ISLAMABAD — Analysts are unsure how Pakistan will contribute to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen now that it appears to have committed itself. They say the Army and Air Force are preoccupied at home fighting the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), but its relationship with Riyadh left it with little choice but to fall into line.

Though having been reported as being a member of the coalition, Pakistan had hitherto only specifically pledged to defend Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity, not become involved in military action in Yemen.

There seems to be little domestic appetite for the Yemeni operation in Pakistan due to fears of blowback from a wider sectarian conflict.

Former Australian defense attache to Islamabad Brian Cloughley says believes there is also little support for the mission within Pakistan's military, but he notes highlights that the military leadership can be overruled by the prime minister.

According to Maj Gen Asif Bajwa, the head of the military's inter services public relations media relation's branch, the Army already has nearly 300 personnel in Saudi Arabia. They have been taking part in Samsun 5, the latest in a series of annual bilateral military exercises, but any link with the ongoing situation has been denied.

However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday was today was reported to have agreed to fully support the operation, and that it has been the source of bilateral discussions for a number of months. now.

A government delegation from Pakistan is due to visit Saudi Arabia in the next few days to discuss the matter further.

Claude Rakisits, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center, says believes Pakistan was compelled to participate in some form due to a history of largesse provided by the Saudis. a legacy of Saudi largesse toward Pakistan says.

Pakistan's prime minister "knows on which side his bread is buttered. Given what Saudi Arabia has done for Pakistan over the years in ensuring it doesn't drown financially, I would say that Pakistan has very little choice about whether to provide military assistance to Saudi Arabia," he said.

Although He says despite Islamabad wants also wishing to improve its relationship with neighboring Tehran, which is backing the Houthis, Pakistan would "not be able to sit on the fence, and will need to come to Saudi Arabia's assistance, even if only symbolically," he said.

Adding, "Saudi Arabia would never forgive Pakistan if it did not positively respond to the request for military assistance."

What this will actually involve, exactly though, is uncertain, "given the ongoing military operation in the tribal areas. The Pakistan Army will nevertheless be constrained by what it can contribute on the ground."

A number of possibilities are being discussed, including however, one of which is to raising a force from among the Army's reservists to be equipped by the Saudis.

Nevertheless, Cloughley says, "it would be most unwise for Pakistan to send ground troops, because even if the Saudis paid [which one assumes they would], the lines of communication are extremely long, and logistics problems would be immense."

Furthermore, he said, "The Army is trained for warfare in the sub-continent and to send an expeditionary force overseas would be taking on too much."

Cloughley believes any contribution would will be a small scale token force.

"I think it will come down to a few aircraft. It will be good experience for the pilots and it won't cost anything."

He also said thinks a frigate may be a worthwhile token contribution.

A Pakistani warship is already en route to Aden to help evacuate the remaining Pakistani nationals there. Some were airlifted back to Pakistan via Saudi Arabia over the weekend, but others remain trapped by the fighting.

Analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank says believes Pakistan has two options.

"Pakistan can help in two ways: One, provide special forces to help [Saudi Arabia] in specific and centralized operations, and second, it can provide Navy vessels to impose some type of security perimeters around the Gulf Aden," he said.

Adding, "The Pakistan Navy has already been part of CFT-150 for the past one decade or more and has a very good experience in dealing with the environment in and around the Gulf of Aden."

CTF-150 is a multinational maritime counterterror mission operating in the Arabian Sea and northwestern Indian Ocean region. Pakistan's Navy has also for some time been a member of CTF-151, combating Somali piracy in the same region.

Khan does not, however, support a use of general ground operation.

"Deployment of regular Pakistani troops and Air Force assets and engaging them into combat with the rebels in Yemen would not be prudent since these rebels are directly supported by [Tehran]," he said.

He says the Saudis should conduct ground operations with its other allies.

"As far as ground operations are concerned, so far [Saudi] policy is to not have Aden fall into rebel hands and the city can be protected and defended by [Saudi] ground assets supported by the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SNAG) along with troops from Egypt, Jordan, and the Sudan."

He believes there is little reason for Pakistan's Air Force to become involved as "[Saudi] airpower has no match in the area and it will be able to dominate the airspace without any problems and provide ground troops much-needed air-to-ground support."


Usman Ansari is the Pakistan correspondent for Defense News.

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