Pakistan’s parliament resumed debate on Tuesday on whether the country should get involved in a Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, a day after the defence minister revealed Saudi wanted Pakistani warplanes, warships and soldiers.
Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s main Sunni Muslim power, has asked Sunni-majority Pakistan to join a Saudi-led military coalition that began conducting air strikes last month against largely Shi’ite Houthi forces in Yemen.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has hedged his bets. He has repeatedly said he will defend any threat to Saudi Arabia’s “territorial integrity” without defining what threat that could be, or what action he would take.
Joining the Saudi-led coalition could inflame a sectarian conflict at home where about a fifth of the population is Shi’ite and attacks on Shi’ites are increasing, further destabilising the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.
Pakistani intervention would probably also anger Shi’ite power Iran, which shares a long and porous border in a region roiling with its own separatist insurgency.
The Iranian foreign minister visits Pakistan on Wednesday.
In the debate on Monday, Aitzaz Ahsan, Senate leader of the opposition, demanded that the government clarify its position.
“What does (Defence Minister) Khawaja Asif mean by the violation of sovereignty of Saudi Arabia and the strong response from Pakistan?” he asked. “If the government wants to send troops to Yemen or Saudi Arabia, what will their exact mandate be?”
The debate could last for days.