There is something distinctly unedifying for all concerned around the confusing — and conflicting — statements being made about the appointment of General (retd) Raheel Sharif as leader of the 39-nation military coalition put together by Saudi Arabia. The majority of the confusion is down to the principal players, the General and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif. The latter has now told the Senate that the former Chief of Army Staff has not after all obtained the clearance of the government before taking up the position. This is at variance with reports on social media that he had, further reinforced when Asif himself indirectly confirmed the development during the course of a TV show. Keen to muddy the water further Asif said that a retired officer needs an NOC from the defence ministry before seeking employment with any government department — and then said that the rule does not apply to re-employment outside the country and anyway, we ask, since when might this Saudi-brokered coalition membership of which we have declined have become a Pakistan government department? And how — by osmosis?
Other reports of more dubious provenance circulating on the internet say that the General (retd) would not be taking up the post unless Iran were included in the military alliance to avoid any accusations of it being of a sectarian nature, and that he will have the freedom to operate as an arbitrator in the many disputes in the Middle East. Neither of these is verifiable and neither has either been denied. Allowing such material to go un-remarked serves nobody well. Naturally Mr Asif made reference to both as if they were matters of established fact, but the Internet can be more dangerous than any minefield for the unwary of step.
What is thus far missing is a definitive statement regarding this appointment from the General (retd) himself giving chapter and verse. A joint sitting of parliament has already vetoed Pakistan membership of the alliance and there has been no defining comment by the Saudi government. All in all a textbook example of how not to handle a sensitive and important issue. Clarity please, gentlemen.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2017.
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