Army Chief to accompany PM on Riyadh visit today
By Baqir Sajjad Syed | 4/23/2015

ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif will accompany Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Riyadh on Thursday on a daylong trip aimed at limiting the damage caused by Islamabad`s wavering over the issue of committing troops for the Saudi-led offensive against Yemen`s Houthi rebels.

`The Prime Minister would be accompanied by Minister for Defence Khawaja Muhammad Asif; Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif; Special Assistant to PM Mr Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Mr Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry,` a statement from the PM Office on the upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia said after the prime minister presided over a meeting with his foreign policy and defence aides on the situation in Yemen.

The delegation will meet King Salman bin Abdul Aziz. Other meetings in Riyadh are also being planned.

A source privy to preparations for the trip said that the purpose of a joint visit by the civil and military leadership was to reassure the Saudis that Pakistan remained fully committed to Saudi Arabian security.

`We`ll also try to explore how we can help the Saudis in the future,` a member of the delegation bound for Riyadh told Dawn.

The visit will take place at a time when Saudi Arabia announced an end to the Operation Decisive Storm in a move towards the start of the political dialogue for settlement of the dispute.

Pakistan has welcomed the halting of air strikes by Saudi Arabia. `Pakistan welcomes the announcement by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia regarding the end of air campaign in Yemen. This will pave the way for political solution of the crisis in Yemen,` the FO spokesperson said in a statement, adding `we share the desire of Saudi Arabia for peaceful settlement of the crisis.

Saudi Arabia had expected Pakistan`s active involvement in the military coalition. The government first referred the matter to a joint sitting of parliament, which after five days of debate came up with a call for neutrality.

The parliamentary resolution provoked strong reaction across the Arab world and the prime minister had to personally issue a statement reassuring the Arabs that his government continued to stand by their side and later dispatched his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif as a special envoy to clear the misgivings and pledge assistance for enforcing the UN Security Councilís arms embargo on Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh.

But that was not enough to pacify the annoyed royal Saudi family.

The combined visit by PM Sharif and Gen Sharif, a Pakistani diplomat said, would carry a lot of symbolism as well.

`The Saudis were particularly perturbed over not physically seeing Pakistanis on their side. This visit will address that perception and convey to the regional actors in the clearest terms that Pakistan stands by Saudi Arabia,` he added.

The two sides, a source from Riyadh said, could come up with an arrangement that could serve as a consolation for not joining the military coalition when the Operation Decisive Storm had been started.

A Pakistani official insists that whatever is agreed in Riyadh would be in conformity with the parliamentary resolution which has a lot of room for interpretation.

In a related development, PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari visited the residence of Saudi Charge d`Affairs Jasim al Khalidi in Islamabad to express solidarity with the Kingdom in its campaign against Houthi militia.