ISLAMABAD // Pakistan will hold a special session of parliament on Monday as Islamabad considers whether to join the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen after an intense week of consultations with Riyadh.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a meeting with his top civilian and military officials on the Yemen crisis on Thursday, a day after a high-level delegation returned from a fact-finding trip to Riyadh attended by Pakistan’s defence minister, Khawaja Mohammed Asif, and his Saudi counterpart, Mohammad bin Salman.

At the meeting, Mr Sharif said the crisis in Yemen should be brought to an urgent end through diplomacy, and that he was working with the leaders of other Muslim countries to find a solution.

“Given the close historical cultural and religious affinities between the peoples of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, it was reaffirmed that any isolation of Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity will evoke a strong response from Pakistan,” the prime minister’s office said after the meeting.

He said the leaders of Pakistan’s political parties would be consulted before the government took a final decision.

It comes just one day after the main opposition parties urged Mr Sharif not to make a unilateral decision on joining the coalition against the Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen.

Riyadh formally requested military support from Pakistan last Wednesday.

Islamabad was apparently surprised by the Saudi request, which comes as Pakistan’s military is committed to a decisive campaign against Taliban insurgents in north-west tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and the southern city of Karachi.

Alarmed opposition parties have warned the government not to take sides in a conflict widely perceived as a power struggle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, warning that it could fuel already dangerous levels of sectarian violence in Pakistan and reverse the gains of its counterterrorism campaign.

In 2014, some 440 people died in sectarian clashes in Pakistan, where Shiites make up about 23 per cent of its estimated population of 200 million people.

Besides, Pakistan shares a long border with Iran which is already angered by the Yemen assault.

Under tough questioning from opposition politicians in Pakistan’s national assembly, a day after Riyadh’s request, Mr Asif vowed Pakistan would not “take part in any conflict that could result in differences in the Muslim world, causing fault-lines present in Pakistan to be disturbed, the aggravation of which would have to be borne by Pakistan”.

“Division on the basis of religion or sect is rising in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Instead of conflagration … it should be contained,” he said then.

The government and opposition positions have quickly shifted since, however, amid consultations with Saudi Arabia and other GCC allies including the UAE… see more