Pakistani soldiers patrol during a military operation against Taliban militants in Miranshah, North Waziristan, in July. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP via Getty Images)
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has denied a media report that it has deployed or has plans to do so to protect ally Saudi Arabia from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
The Times of London reported Aug. 2 that Riyadh had asked Egypt and Pakistan to station troops along its 500-mile border with Iraq. The following day, a categorical denial was issued by the Pakistani military’s lead spokesman, Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa of the Inter-Services Public Relations.
“No Pakistani troops are being sent or being deployed in Saudi Arabia as reported in a section of the media,” he said.
Analysts said the report had been tough to believe.
“Riyadh and Islamabad have probably talked about troops — perhaps during the recent [Army Chief Gen Raheel] Sharif visit — but Pakistan has quite enough on its plate at the moment without sending troops to Saudi,” said Brian Cloughley, a former Australian defense attache to Islamabad.
Cloughley cited domestic commitments in fighting the Taliban as well as elevated tensions with India.
“The threatening pronouncement by India’s new army chief concerning Pakistan has caused concern,” he said. “Pakistan had hoped to be able to concentrate on the war (and it is war) against militants in the west but is having to devote more attention than it wants to its frontiers with India.”
Analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said that such speculation is fed by a misconception that the Saudis are unable to protect themselves.
“The Saudis have established a very robust defense around the northern and south western borders,” Khan said.
“Since 2002, they have spent US$200 billion to beef up their defenses, and according to some [US Department of Defense] officials, they [the US] are satisfied that they’ll be able to fend off any large- and small-scale military attack,” he said.
Khan noted in particular that offensive airpower to the north has been considerably improved.
“The airbase at Tabuk [in the northwest] has for the first time become a strike force airbase. They based upgraded F-15 C/D [No. 2 Sqd] for the first time there. Plus, the new base at Hafr Al Batin [in the northeast] received two squadrons [No. 15 and 17] of Typhoon.”
He said the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) is improving its ability to rapidly airlift personnel and offer them close air support.
“The SANG has now established a permanent air wing of more than 200 helicopters,” including Blackhawks, Apache AH-64Ds, AH-6s and MD530s, he said.■