Pakistan parliament rejects Saudi call to join Yemen coalition

Islamabad (AFP) - Pakistan's parliament on Friday voted to stay out of the conflict in Yemen, rejecting Saudi demands for Islamabad to join its military coalition against Shiite Huthi rebels.

A unanimous resolution passed by a special session of parliament backed the government's commitment to protect Saudi Arabia's territory, which has so far not been threatened by the conflict.

But it said Pakistan should play a mediating role and not get involved in fighting in Yemen -- turning down longstanding ally Riyadh's request for troops, ships and warplanes.

"Parliament of Pakistan... underscores the need for continued efforts by the government of Pakistan to find a peaceful resolution of the crisis," the resolution said.

"(Parliament) desires that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis."

The motion is not binding, but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said last week that any Pakistani participation would need the backing of parliament.

It was passed after five days of debate on the Yemen crisis, in which many lawmakers urged Sharif not to send Pakistani forces to join the fight.

The coalition of largely Sunni Muslim countries led by Riyadh has been hitting Huthi Shiite rebels in Yemen with air strikes in a bid to restore the government of fugitive President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Saudi Arabia has vowed to bomb the rebels, who it says are backed by Tehran, into surrender to prevent them establishing a pro-Iran state on its doorstep.

- Four-stage plan -

Islamabad found itself in an awkward position on Yemen. It has deep military and religious ties to Saudi and has long benefited from the oil-rich kingdom's largesse.

But it has been reluctant to become ensnared in a conflict with sectarian overtones, with violence against minority Shiites on the rise at home in recent years.

Moreover, the large Pakistani military is stretched, maintaining a heavy presence on the border with arch-rival India as well as fighting against Taliban militants in the northwest.

Instead, Pakistan has pushed diplomatic efforts in the past week, holding talks with Turkish and Iranian officials to try to forge a way ahead.

Friday's resolution urged the government to begin work in the UN Security Council and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation bloc to bring about a ceasefire.

But analyst Hasan Askari said Pakistan's historic closeness to Saudi Arabia -- and that of Sharif, sheltered by Riyadh when he was overthrown in 1999 -- made a peace-making role problematic.

"Pakistan cannot play the role of mediator or moderator in this conflict because Pakistan is still partisan and supporting Saudi Arabia," Askari told AFP.

"Nawaz Sharif is facing a dilemma because he is under a personal obligation to the Saudis."

On Wednesday Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and his Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz pledged to work for a peaceful end to the fighting, which has cost hundreds of lives since the Saudi offensive began last month.

Zarif laid out a four-stage plan for talks, calling for an immediate ceasefire followed by humanitarian assistance, dialogue among Yemenis and the formation of an "all-inclusive government".

Aziz appeared cool on Iran's idea of an immediate ceasefire, saying it "would consolidate the existing ground position", which currently has Huthis in control of large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa.

Instead he called for "a more comprehensive resolution on facilitating an intra-Yemeni dialogue to create the possibility of some kind of negotiated solution".

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