ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir on Monday told the Senate that Pakistani troops will not take part in the Yemen war but Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani termed his statement as inadequate.
There were strong calls from some treasury and opposition senators that the decision of sending additional troops to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) be taken back, while the minister refused to share operational details of these troops with the parliament.
Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan said he was not against trade and other relations with Muslim nations but taking a decision on troops deployment should be given a thought. “What could be the reaction of regional countries? How would they see it and was any assurance given to Iran, sharing border with Pakistan and receiving threats from Israel and not having good relations Saudi Arabia, which also had a strong stance against Iran? Would not this be a trap and add to tension and mar our relations with Iran?” he questioned.
The chairman Senate offered the minister to reveal information about the exact locations, where Pakistani troops were to be posted in an in-camera session. When the minister declined, Rabbani referred to his ruling in a matter, involving the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), and insisted that no information could be withheld from the parliament.
When the minister said that prime minister and he were in the know of discussions being made regarding the dispatch of troops to Saudi Arabia over the last some months, Rabbani quipped, saying, “Should not there be a possibility of contempt of parliament (case) against you and the premier for not taking the parliament into confidence on such an important issue.”
The chair also emphasised that when both the prime minister and the defence minister were on board, the legislature was not taken into confidence. The information was not shared with the Senate, the National Assembly and their standing committees on defence or the parliamentary committee on national security, he said.
Khurram said that they could do so after a formal decision was made. Upon this, Rabbani pointed out that the information on sending Pak troops was shared by the ISPR and why not by the government while the minister himself had said the deployment plan was approved by the prime minister.
The minister faced a volley of probing questions from the Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar, Usman Kakar, Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini and Mir Kabir, Sirajul Haq and other senators.
Senator Babar had raised the matter on February 16, regarding the press release issued by the ISPR. Rabbani had expressed concerns and summoned the minister to make a statement in the House thereon.
At one stage, Rabbani said, “We are not kids. We are sitting in the Senate. Instead of giving us lollipop, simply say that you don’t want to share the asked details with us.” Looking a little upset, the chair asked Senator Babar not to ask more questions, as it was pointless, because the executive was like rubbing the nose of parliament in sand. He questioned, “Was this supremacy of the legislature?” he questioned.
The minister, who earlier read out a written statement, contended that Pakistan remained neutral and that was in line with a unanimous resolution passed by a joint sitting of parliament in 2015, stating that Pakistan would not become a party to any war in the Middle East or any Arab state.
About the size of the deployment, the minister said over 1,000 Pakistani troops were being sent to the Kingdom on a training and advisory mission. Already, he continued, 1,600 Pakistani soldiers were stationed in Saudi Arabia’s various regions under a protocol signed in 1982 between the two countries.
Senator Babar argued that it was also mentioned in the protocol that in an emergency situation, these deployments could be reviewed. The minister responded by saying that there was clarity in the agreement.
He made his best to hold out an assurance to the House that the troops would not be deployed outside the Kingdom, but Senate Chairman Rabbani expressed lack of confidence in his assurance, saying this information was already known.
Senator Babar also insisted that his questions remained unanswered and asked would Pak troops be stationed at the border with Yemen.
“Please, don’t ask where in Saudi Arabia the troops will be deployed, as I can’t share that information concerning our troops,” the minister said and added this information could not be shared even in a closed door session and added the troops were being sent under a bilateral agreement. Already, 10,000 Saudi Arabian forces had been imparted training, he added.
He explained that Pakistan military had acquired new skills in combating terrorism and this skill was to be imparted to the Saudi security personnel under bilateral cooperation.
While shedding light on the fraternal relations between the two Muslim countries, Dastgir said that the armed forces of Saudi Arabia were present in the Defence Day parade in Pakistan last year.
Rabbani said that the briefing is not enough to satisfy the House and raises many questions. He wondered, “Where will the Pak troops be deployed? Will they be inside cities or on borders and what are the terms and conditions of the agreement?”
The minister emphasised, “The apprehension that our troops will become entangled in the Yemen war is incorrect. We have clear rules of engagement.” He said that the current and future deployments would be well within the agreement.
Senators Jamaldini and Kakar strongly opposed the proposed deployment and said that the government was not taking the things seriously and again Pakistan was getting involved in someone else’s war. He lamented again decisions and policies were being made outside the parliament.
Senator Sirajul Haq called for Pakistan’s neutrality and playing its role in reducing tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran to improve their relations. The Senate also passed unanimously five bills including the one decriminalising suicides under stress.