Parliament insists on neutrality

11 Apr 2015


Islamabad: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meeting heads of parliamentary parties here on Friday.
Islamabad: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meeting heads of parliamentary parties here on Friday.

ISLAMABAD: After five days of mostly divisive debate, parliament adopted a soft resolution on Friday, calling for Pakistan to remain neutral in the Yemen conflict, sidestepping Saudi Arabia’s demand for a military contribution to the Saudi-led coalition that is currently fighting Houthi rebels.

The request that Pakistan join the coalition by contributing warplanes, naval ships and ground troops triggered all the controversy in the marathon debate of the joint session of the National Assembly and Senate.

Most opposition parties had opposed any Pakistani boots on the ground in Yemen, though they were willing to accept a limited Pakistani presence within Saudi Arabia for the purposes of training, logistical support, intelligence-sharing and the security of sensitive installations and holy sites. Those who wanted complete acceptance of the Saudi request did not prove to be too vocal.

Request for military support for Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen sidestepped

The absence of any mention of that request, perhaps in the interest of getting a unanimous resolution, came as a surprise, given Pakistan’s special relations with the kingdom and the country’s apparent concern over alle­ged Iranian help to the Houthi rebels.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was present in the house at the time of vote, which followed a meeting he had with parliamentary leaders at his chamber in the parliament house and high-level contacts in recent days involving Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.

Strangely, the PM asked Fina­nce Minister Ishaq Dar to present the resolution, even though the motion for debate was moved by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Monday. The minister had earlier led a civil-military delegation to Saudi Arabia to assess the kingdom’s military requirements, but beca­me the butt of opposition criticism for not explaining the Saudi request in a prepared statement on April 6 and provoking a clash with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) when the party returned to parliament after a seven-month boycott.

As was stated by various lawmakers during the debate, the draft noted that the war in Yemen was not of a sectarian nature but said it had the potential of turning into a sectarian conflict that would have critical fallout for the region, including Pakistan.

The PM’s arrival in the house during the last of five more speeches made on Friday aroused hopes that he might also address the house on the 42nd anniversary of the adoption of Pakistan’s 1973 Constitution.

But that did not happen, and PTI chairman Imran Khan also did not turn up, despite a reported promise that he would speak on the debate on Friday.

The draft said that parliament “desires that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis”, while also urging “the Muslim Ummah and the international community to intensify their efforts to promote peace in Yemen”.

However, in line with the oft-repeated declaration in the past, it said parliament “expresses unequivocal support to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and affirms that in case of any violation of its territorial integrity or any threat to Harmain Sharifain, Pakistan will stand shoulder to shoulder with Saudi Arabia and its people”.

Other points made by parliament in its resolution are:

Expresses serious concern on the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Yemen and its implications on peace and stability in the region and supports all humanitarian initiative aimed at bringing relief to the people caught in the conflict.

Calls upon the warring factions in Yemen to resolve their differences peacefully through dialogue.

Appreciates the arrangements made by the government for the safe and swift evacuation of Pakistanis and nationals of many other countries from Yemen and expresses its gratitude to the People’s Republic of China for its contribution in this regard.

Apprehends that the crisis in Yemen could plunge the region into turmoil.

Supports regional and international efforts for restoration of peace and stability in Yemen.

Underscores the need for continued efforts by the government of Pakistan to find a peaceful resolution of the crisis, while promoting the unity of Muslim Ummah, in cooperation with the leaders of other Muslim countries.

Expresses deep concern at the increasing threats posed by different terrorist groups and non-state actors to the security and stability of the region and advises the government of Pakistan to enhance its friendship and cooperation with the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and other regional countries in combating extremism and terrorism.

Desires that the government of Pakistan initiate steps to move the UN Security Council and the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) to bring about an immediate ceasefire in Yemen.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2015

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