Pakistan delegation heads to Saudi Arabia after Yemen request

Pakistan's government said Thursday it will dispatch a top civil-military delegation to Saudi Arabia following Riyadh's request that it join a coalition to defend Yemen's president, promising a "strong response" to any threat to the Gulf kingdom. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to send the group to Saudi Arabia on Friday after meeting with top defence and military officials in Islamabad late Thursday, his office said in a statement. "The meeting concluded that any threat to Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan," it said, adding that Pakistan's defence minister and Sharif's national security advisor would travel to the country, along with top military figures. Sharif told the meeting that "Pakistan enjoys close and brotherly relations with Saudi Arabia and other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries and attaches great importance to their security." The Gulf kingdom has begun air strikes against Shiite Huthi rebels and the Saudi ambassador in Washington said a coalition of 10 countries, including Pakistan, was being formed to protect the Yemeni government. The rebels and their allies had been closing in on main southern city Aden, where President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has been holed up since fleeing the rebel-controlled capital Sanaa last month. Their advance raised Saudi fears that the Shiite minority rebels would seize control of the whole of its Sunni-majority neighbour and take it into the orbit of Shiite Iran. Yemen is teetering on the brink of civil war as turmoil has grown since Huthis launched a power grab in February. Islamabad has longstanding close ties to Saudi Arabia, and foreign office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said the kingdom had asked Pakistan to join the coalition. "I can confirm we have been contacted by Saudi Arabia in this regard. The matter is being examined. That's all I have to say at the moment," she told a regular press briefing. Aslam said no decision had been taken yet on whether to close the Pakistani embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. The official Saudi Press Agency said earlier that Pakistan, along with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan, had all "expressed desire to participate in the operation". Egypt and Jordan have confirmed they will join Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the coalition. However, joining the coalition might irk Pakistan's minority Shiite community and neighbour Iran. Pakistan has suffered a rising tide of sectarian violence in recent years, most of it perpetrated by hardline Sunni Muslim groups against minority Shiite Muslims, who make up around one in five of the population.