Govt to draw opposition’s ire over Raheel Sharif’s new role

Published: March 27, 2017
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Former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif

Former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif

ISLAMABAD: It is official now. Pakistan’s former army chief General (retd) Raheel Sharif will lead the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance ‘against terrorism and extremism’. The confirmation came from Defence Minister Khawaja Asif after months of speculation on whether or not the former strongman will lead the military alliance, whose objectives are still shrouded in mystery.

The news of Gen (retd) Raheel Sharif’s possible joining of the alliance first surfaced in January when Asif said the former army chief had applied for a ‘no-objection certificate’ for the job. However, Raheel at the time, through his close friends, clarified he had only agreed in principle to accept the job only if Pakistan formally became part of the alliance.

Govt to allow Raheel Sharif to lead Saudi-led alliance

Now the defence minister confirmed that a formal request had been received from Saudi Arabia and it was only a matter of time when Raheel would take up his new responsibility.

But the decision is bound to invite a strong reaction from within Pakistan, particularly from the opposition parties, which were opposed to Pakistan’s becoming a party to the conflicts in the Middle East.

In April 2015, after an extraordinary weeklong debate, parliament had unanimously approved a resolution urging the government to stay neutral in the face of demands from Riyadh to join its military campaign in Yemen.

The parliamentary snub caused an unprecedented hiccup in Pakistan’s relationship with the kingdom, which felt betrayed by Islamabad’s move.

The primary reason for Pakistan to stay away from the intra-Arab differences was due to the delicate balance it has traditionally maintained in its relationship with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Despite claims, Pakistan was not convinced the Saudi initiative was meant for fighting terrorism alone. There were fears the actual purpose of the Saudi alliance was to further its own interests in countries such as Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are at odds over these hotspots in the Middle East. And because of these complexities, Pakistan was reluctant to take sides. Against this backdrop, questions are now being raised as to what were the circumstances that prompted the government to change its policy on the issue.

Raheel Sharif named chief of Islamic military coalition, says Khawaja Asif

Officials familiar with the development told The Express Tribune that Riyadh has agreed to incorporate Pakistan’s suggestions in order to make the alliance broad-based and dispel the impression about its sectarian outlook.

Gen (retd) Raheel has already conveyed to Saudi authorities that he should be given complete freedom on how to run the alliance. He is also thought to have mooted the idea of inclusion of Iran into the military alliance.

One official said Pakistan had informed Iran about its decision of allowing Raheel to lead the alliance. For this purpose, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz travelled to Tehran in February and took the Iranian leadership into confidence.

Tehran is wary of the Saudi-led alliance, though. In late January, Allaudin Boroujerdi, the head of Iranian parliament’s committee on national security and foreign policy, visited Pakistan and when asked whether his country would join the Saudi alliance, he had alleged that the Saudi move was only meant to ‘kill innocent people in Yemen’. “Therefore, no one would like to become a part of such a coalition.” he told a news conference in Islamabad.

The initial reaction from the opposition suggests the government is going to face tough time in and outside parliament. “Pakistan cannot afford to enter into any intra-Muslim states’ power games, especially those with sectarian overtones,” said Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s senior leader Shireen Mazari.

She said the government was undermining parliament’s resolution on Yemen by allowing Gen (retd) Raheel to head the Saudi alliance. “Parliament doesn’t want Pakistan getting even remotely involved in any conflict that has or could have sectarian undertones,” she added.

Gen Raheel helped me leave Pakistan: Musharraf

The reaction from the Pakistan Peoples Party was also swift.

PPP’s Secretary General Farhatullah Babar told The Express Tribune that Sartaj Aziz had agreed to take the Senate into confidence about the implications of such a foreign policy decision when the news first came in January.

“I hope the adviser will take the house into confidence and explain the circumstances and reasons under which this extraordinary decision has been taken,” he added.

There were no details available yet about the government’s decision but officials privately insist that there is no policy shift. They claim that as agreed in parliament’s resolution, Pakistan would not send ground forces to any other Muslim country.

Defence Analyst Lt Gen (retd) Talat Masood hopes the government would stick to its historic approach and not join any alliance at the expanse of its relationship with other Muslim countries namely Iran.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • abreez
    Mar 27, 2017 - 9:11AM

    Someone close to Ex-Crown Prince kindly tell him the story of Gen. Bakht Khan and his role in Mughal army in 1857. After some time our ex-Crown Prince will take the credit of all bad things and credit of good things will go to current Saudi defense minister and future king of a virtual kingdom.Recommend

  • SK
    Mar 27, 2017 - 9:13AM

    Pathetic decision and it MUST be protested with gull mightRecommend

  • MS
    Mar 27, 2017 - 9:56AM

    It’s an honor for Pakistan. This Alliance is to fight terrorism and not against any particular country. Only terrorists and their supporters would oppose it. Other countries have Military Alliances too and someone from member countries lead that Alliance. Recommend

