Riyadh, March 14: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are again engaged in discussions to send combat troops to protect the kingdom amid growing concern over threats from ISIL militants and Houthi rebels. However, the Pakistani troops will only be deployed inside the southern borders of the kingdom. It will not be used beyond Saudi borders.
However, plans are under way to dispatch a brigade-sized deployment following a request from Riyadh, which wants the troops as an emergency response force. A brigade is usually made up of between 1,500 and 3,500 troops.
Saudi asking for the combat troops to Pakistan proves that the threat in Kingdom is increasing day by day. Because the requests for Pakistani combat brigades are usually made during times of heightened tensions in the kingdom.
Interestingly, the move follows a visit by Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa to Saudi Arabia in December last year. The army chief had been on a three-day visit to the kingdom where he met Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz. "COAS reiterated Pakistan's commitment to the security and protection of the Holy Mosques and also the territorial integrity of the kingdom," Inter-Services Public Relations said in a statement.
"Later, General Qamar Javed Bajwa met the chief of general staff of Saudi Forces, General Abdul Rehman bin Saleh al-Bunyan, to discuss military to military relations, defence cooperation, and regional security situation. Both leaders agreed to boost military cooperation and collaboration.
Notably, relations are tense between Saudi Arabia and Yemen who have been fighting a deadly war for the last two years which has killed more than 10,000 people in Yemen, injured over 40,000. The war was launched by Saudi Arabia and it's Arab coalition allies after the Houthis overran Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, and the southern port of Aden and ousted the Saudi-backed president, Abd Rabbuh Hadi.
Earlier, Pakistani combat troops were sent after the 1979 attack on the Grand Mosque complex in Mecca by a proto-Al Qaeda extremist group and the Iranian revolution of the same year. Forces from Pakistan were based in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War when the kingdom feared attack by Saddam Hussein. Again, a decade ago, they were deployed as the US military ramped up operations to crush Al Qaeda in Iraq, prompting fears that the extremists would flee across the Saudi border, and as the militant group carried out a violent terrorist campaign within the kingdom.
Meanwhile, a senior Pakistani military source confirmed the Saudi request, but stressed troops would "not go across the border" with Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab military coalition, of which the UAE is a part, against the Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement.
Importantly, Islamabad and Saudi Arabia have long had a close military and security relationship, with troops from Pakistan's large and combat-hardened army regularly deployed for training Saudi soldiers. Although the kingdom, like other Arab Gulf countries, does not make the numbers public, experts say there are as many as 70,000 Pakistanis serving across the Saudi military services at any one time.