(Bloomberg) — Senior Pakistan leaders will arrive in Saudi
Arabia on Tuesday as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif weighs how much
support to provide the kingdom in its battle against Shiite
rebels in Yemen.

“Pakistan holds Saudi Arabia in very high esteem and
considers the security of the holy land of utmost importance,”
Sharif’s office said in a statement on Tuesday. “Any violation
of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Saudi Arabia
would evoke a strong reaction from Pakistan.”

Sharif chaired a ministerial meeting on Tuesday and sought
an early evacuation of any Pakistanis in Yemen, according to the
statement. Opposition leaders have warned that taking sides
could fan sectarian violence in a nation that’s home to the most
Shiite Muslims outside of Iran.

The Saudis are heading a coalition of 10 Sunni-ruled
nations against Shiite rebels in Yemen as it seeks to prop up an
allied government facing the loss of its last remaining
stronghold. Saudi Arabia is Pakistan’s third-biggest trading
partner, while neighboring Iran is ninth, according to data
compiled by Bloomberg.

“If Pakistan sends its troops to Yemen, or Pakistan gets
involved in the Yemen conflict, it would prove to be a divisive
development within Pakistan’s domestic context,” Hasan-Askari
Rizvi, a Lahore-based analyst who used to teach at Columbia
University in New York, said by phone. “Secondly, relations
with Iran will get strained.”

Support, Protests

Sharif has remained noncommittal on sending troops while
pushing for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. About 700
Pakistani troops are stationed in Saudi Arabia for advisory and
training roles, Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said last
week.

Saudi Arabia helped negotiate Sharif’s freedom and housed
him for seven years following a coup in 1999. Last year, it
gifted Pakistan funds that were crucial to bolster its foreign-exchange reserves, helping the nation’s stocks and currency
outperform most of the region.

Imran Khan, a main opposition leader who demanded Sharif’s
resignation in 2014, said Pakistan should help bridge
differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Khurshid Shah, a
leader with the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, also warned
against taking sides.

Government ally Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman said it was the Arab
world’s responsibility to find a solution for Yemen and
cautioned against any action which would cause trouble for the
Islamic world, the Dawn newspaper reported on Monday.

Sectarian Violence

While Shiites form only about 13 percent of the world’s
Muslim population, as much as 15 percent of them live in
Pakistan. Shiites form a majority only in Iran and Iraq,
according to a 2009 Pew Research report.

At least 102 Shiites were killed in Pakistan last year,
almost half of the 210 deaths due to sectarian violence,
according to data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

The Shiite-led Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen party has held
protests in different parts of Pakistan against the Saudi
military operations, Ali Ahmer Zaidi, a spokesman for the party,
said by phone today.

While Yemen contributes less than 0.2 percent of global oil
output, its location puts it near the center of world energy
trade. It shares a border with Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest
crude exporter, and sits on one side of a shipping chokepoint
used by tankers heading West from the Persian Gulf.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Khurrum Anis in Karachi at
kkhan14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Daniel Ten Kate at
dtenkate@bloomberg.net
Jeanette Rodrigues