Minister for Defence Khawaja Muhammad Asif on Friday revealed that former army chief General Raheel Sharif has left for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to head the 41-nation military alliance.
Talking to journalists, he said that Raheel Sharif had been given permission to head the military alliance after completion of all legal formalities and requirements by the federal government. However, the military sources said that the former army chief was granted approval to serve as head of the alliance for three years.
They said that the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army had also accorded a nod to Raheel’s posting according to the established procedures and rules. The government sources said that the former army chief had departed for Riyadh on Friday on a special aircraft of the Saudi government and was accompanied by his wife and mother.
Initially, the military coalition was proposed as a platform for security cooperation among Muslim countries and included provisions for training, equipment and troops, and the involvement of religious scholars for devising a counter-terrorism narrative.
Since news of the alliance first surfaced, there have been concerns about its nature and how it may affect a pre-existing parliamentary resolution on Yemen passed unanimously by the lawmakers calling for neutrality in the conflict in 2015.
A diplomatic source told Pakistan Today that it was a decision by the government to grant NoC to Raheel Sharif as the alliance was purely to counter the threats of terrorism. Requesting anonymity, the source said that the alliance was aimed at fighting the terrorists who were escaping wars in Syria and Iraq.
“Since the terrorists are fast fleeing Iraq and Syria after successive defeats in war, the countries of the region fear the remnants of the Islamic State and other outfits may return to Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries of the Middle East region. The alliance is aimed at taking measures not to allow these terrorists a foothold in the region,” it said.
The official said that it was not only the countries of the Gulf but all other states, from where terrorists had joined the Islamic State and other outfits active in Iraq and Syria, were taking measures to disallow return of the militants. “You know, Russia has already launched efforts to disallow Chechen fighters go back to Russia and other countries of the central Asia,” it said.
In this regard, “measures are being taken to round up terrorists. The Muslim countries are also ensuring to deny any foothold to such terrorists,” the official added. Asked what Pakistan would get out of joining the alliance, he said that the alliance was purely to fight terrorism. However, he said that Pakistan would also reinforce its clout by its former army chief leading the alliance.
“Don’t you think it’s a privilege for Pakistan that its former army chief, who led a successful operations against terrorists, is now leading the Islamic alliance against terrorism? It is a huge success which would have other dividends too,” the official added. About other dividends, the official said those leading a military alliance means more opportunities in military alliances, trade, investment and oil business too.
The official said that this would not only cement Pakistan’s relations with the Muslim countries but also it would help this nation wield more influence among the countries of the Middle East. Asked whether or not the move may send negative signals to Iran, Iraq and some other countries not part of the alliance, the official said that Iran had been taken into confidence over the subject.
“We have conveyed Iran not to panic and Gen Raheel would try to engage with Iran and other remaining Muslim countries when appropriate. Iran must stay confident that while Pakistan is there, its interests would be taken care of,” he said. Earlier this week, in a meeting at GHQ in Rawalpindi, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had assured Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoost that Pak-Iran ties would remain unaffected by recent developments.
Extraordinary importance was attached to the meeting by diplomatic circles because it was the second between the two in around six weeks, a rare happening in Pakistan-Iran relations given the mutual mistrust. Senator Farhatullah Babar, the PPP secretary-general, told Pakistan Today that neither the parliament nor his party lawmakers had been taken into confidence by the government prior to the issuance of the NoC to Raheel Sharif.
“Defence minister had assured during his briefing to the Senate recently that before issuing the NoC to Gen Raheel, the government will explain about the terms of engagement (ToEs), terms of reference (TORs) for joining the multinational force. However, it is disappointing to note that the minister has failed to keep his promise made at the floor of the House,” he said.
However, Senator Babar hoped that the government would soon take the parliament into confidence over the matter. “One doesn’t know about the ToRs and ToEs since the meeting of foreign ministers of the alliance have yet not taken place. It is a possibility that the government might have taken the decision to join the alliance in national interest, but they should have taken the parliament into confidence before making the decision,” he added.
Dr Shireen Mazari also complained about the government in keeping its promise to take the parliament into confidence before taking a decision. She said that in his speech at the floor of the House on April 13, the defence minister had promised to take the parliament into confidence before any decision but the parliament was again ignored and the NoC was reportedly issued silently.