03/16/2017, 11.03
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Riyadh seeking help from Islamabad to guard the southern border with Yemen

A brigade ready to "prop up" the fragile frontier to the south. The Pakistani army among the few in the Muslim world not of sectarian connotation. Its role as guarantor and mediator in the delicate Middle Eastern context. Growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and the Emirates on support to Yemeni President Hadi. In the background the trade relations between Tehran and Islamabad.


Riyadh (AsiaNews) - The Pakistani army is ready to send a combat brigade to the south of Saudi Arabia, at Riyadh’s request, to "prop up" the fragile southern border with Yemen.

The battalion will operate only within the kingdom and will not have, in contrast, offensive tasks in the neighboring country, theater for the past two years of a bloody civil war. In Yemen, the Saudis are driving a regional coalition that is opposed to the Houthi rebel militias; a front that, in recent weeks, seems to waver torn by internal divisions.

Since January 2015, Yemen has been the scene of a bloody civil war opposing the country’s Sunni elites led by former President Hadi, backed by Riyadh, and Shia Houthi rebels, who are close to Iran.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led Arab coalition began attacking the  rebels, sparking criticism from the United Nations over heavy casualties, including many children.

So far, some 10,000 people, including more than 3,700 civilians, have been killed, and at least 2.5 million have been displaced.

For Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, allied to forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, are supported militarily by Iran, a charge that Tehran rejects.

Extremist groups linked to al Qaeda and jihadist militias linked to Islamic State are active in the country, a fact that has helped escalate violence and terror.

United Nations and international human rights groups have accused both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels of war crimes and violence against civilians, caught in the carnage. In the past the missiles launched by Shiite militias have hit locations and targets across the border, in Saudi territory, causing dozens of deaths and injuries. Hence the decision taken by Riyadh to strengthen the borders.

Analysts and experts point out that the Pakistani army is one of the few in the Muslim world not to be characterized by a religious affiliation. It is composed of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Hazaras not only among the troops, but also in the upper echelons of the officers and is able to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh.

In addition, after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi army dispersion, combined with the growing influence of Iran in the Middle Eastern context, Saudis and Sunni Gulf monarchies have looked to Pakistan as the ultimate guarantor of security and stability in the region.

The allocation of troops on Saudi soil following the visit of a senior official from the Islamabad army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, head of the Pakistani Armed Forces (Coas), in Riyadh last December. In the three days spent in the Saudi capital this high military met with counterparts and government personalities.

The Pakistani army – a military power that has the atomic bomb and the most "influential" in the Middle East - frame the mission of the commitments undertaken by the "Coas” Pakistan's commitment to the security and protection of the Holy Mosques and also the territorial integrity of the kingdom.

The request for aid to Pakistan comes at a tense moment in the Saudi led Arab coalition active in Yemen. In particular divisions between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are becoming increasingly bitter, over suspending support for President Hadi. Otherwise, the Emirates are ready to withdraw their troops. At the same time they have had diplomatic sorties designed to mend the rift between the Hadi administration and the leadership of Abu Dhabi. Added to this are the accusations against the UAE who want to occupy the south of Yemen and launch a "unilateral" policy area.

The decision to allocate Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia has been the focus of a bitter parliamentary debate in Islamabad. Two years Riyadh had invited Pakistan to join the "Sunni" coalition operating in Yemen. The request was immediately rejected (sparking the ire of Saudis), after a four-day discussion. Among the reasons that prompted Islamabad to decline the invitation, the willingness to prevent further sectarian tension in a country where about 20% of the population is Shiite.

The current prime minister Nawaz Sharif owes his life to the Saudis, who in 1999 prevented his being executed in the aftermath of the military coup that brought Pervez Musharraf to power. Today the Prime Minister has found a way to repay this favor, even taking into account the delicate international balance and that his Parliament has promoted efforts to revive the diplomatic and trade relations with Iran.

In May, a delegation of Pakistani MPs will visit Tehran, to discuss the reopening of markets, tourism and the construction of a new pipeline with the leaders of the Islamic Republic.

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