ISLAMABAD: The government has avoided informing the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs whether or not it has decided to join the 34-nation coalition led by Saudi Arabia which is reportedly planning a ground operation in Syria.

At a meeting of the committee held here on Tuesday, its members expressed concern over the possibility of Pakistan’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Saudi Arabia has said that it is prepared to send troops inside Syria to “defeat the militant Islamic State group”. The annou­nce­ment has been welcomed by the United States and the United Arab Emirates has shown readiness for sending ground troops to Syria.

Answering a question raised by Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said that details about the ‘counter-terrorism coalition’ were still not clear and that the government would take a decision in due course of time.

Members of the committee, however, called for a categorical statement from the foreign ministry on the issue and said that avoiding the matter would not send a positive message to the public.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said it was unwise for the government to take any position on the basis of media statements.

He said that he had already stated in a policy statement that the foremost objective of foreign policy was to protect national security.

Talking to reporters after the meeting Mr Sayed said “the government’s response was ambiguous”.

A statement issued by the committee said its members had voiced concern over any possibility of the country’s involvement in the Syrian conflict and that this could have repercussions for internal situation.

“National interest should be protected and neutrality observed at all costs,” the statement said.

Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP believed that the committee by discussing the emerging issue had conveyed its concern to the government and others involved in taking decisions on such important matters.

JUI-F’s Maulana Attaur Rehman expressed fears that taking sides in the Syrian conflict would ignite sectarian tension in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2016

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