Minister for defense, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, has confirmed on GEO TV’s program Jirga, with Anchor person Saleem Safi that the government has given approval for General (retd) Raheel Sharif to lead 34-nations Islamic Military Alliance.
The defense minister further said that the Saudi government had in writing requested Pakistan for General Raheel’s services. When asked if the former COAS had also asked the government for permission, Asif replied, “[It was not needed after] the two countries have had an agreement.”
The minister termed it only a matter of time before the former army chief leaves for Saudi Arabia to “put a structure in place for the alliance”. There isn’t any structure [of the alliance] as yet and General Raheel will adopt a framework after arriving in the country.”
Read more: Can Raheel Sharif help to improve tense relations between Saudis and Pakistanis?
In 2015 Saudi Arab, oil-exporting giant announced the formation of Islamic Military Alliance comprising 34 Islamic nations to fight terrorism, especially to tackle ISIS.
General Sharif, after his retirement in November 2016, was officially offered this role by Saudi Arabia as Chief of the Islamic Military Alliance. Although, talk about the Saudi’s being keen on him taking this position, was being floated many months earlier. Khawaja Asif had himself announced on January 6 the appointment of General Sharif’s new job in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. However, at that time he said that the formal process of government’s approval – issuance of NOC for him to take the position- is still pending. Indeed he was unclear whether the General even needed one since overseas jobs of this nature, had never come up before and the Defence rules did not have laws concerning it.
In 2015, Saudi Arabia, announced the formation of Islamic Military Alliance comprising 34 Islamic nations to fight terrorism, especially to tackle ISIS; but, at the time Saudi Arabia was also deeply embroiled in Yemen and had asked for Pakistan’s military help by joining in the war.
The Pakistani parliament rejected the request after it was decided it should not take sides between any of its neighbors or other friendly countries. It was believed it would acerbate internal sectarian issues in Pakistan. The nature of ‘Islamic Military Alliance’ is still ambiguous since all the countries that are members are Sunni majority states. This initially made Pakistani’s wary about the purpose of this alliance. However, it still went on to join despite internal parliamentary opposition.
Iran, a regional and historic rival of Saudi Arabia, has not joined this alliance. Saudi Arabia with the support of the Gulf countries has been engaged in war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015. Pakistan has to balance its interests with Saudi Arabia, with that of its neighbor Iran as well.
Read more: Pakistan Army engagement in the Middle East: Walking a fine line between Saudi Arabia & Iran?
The Saudi government had in writing requested Pakistan for Gen Raheel’s services.
General Sharif played a key role to eradicate terrorism in Pakistan. In December 2014, after the attack on a military school in Peshawar, Pakistan Army launched a robust operation – Zarb e Azb – against TTP and other non-state belligerents in the tribal areas of Pakistan. This operation yielded significant improvement in overall security in the country; tribal areas came under government’s control which once used to be ‘no go areas’. General Sharif earned accolades not only in Pakistan but also internationally.
By taking the command, General Raheel would give the alliance the credibility it needs
However, Pakistanis have generally been critical of his taking this position in Saudi Arabia. Earlier, during a TV interview former President Musharraf said, “Raheel Sharif served as the army chief of Pakistan and he should think over the issue,” he went on to say “Pakistan should think 100 times before being involved in any sectarian issue,” he said. PTI Senator Azam Swati is on record saying, “If this appointment would be made then it would also affect Pakistan’s international relations. Apparently, this alliance is against terrorism, and if Iran would make another alliance in future, and he takes another general from Pakistan to lead it then the problems relating to sectarianism would also arise.”
Read more: No rules apply to Raheel Sharif taking a job in Saudi Arabia…
Dr James Dorsey, Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Relations Analyst, agrees with critics inside Pakistan, saying that Raheel Sharif’s acceptance of this post amounts to “By taking the command, General Raheel would give the alliance the credibility it needs: a non-Arab commander from one of the world’s most populous Muslim countries who commanded not only one of the Muslim world’s largest militaries but also one that possesses nuclear weapons.”
Khawaja Asif’s comments to Saleem Safi, that General Raheel Sharif does not need to apply for a NOC now since his going has been approved between governments, is even more disturbing than if General Raheel Sharif was taking this as a post-retirement job himself as an individual. Khawaja Asif’s comments imply that the state of Pakistan will now be fully involved in the actions of the retired General and thus has to take responsibility of this military alliance funded and supported by the Saudi’s.
Khawaja Asif also confirmed that the military alliance had an advisory council that comprised of the defense ministers of all member countries of the alliance, would hold its first meeting in May.