Thousands of Pakistani troops will be deployed to Saudi Arabia to help train and advise the kingdom’s military, but the decision has led to a backlash at home with many fearing “mission creep”.
Islamabad did not clarify the number of troops who will be sent to the Gulf state, but the “contingent” will join other Pakistani troops based in the kingdom, the military said in a statement.
Thousands of Pakistani troops – or brigade size – will likely be deployed to Saudi Arabia with the mission, according to Dawn newspaper.
They will be sent on “training and advice” missions and continues the long-standing military and political alliance between the two countries.
“In continuation of ongoing Pak-KSA bilateral security cooperation, a Pakistan Army contingent is being sent to KSA on training and advice mission,” the Inter-Services Public Relations said, according to Dawn.
There are already around 1,000 Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia, some training Saudi troops and others helping guard holy Muslim sites.
Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and increased tensions with Pakistan’s neighbour Iran, has led many in Islamabad to urge caution in cultivating this relationship further.
Riyadh has urged Pakistan to back its military campaign in Yemen with troops and equipment.
Islamabad has been reluctant to concede to these demands fearing a political backlash at home and potentially antagonising Iran.
Attempting to quash rumours they will be deployed to Yemen, Pakistan’s military has insisted no troops will be deployed “outside” the kingdom.
Pakistan, however, also has a tradition of supporting the Saudi military. It is also a member of the Riyadh-led so-called Islamic Military Alliance, which is headed by Pakistani general Raheel Sharif.
Although Riyadh’s forces have some of the world’s most cutting-edge arms and technology it lacks military know-how and experience – something Pakistan has in abundance.
Pakistan has reportedly consulted with Iran and Gulf ally Qatar about the move, to ease concerns.
Saudi Arabia has becoming increasingly militarised under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ramping up military spending, leading a military expedition in Yemen and increasing large-scale parades and training.