ISLAMABAD: Days after he confirmed the appointment of General (retd) Raheel Sharif as the commander of the Saudi-led 39-nation military coalition, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told the Senate that the former army chief had not obtained the government’s clearance to take the position.
Reports on social media that Gen Raheel had accepted the command of the coalition force gained credence when Asif indirectly confirmed the development on a TV show. The minister made another such affirmative remark during Monday’s Senate proceedings and had sought time to brief the house in detail on the five questions raised by the Senate chairman.
“The former army chief has not yet sought any NOC [no-objection certificate] from the government. A decision on such a request will be made in accordance with the law if and when any such application is received,”Asif said in his policy statement in the Senate on Wednesday.
In the same go, he said under the rules, a retired officer needs an NOC from the defence ministry before seeking employment in any government department. He cited a notification issued in 1998 in this regard. This notification does not cover re-employment outside country, he said, but added that he believes permission is still required.
Asif replied in negative when Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani asked if Gen Raheel had sought any permission from his parent department. He said the former army chief had proceeded to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah and not for ‘this purpose’. The minister said he had informed concerned quarters before going for Umrah but has not yet informed the defence ministry or the General Headquarters about the offer after returning on Monday.
Some retired military officers have accused the government of launching a deliberate smear campaign against the former army chief. Lt Gen (retd) Amjid Shoaib told The Express Tribune that Gen Raheel’s heading of the coalition was conditional to the Pakistan government’s decision of joining it.
Based on his recent interaction with Gen Raheel, he provided background of the issue which started with the Saudi foreign minister’s offer to former army chief during his visit to Pakistan at the time of formation of the alliance. It was decided that Saudi Arabia would provide a detailed proposal, including composition and clear role of alliance, to the government of Pakistan. If the government of Pakistan agreed to join alliance, Raheel could join it.
He said the former army chief had reservations over the composition of the alliance and had set some conditions, like the inclusion of Iran in the alliance, that he would command it with all authority at his disposal and that he would be accepted as mediator in case of any differences within the member countries.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, who was summoned by Senate to explain the foreign policy implications if Gen Raheel joins the coalition force, was more categorical. “Neither he has been offered nor is there any possibility,” he said in his brief remark adding that he will make a statement if such a situation develops.
Azam Swati of PTI also advised Raheel Sharif to decline the offer and said the consequences of joining the alliance should be kept in view. He also referred to the decision taken at the joint sitting of parliament not to become part of any coalition. He said Pakistan is a nuclear country and must tread carefully.
Ilyas Bilour of ANP warned that Pakistan will turn into Syria if it happens and he too referred to the decision taken at the joint sitting of parliament, prompting the Senate chairman to ask as to why joint sitting’s decision was being made disputable. “We will have a full-fledged debate if and when such a situation arises.
Minister for States and Frontier Regions Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch was snubbed by the Senate chairman when he said no statement from the Saudi Government had yet been issued and it was inappropriate to hold discussion on the basis of assumptions. “I think I know how to run the house. There was sufficient cause when notice had been taken,” Rabbani remarked.
PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate Taj Haider was of the view that the defence ministry should ask Gen Raheel to issue a statement to clarify the situation. Taking part in the discussion PPP’s Farhatullah Babar called it a recipe for disaster. He said that the joint sitting of parliament had unanimously said no to any participation in the military alliance and if a recently retired general went straight from GHQ to head it, it will send a very wrong and disturbing message all around.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2017.