Pakistan announced on February 15 the deployment of a Pakistani military force to Saudi Arabia to assist and train Saudi forces.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also serves as defense minister, and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa arranged the deployment. Bajwa visited the kingdom twice earlier this year.
While the size and purpose of the deployment remain unclear, the Pakistani government assured that the fighting force will remain inside the country’s borders and will not participate in the Saudi war in Yemen.
“The contingent, once deputed in Saudi Arabia, will perform its training and advisory mission while remaining within the geographical boundaries of the kingdom,” said Pakistani Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir-Khan.
In 2015, the Pakistani parliament voted unanimously against sending troops to join the war in Yemen after pressure from then-King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The parliament also declared neutrality in the Yemen conflict in 2015.
Analysts argue that further military cooperation between the two countries could draw Pakistan into regional tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. With the deployment, Pakistan attempts to balance commitments to its ally, Saudi Arabia, and its relationship with its southwestern neighbor, Iran. A fifth of Pakistan’s citizens are Shiite Muslims who retain close cultural ties to Iran.
However, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are long-standing allies with a history of military cooperation. Pakistani forces have been deployed to the kingdom since 1967 to train their Saudi counterparts. In 1982, Pakistan sent a reinforced brigade to Saudi Arabia with the purpose of defending the kingdom from any enemies at home or abroad. This force remained in Saudi Arabia for over a decade while the Saudi kingdom paid its expenses.
The recent deployment revives that practice. The forces will be governed under the same agreement of military cooperation that the two countries signed in 1982. The deployment sparked domestic criticism in Pakistan that the country is taking sides in the Yemen fight.