Pakistan's parliament has rejected a proposal to join a Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen's Houthi rebels, a move that could dash Riyadh's hopes of forming a wider Sunni front against the Iranian-allied rebels on its southern flank.
Pakistani lawmakers instead approved a draft resolution calling on all sides in the Arabian Peninsula conflict to resolve their differences peacefully. Riyadh had asked for troops, planes and possibly naval support.
"Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis," the members of parliament said. They expressed "unequivocal support for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" and promised to "stand shoulder to shoulder with Saudi Arabia and its people" if Saudi territory were violated, according to Reuters.
As The New York Times notes, Saudi Arabia "has accused Iran, the region's most influential Shiite country, of providing military aid to the Houthi movement, whose leaders follow a variant of Shiite Islam, and leaders in Tehran condemned the Saudi air campaign on Thursday. Most experts say Iran supports the Houthis but that it does not control them."
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has described the Saudi military operation in Yemen as "genocide." The Saudi-led coalition insists it has only targeted military installations.
NPR's Philip Reeves, speaking on Morning Edition, said, "It's awkward [for Pakistan]. Saudi Arabia is a very close ally, both are predominantly Sunni. The Saudis often help the Pakistanis out in times of crisis."
Philip says that the ultimate decision rests with Pakistan's military, which "has quite a lot on its plate right now" with fighting on its restive western border with Afghanistan.
The BBC adds: "Analysts say Pakistan, which has a Sunni majority but also a Shia minority, fears being caught between the two if it sends troops to Yemen."