Nawaz and Raheel Sharif in Riyadh
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif along with their delegation have arrived in Riyadh on Thursday on a daylong visit.
PM's visit is accompanied by Pakistan's Minister for Defence Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Special Assistant to PM Mr Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Mr Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry.
The premier, along with his delegation, was accorded a warm welcome by Saudi Defence Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman at Riyadh air base.
The premier is due to meet Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz on the prevailing Yemeni crisis.
Nawaz also held a consultative meeting with his close civil and military aides on the Yemen situation in his special jet.
A senior Pakistan diplomat had told media that soon after arrival, PM and his delegation would proceed to Royal palace where they would meet the Saudi king.
The decision to visit Saudi Arabia was made yesterday at a high-level meeting chaired by the PM to discuss the crisis in Yemen.
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.
The trip is 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 visit is taking 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.
Saudi Arabia had expected Pakistan’s active involvement in the military coalition. The government first referred the matter to a joint sitting of the 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 Council’s 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.
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