ISLAMABAD: Questions over the ‘unilateral decision’ of sending troops to Saudi Arabia in violation of a unanimously adopted parliamentary resolution were raised on Friday in both houses of parliament which sought a policy statement on the issue from the defence minister and admonished the foreign ministry for keeping parliament in the dark on the issue.

The Senate directed the defence minister to appear before the house on Monday, while the National Assembly asked the foreign ministry to provide a detailed reply why Pakistani troops were being deployed in the kingdom and under which bilateral agreement.

Just a day ago the army had announced the decision of sending troops to Saudi Arabia for deployment under a bilateral security pact. The announcement came after Saudi ambassador Commodore Nawaf Saeed Al-Maliki reportedly discussed “regional security situation” with Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa who recently met Crown Prince Salman and military commanders during his three-day visit to the kingdom.

Explanation sought from defence, foreign ministries

Taking up the matter of public importance raised by Senator Farhatullah Babar in the upper house on Friday, Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani asked who took unilateral decisions bypassing parliament and to the detriment of the country.

“Has anyone given a serious thought to its grave consequences?” he asked.

Mr Rabbani said that on the one hand the Yemeni allies of Saudi Arabia were losing the internal political battle because of internal fighting and on the other air campaign and blockade by Saudi Arabia suffered a backlash, adding ‘this provides a disturbing context’.

He said that the deliberately nuanced FO statements recently condemning the Houthi attacks as threat to the kingdom and holy mosques also seemed aimed at justifying sending Pakis­tani troops to actively engage the Yeminis in the conflict on the side of the Saudis.

While the number of troops being sent had not been announced, the disclosure that it would be less than a division indicated that the contingent could be almost the size of a division, said the Senate chairman. Who was making unilateral decisions bypassing parliament and to the detriment of the country, he asked, recalling parliament’s unanimous resolution seeking strict neutrality.

The defence minister was then asked to appear before the upper house on Monday and gave a policy statement on this issue of public importance.

The announcement related to the deployment of troops also drew the ire of the National Assembly which asked the foreign ministry to explain why Pakistani troops were being sent for deployment in Saudi Arabia and under which bilateral agreement.

“The ministry of foreign affairs should give details about fresh deployment of troops in Saudi Arabia and a letter will also be sent in this regard to the ministry,” said Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq when the houses was discussing the matter.

Expressing concern over the decision, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmaker Dr Shireen Mazari said why parliament had not been apprised of the decision that people came to know through the media.

She said: “The decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia was a complete violation of a unanimous resolution passed by a joint sitting of parliament on April 10, 2015 that Pakistan will not become part of any war in the Middle East or any Arab state.”

Before this unilateral decision, former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif had been given a no-objection certificate for heading the Saudi Arabia-led alliance without taking parliament into confidence, said Ms Mazari.

She said parliament was once again kept in the dark why Pakistani troops were being sent to Saudi Arabia while everyone knew that the kingdom was fighting a war with its neighbour Muslim country, Yemen.

It had been decided and communicated in clear terms by parliament two years ago that Pakistan would not became a part of this war, she said, adding that Pakistan would suffer a big loss if it engaged its troops in the war against Yemen.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Dr Nafisa Shah also expressed concern over the decision to send Pakistani troops to Saudi Arbia and said the Foreign Office (FO) must give an official reply why the troops were being deployed in Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan had already decided it would not become a part of any war against Yemen, then why the batch of army troops was being sent to Saudi Arabia, she said. “We know that some of our troops have already been deployed in Saudi Arabia for the protection of the two holy places, Makkah and Madina, but it does not mean that we will fight others’ war there,” she added.

Meanwhile, in the Senate session, Senator Farhatullah Babar asked why the interior ministry despite being the focal ministry under the National Action Plan (NAP) had no clue about Ehsanullah Ehsan, former spokesperson of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP ) and the self-proclaimed murderer of 150 children of Army Public School, Peshawar.

It took more than nine months for the interior minister to finally admit that the civilians had no role in policy making in fighting militants, as it was dealt with by unnamed agencies, Senator Babar said, while asking ‘what does this prove’.

Responding to the question, Minister of State for Interior Tallal Chaudhry informed the upper house that former TTP spokesperson had surrendered himself before an intelligence agency. However, in what many saw as a disconnection between the civilian and military institutions, he said only they were in a position to give details.

The interior minister said the details could be sought from the relevant quarters if the Senate so desired, admitting that it had not been done so far. He insisted that the relevant institutions had decided not to pardon Ehsanullah Ehsan and he would be acted against under the law of the land.

The question Senator Babar had asked in June last year was “Is it correct that Ehsanullah Ehsan has publicly claimed responsibility for several gruesome attacks on security forces, civilians and state institutions? If yes, details of terror incidents and the number of those martyred and injured in each terror incident owned/claimed by him? Whether cases have been registered against Ehsanullah Ehsan subsequent to his admission together with details thereof? And whether cases registered against him will be tried in military courts, if yes, when and if not, why not?”

Senator Sirajul Haq of the Jamaat-i-Islami asked whether there were more TTP captives in the custody of agencies besides the former spokesperson and what was being done about them.

Senator Babar said his term as Senator would soon expire and asked the presiding officer Tahir Hussain Mashhadi to give a ruling so that the important issue could be pursued even when he was no longer in the Senate. Senator Mashhadi said he would bring the matter to the attention of the Senate chairman for a ruling.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2018

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