  • MU
    Mar 27, 2017 - 10:25AM

    It’s a good move for the unity of Muslim countries. I hope Iran will also join and stop creating trouble in Syria, Iraq and Yemen Recommend

  • Zahid
    Mar 27, 2017 - 10:40AM

    Raheel Sharif personal ambitions at play that placed the government in awkward situation. A retired COAS agrees to take a high paying job with Saudi Alliance and requests government for permission. Government had already refused to join the Saudi Alliance in 2015. If government refuses permission to ex COAS we damage our relationship with Saudi Arabia. If government allows then government is bad? Really. This is what comes out when we the people worship personality cults rather than strengthening institutions. Raheel Sharif thanks. Hopefully our people and thus leader wake up. Recommend

  • Diplodocus
    Mar 27, 2017 - 10:52AM

    @MU:
    US, Qatar are the one that created Syrian mess. Recommend

  • RK Singh
    Mar 27, 2017 - 11:20AM

    Last time Zia-Ul-Haq joined such an alliance- he was responsible for the genocide of thousands of Palestinians in Jordan. Remember Black September Massacre? And hilariously Pakistanis are “supporting” Palestinian cause.Recommend

  • Master
    Mar 27, 2017 - 12:59PM

    Alot of Pakistanis are opposing this Alliance created by KSA.they should know how heavily pakistan is dependent on gulf countries for economic assistance.we can’t afford staying away from them,
    moreover Iran is interfering in it’s neighborhoods without any reason.they are supporting rebels in yemen by giving them weapons.so they should be told they are doing wrong.plus majority of Mulsim countries are part of this alliance and Majority is authority!Recommend

  • Asif
    Mar 27, 2017 - 1:27PM

    This agreement should only be between Saudi Govt and Gen Raheel, and pakistan govt should have no stakes officially in this agreement, and subsequently forces alliance. It may become highly controversial for Pakistan Govt if Saudi Govt pushes Gen Raheel to carry out some moves opposed by the Pakistan Govt or Iran. Iran ultimately would blame Pakistan. Pakistan Govt must declare they have nothing to do with this arrangement. Recommend

  • Shahid
    Mar 27, 2017 - 1:30PM

    This is so wrong. He shouldn’t be allowed to take up this role. Nothing good will come out for Pakistan, only bad.Recommend

  • BrainBro
    Mar 27, 2017 - 1:54PM

    A retired bureaucrat aka government officer, has no power, even a general doesn’t. Why is the government of Pakistan obliging this man so much now.Recommend

  • MU
    Mar 27, 2017 - 3:04PM

    @Diplodocus:
    I think so it’s Russia and USA that are behind this mess in Syria and muslims are being used (Shia and Sunni divide) by these two countries to fight proxy war for them. I think so Iran should join this alliance to tell the rest of the world that we are united. KSA should also stop thinking that they are superior muslims to unite Muslim world. This is vital for global peace and to stop Muslims from being used by western powers for their agendasRecommend

  • Chamcha
    Mar 27, 2017 - 4:58PM

    Thank you Raheel Sharif!Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Mar 27, 2017 - 5:45PM

    General Raheel’s present role is an extension of what he did in Pakistan. Nobody in Pakistan fought against terrorist as he did. His services were appreciated by everyone including those who are condemning him now. If there had been no Iranian factor, they would be comparing him with Saladin. Recommend

  • illpopo
    Mar 27, 2017 - 5:59PM

    It is widely believed that Raheel Sharif is a true Muslim and sensible person and we expect he wouldn’t go against ummah! Recommend

  • Hidden truth
    Mar 27, 2017 - 9:06PM

    These kind of decisions are not made on civilian level but somewhere else. But prima facia is that of the gov. to bear the brunt.Recommend

  • AHS
    Mar 28, 2017 - 12:04AM

    The guy needs a job as he was an honest General ! unlike other Generals who either created a coup or became presidents or cut real estate deals this General did not.So after all pension is not enough to survive with Generals dignity (Pakistan Style), but than in Pakistan their is not such thing as a cooperative sector for him to become a consultant except the media , he cant get a good job in the USA hence it has to be Saudi Arabia. Recommend

  • Let
    Mar 28, 2017 - 4:52AM

    Let Iran stop propping up rebels and help restore the legitimate regime in Yemen and let Iran stop supporting the butcher Bashar Asad’s killing rampage in Syria and that country can then join this alliance. Iran should also stop supporting the terror organization operating in Lebanon with the name of “Hezbollah.”
    This alliance is a reaction to Iran’s trouble-making in Yemen, Syria, and in general against its expansionist policies. Ancient Persia did practice imperialism and Iranians also fought the Greeks. As such old traditions seem to resurface in modern Iran.Recommend

  • reader
    Mar 28, 2017 - 10:41AM

    Pakistan should stop being a tool for others. Recommend

  • Ch. KA Nye
    Mar 28, 2017 - 3:45PM

    @Shahid:

    And who is going to stop him Shahis sb.? The Government? No! The leader is beholden to the KSA. Parliament? No. They are irrelevant!Recommend

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