Saudi Arabia’s minister for religious affairs arrived in Pakistan late on Sunday, two days after the country’s parliament rejected a Saudi appeal for support for its military intervention in Yemen.
His arrival follows a visit by the Iranian foreign minister last week, in which the Iranians urged Pakistan to support dialogue in Yemen rather than sending troops.
On Friday, Pakistan’s parliament voted not to join the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, dashing Riyadh’s hopes for powerful support from outside of the region in its fight to halt Houthi rebels, some of whom have links to Iran.
Saudi Arabia had asked fellow Sunni-majority Pakistan to provide ships, aircraft and troops for the campaign, now in its third week, to stem the influence of Shi’ite Iran in what could develop into a proxy war between the Gulf’s two dominant powers.
“The resolution passed by Pakistan’s parliament is Pakistan’s internal matter,” Saleh bin Abdul-Aziz bin Mohammad al-Sheikh told reporters at the airport.
He added: “We have very good relations with Pakistan, and we expect a lot of good from it.Pakistan is a very important country, it is a big country in the Islamic world.”
“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have had very strong relations ever since Pakistan’s creation…we should try and improve these ties as best we can.”
He is expected to return to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, a foreign office official said. His schedule was not made public.
The Saudi-led alliance began air strikes in Yemen against the Houthis on March 26 after the rebels, who already control the capital, began a rapid advance toward the southern port city of Aden.
Saudi Arabia is concerned that the violence could spill over the border it shares with Yemen, and is also worried about the influence of Shi’ite Iran, which has denied Saudi allegations it has provided direct military support to the Houthis.
Saudi Arabia’s request to Pakistan presents Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with a dilemma. Last year, Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan a $1.5 billion loan. It also sheltered Sharif for many years when he went into exile after a 1999 coup.
But Pakistan lawmakers fear the Yemen conflict could degenerate into a sectarian conflict, fueling violence at home and along the long, porous border that Pakistan’s mineral-rich province of Baluchistan shares with Iran.