will not be employed outside KSA. Pak Army maintains bilateral security cooperation with many other GCC / regional countries,” said the statement.
Saudi Arabia, which alone hosts 1.9 million Pakistanis, tops the list of countries with highest remittances to Pakistan — over $4.5 billion annually.
Also, Saudi Arabia is Pakistan’s largest regional trading partner, which exported goods and services, mainly oil, to the tune of over $5 billion to Pakistan in 2017.