LONDON: Pakistani troops are likely to participate in a joint military exercise in Saudi Arabia over the next week, though it is still unclear whether Islamabad will join the proposed Islamic Military Alliance (IMA).
According to the London-based daily The Nation, the planned “North Thunder” military exercise is aimed at sending a clear message to Iran and the countries in the region it supports that any hostile intentions and actions will be firmly dealt with by Riyadh.
The military drill is scheduled to be held in the northern region of Saudi Arabia in the next few days and a number of countries will be participating in it, local media has reported.
Military experts have warned that the next probable threat to the Gulf states is likely to come from the northern areas, after Iran demographically occupies Iraq and uses that country as its military arm to meddle in the affairs of neighboring countries and drain Gulf states’ resources.
The Nation quoted Col. Ibrahim Al-Marie, military and strategic analyst, as saying that the three main goals of the exercise are to ensure joint security of the Gulf, Arab and Islamic states, increase combat readiness and coordinate joint operations between participating forces.
“Participating countries are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, the UAE, and some Gulf states, through maritime, air and land efforts,” he said.
He further stated, “This manoeuvre is considered the most important in the past five decades conducted by Gulf, Arab and Islamic countries. It will rely on the latest technology in light of the growing regional terrorism and turbulent environment, and after the success of Decisive Storm.”
Col. Al-Marie said the exercise provides a chance to improve and activate the Islamic military alliance announced by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second deputy premier and defense minister, for joint participation of Gulf, Arab and Islamic countries in a number of these exercises.
He denied any link between North Thunder and the recent announcement by the Kingdom regarding ground military intervention in Syria, noting that these exercises were announced previously and are part of a defensive, not offensive, approach.
Al-Marie revealed that Iran seeks control in Iraq for extremist Shiites who are loyal to Tehran, and not Baghdad. “We know that Iran has been trying to widen its footprint in Iraq through a so-called demographic occupation and emptying Iraq of Sunnis, either by displacing them or wiping them out, as well as by emptying the country of moderate Shiites loyal to Iraq,” he said.
However, Pakistan is yet to take a formal decision on joining the 34-member Islamic Military Alliance, though verbally has extended support to Saudi proposal.
Informed sources told The Nation that the government is yet to inform the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs about this.
Answering a question raised by Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said that details about the ‘counter-terrorism coalition’ were still not clear and that the government would take a decision in due course of time.
Members of the committee, however, called for a categorical statement from the foreign ministry on the issue and said that avoiding the matter would not send a positive message to the public.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said it was unwise for the government to take any position on the basis of media statements.
He said that he had already stated in a policy statement that the foremost objective of foreign policy was to protect national security.
Talking to reporters after the meeting Mr. Sayed said “the government’s response was ambiguous”.
A statement issued by the committee said its members had voiced concern over any possibility of the country’s involvement in the Syrian conflict and that this could have repercussions for internal situation.
“National interest should be protected and neutrality observed at all costs,” the statement said.