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Pakistan sends thousands of soldiers to Qatar World Cup for crowd control

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 10/11/2022 Samaan Lateef, Waqar Gillani

Pakistan has sent thousands of soldiers to provide security at the Qatar World Cup, raising questions about how potentially “trigger-happy” troops will handle crowd control.

Islamabad has put an infantry delegation at the service of Doha, with 1.2 million fans expected to arrive for kick off on November 20.

While Britain, the US, and Turkey are among 12 other nations assisting with security at the World Cup, no other country has sent troops.

Pakistan’s army has released few details about the deployment but a senior army officer told The Telegraph it numbered 4,500 soldiers.

“These troops will be deployed on security duties inside and outside venues in the way deemed fit by the Qatar authorities,” the officer said.

Soldiers to guard team hotels

The soldiers will also be responsible for guarding team hotels, according to local media.

All those sent to Qatar have been trained by an “international team of instructors from the UK and Qatar,” the officer said. Most of them will be armed, a government official told The Telegraph.

Britain is sending Royal Navy support to the Gulf nation and trained local forces in venue-search techniques, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defence.

Turkey will provide 3,000 riot police along with sniffer dogs.

But this deployment will mark the first time that Pakistan’s soldiers have been sent abroad to provide security at an international sporting event.

Fans will be allowed to drink in the Islamic nation in special zones open 19 hours a day.

The Pakistani military is under pressure at home with Imran Khan, the former prime minister, alleging it oversaw his removal from power, and MPs in his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) opposition party claiming it was behind an attempt on his life earlier this month. Mr Khan was shot in the leg at a public rally.

“The decision to send troops to the World Cup is certainly a risk,” said Michael Kugelman, South Asia Institute director at The Wilson Center think tank.

“The last thing [Pakistan’s army] needs is a new embarrassment, such as a case of nervous, trigger-happy troops, in an environment they’re not familiar with, acting in a way that leads to violence.”

'Geopolitical compulsions at play'

“I see geopolitical compulsions at play,” Mr Kugelman said. “Qatar is a key economic partner… providing troops can be seen as a way of helping advance a relationship that Islamabad takes very seriously.”

Pakistan agreed to send the soldiers in August shortly after Qatar invested $2 billion in the country, helping it fend off an economic crisis.

On Wednesday, a video was shared online of Pakistani soldiers in a large tent in Qatar, cheering on the national cricket team in its T20 World Cup match against New Zealand.

An eight-strong team from Fifa travelled to Pakistan in September to give security training to the deploying troops.

“They (the Fifa team) shared the information about the exit and entry to the stadium, security of football teams, and other security aspects of the global event,” a Pakistani official told The Telegraph.

Qatar calls up hundreds for military service

Pakistan’s army has sent troops to other key Islamic partners in recent years, including a delegation to Saudi Arabia to train local forces in 2018. In 1979, special forces from Islamabad helped take out revolutionaries who had seized Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, in an effort to topple the House of Saud.

Qatar began mandatory military service in 2014, four years after it won the World Cup, with men between 18 and 35 required to spend four months with the army.

In an indication of the logistical challenges faced by the tiny Gulf nation in hosting the world’s largest sporting event, Doha has summoned back diplomats and called up hundreds of civilians for military service over the World Cup, according to Reuters.

They have been trained to manage stadium security queues, frisk fans and detect contraband such as alcohol, drugs or weapons.

Around 3,000 to 4,000 England fans are expected to travel to Qatar for the group stages, with numbers set to increase if the Three Lions reach the knockout stages.  

The final will be played on Sunday December 18.

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