Parliamentary leaders question Raheel Sharif's likely appointment as head of Saudi military alliance

Published: January 10, 2017

Senate chairman Raza Rabbani on Monday directed the government to brief the House on reports regarding Raheel Sharif’s likely appointment as the chief of the Saudi military coalition.

Questioning whether the government’s permission was sought before the former army chief ‘accepted’ the role, Rabbani asked Defence Minister Khawaja Asif as to who confirmed Raheel Sharif’s appointment and what the rules were for a retired military officer to take up such a position.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Friday confirmed that General (retd) Raheel Sharif has been appointed the commander of the Saudi-led 39-nation military coalition to combat terrorism. The defence minister told a private news channel that Gen Raheel’s appointment was made a few days back and that the government was taken into confidence about the former army chief’s new role.  He, however, did not provide further details.

Rabbani sought a clarification from the Defence Ministry as to “whether any no objection certificate (NoC) was ever issued to Gen (retd) Raheel before he embarked upon a journey for a job in Saudi Arabia and if issued, who did so. And was the government taken into confidence in this context?”

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The Senate chairman also asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify the implications of the decision in terms of foreign policy and its effect on a decision.

There has so far been no official confirmation of the fact that Gen (retd) Raheel Sharif will assume command of the alliance. On Monday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar contradicted Asif’s claims and implied that the government is unaware of the former army chief’s reported decision.

Dar said any such decision will be taken in accordance with the Constitution. “The decision will be taken in accordance with the Constitution and in the larger national interest,” Dar said while responding to a question regarding the former chief’s appointment.

Dar, during an interview with a private channel, said Saudi Arabia had offered the former COAS to head the coalition forces of Islamic countries long before his retirement. “Basically while Gen (retd) Raheel was in service, Saudi Arabia expressed its desire to appoint him to lead the military coalition,” Dar said.

“It was consensus between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the government and Gen Raheel that it would be conflict of interest,” he added.

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The finance minister further said that though the former army chief is currently in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, he is unaware whether he was offered the post once again.

Pakistan has maintained a somewhat neutral policy on some of the hotspots in Middle East particularly in Syria and Yemen. The policy was aimed at ensuring a delicate balance with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are at odds with each other on the Middle Eastern politics. Gen Raheel even attempted to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran but could not achieve much success.

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