Pakistani Lawmakers Urge Diplomacy in Yemen Conflict but Decline Combat Role

Soldiers guarding the Parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday, when lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution on Yemen. Credit Faisal Mahmood/Reuters


The Pakistani Parliament voted on Friday to stay out of the conflict in Yemen, but it urged the government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to play a diplomatic role in defusing the crisis.

The decision came as international aid agencies reported rising desperation in Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country, where half the population suffered chronic shortages of basics before the conflict escalated last month.

While a limited amount of emergency medicine was airlifted into Sana, the capital, millions of Yemenis have little or no food, water and fuel; hundreds have been killed, and more than a quarter-million displaced. The United Nations humanitarian relief coordinator forYemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, told reporters at a news conference in Geneva that the crisis was “getting worse by the hour.”

Analysts in the Arab world saw the Pakistani Parliament’s vote as a significant setback for Saudi Arabia, which is leading a campaign of airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, a major donor to Pakistan, had incorrectly advertised Pakistani participation in the campaign from the night it began more than two weeks ago.

While declining a military role, the lawmakers vowed to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Saudi Arabia, a long-term Sunni ally that had requested aircraft, warships and troops. The lawmakers also pledged to defend Saudi Arabia if its “territorial sovereignty and integrity” was violated.

Saudi Arabia has accused Iran, the region’s most influential Shiite country, of providing military aid to the Houthis, whose leaders follow a variant of Shiite Islam, and leaders in Tehran condemned the Saudi air campaign on Thursday. Most experts say that Iran supports the Houthis but that it does not control them.

The parliamentary measure, which was passed with unanimous support, followed four days of lively debate in a joint session of Pakistan’s Senate and National Assembly.

Critics of military action warned that Pakistan risked getting sucked into a broader sectarian conflict in the region, particularly at a time of growing violence against Shiites at home.

Pakistan is a predominantly Sunni country, but Shiites represent about 20 percent of the population.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, visited Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, this week and urged Pakistan to press for a cease-fire in Yemen.

Mr. Sharif’s government has close ties to Saudi Arabia, which gave Pakistan a $1.5 billion grant last year. Mr. Sharif also lived in the Saudi city of Jidda in the early 2000s, when he went into exile to escape the military rule of Pervez Musharraf.

The parliamentary resolution on Friday appeared to largely align with Iran’s wishes. “Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemenconflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis,” read the resolution, which had been presented by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

Lawmakers said they supported “regional and international efforts for restoration of peace and stability in the region.”

Still, the pledge to stand with Saudi Arabia and to defend its sovereignty was seen as leaving open a door to possible military action if the situation in Yemen were to worsen.

Citing sources close to Mr. Sharif, some Pakistani news outlets reported on Friday that the Pakistani prime minister had privately warned Mr. Zarif, his Iranian counterpart, against supporting the Houthis.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Sharif said he had used the meeting to express concern about the Yemeni government being overthrown by “nonstate actors.”

“Beside the loss of innocent lives, the crisis can undermine the unity of Muslim world,” Mr. Sharif said in the statement.

The emergency airlift of medical supplies to Sana, arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Unicef, arrived on Friday at the international airport. The agencies said the supplies would be distributed to hospitals across the country. The Red Cross said the shipment included 16 tons of medicine, bandages, intravenous fluids and surgical equipment.

But relief workers in the country reported increasingly dire problems. Doctors Without Borders said it had treated more than 800 war wounded over the past few weeks, but that fighting had left many people, including pregnant women, stranded in their homes or at checkpoints in need of medical treatment.

“Every day we are getting calls from patient in a critical condition — sometimes war-wounded, sometimes with other serious health problems — who cannot reach our hospitals,” Dr. Ali Dahi said in an interview posted on the Doctors Without Borders website. He was working for the charity in Ad Dhale, a town in southern Yemen.

Nuha Abdulljabbar, a Yemeni aid worker for Oxfam, the British charity, said in a telephone interview from Sana that daily bombings by the Saudi-led coalition had paralyzed the city.

“You never know when they will start to bomb,” she said. “There’s no warning, nowhere to go. It’s pretty scary.”

Asked what Yemenis fear the most, she said, “I think the main thing the people are fearing is the silence of the world.”


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