Pakistan is sending troops to ally Saudi Arabia on a “training and advice mission”, the military said, three years after it decided against sending soldiers to join the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.
The exact role the troops will play was unclear, but a statement from the army’s press wing on Thursday stressed they “will not be employed outside” the Kingdom.
Pakistan’s Retired Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, commands the new Saudi-led Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism, though it was not immediately clear whether the new troops would participate in that coalition.
“In continuation of ongoing Pakistani-Saudi bilateral security cooperation, a Pakistan Army contingent is being sent to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on training and advice mission,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced after a meeting between Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa and Saudi Ambassador Nawaf Saeed Al-Maliki at the General Headquarters, which was said to be about “regional security situation”.
General Bajwa had earlier this month visited Saudi Arabia (photo), where he stayed for nearly three days and his only known meetings were with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Commander of Ground Forces Lt General Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz. This was his second visit to the Kingdom in two months.
Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khurram Dastagir, who was giving a policy statement in the senate on a recent government’s decision to send 1,000 additional troops to the Kingdom, did not offer further details about the presence of such a high number of Saudi soldiers on Pakistan’s soil, and the nature of training being imparted.
Some 1,600 Pakistan army officers and troops are already stationed in the Kingdom in accordance with a 1982 security protocol between the two sides.
Currently, some 647 Pakistani troops are also stationed in Qatar, whereas Pakistan air force is training 10 Iranian pilots, according to the local media.
Saudi Arabia, which alone hosts 1.9 million Pakistanis, tops the list of countries with highest remittances to Pakistan -- over $4.5 billion annually.
Also, Saudi Arabia is Pakistan’s largest regional trading partner, which exported goods and services, mainly oil, to the tune of over $5 billion to Pakistan in 2017.