Pakistan to assuage Iran’s fears on Raheel’s role

Published: April 3, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Iran appear to be at odds over the possible role of a former army chief in a Saudi Arabia-led counterterrorism alliance as Tehran has voiced its concerns over Islamabad’s decision to give the greenlight to General (retd) Raheel Sharif to lead the multi-nation coalition.

Iran is known to have opposed the Saudi initiative because of its serious differences with the oil-rich kingdom over the current unrest in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Yemen.

But this is the first time that Iran has publicly expressed its displeasure over Pakistan’s move to allow Raheel to lead the 39-nation alliance Saudi Arabia had cobbled together in December 2015.

Iran’s state IRNA news agency on Monday quoted the country’s Ambassador in Islamabad Mehdi Honardoost as saying that Tehran had reservations over the issuance of a no-objection certificate (NoC) by the Pakistan government to the former army chief.

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

Honardoost’s formal reaction came despite an assurance given to Iran at the highest level that Pakistan’s decision to join the alliance would not affect its bilateral cooperation with the Islamic Republic.

Just days before the government issued the NOC to Gen Raheel, the Iranian envoy had visited the General Headquarters (GHQ) where army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa gave him a categorical assurance that Islamabad’s decision would not hurt Tehran’s interests.

Sources with the knowledge of the meeting told The Express Tribune that Gen Qamar told the Iranian envoy that his country should not be concerned over Pakistan’s decision to join the Saudi alliance.

Govt to allow Raheel Sharif to lead Saudi-led alliance

The army chief also informed Honardoost that Pakistan ‘values its bilateral ties with Iran’ and joining the alliance would not damage the relationship.

Responding to Iran’s concerns, Gen Qamar said Pakistan had never objected to Tehran’s close ties with New Delhi and, therefore, Pakistan expected Iran to respect the decision over the Saudi alliance.

Not only the army chief took the Iranian leadership into confidence but Adviser to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz had also travelled to Tehran in late February to address the neighbouring country’s concerns.

Sources said General Qamar might visit Iran in the coming days to assuage fears of the Iranian leadership over the controversial alliance.

Pakistan has traditionally maintained a delicate balance in its relationship with Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have serious differences due to the unrest in Syria and Yemen. Iran suspects that the Saudi initiative is not meant for fighting terrorism but to further a ‘sectarian’ agenda.

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

Riyadh says the alliance has been formed to counter terrorism; however, it has not spelt out a clear roadmap for it. Pakistan has agreed in principle to join the alliance but the extent of its cooperation is also not known.

Officials said Pakistan has clearly told Saudi Arabia that its participation would be strictly for the purpose of fighting terrorism and that it would not become part of any campaign against any other country, including Iran.

Gen Raheel reportedly accepted the offer on the condition that countries such as Iran would also be invited to join the group in order to make it a broad-based initiative and dispel the impression about its sectarian outlook.

However, given its serious differences with Saudi Arabia, Iran is highly unlikely to accept such an offer leaving a daunting challenge for Pakistan to avoid being dragged into the Iran-Arab rivalry.

Opposition parties including the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf are also skeptical of Gen Raheel’s role in the Saudi alliance.

Both the parties consider the decision as violation of parliament’s resolution passed in April 2015 that called for maintaining the policy of ‘neutrality’, particularly in the ongoing conflict of Yemen.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said Saudi Arabia had requested for the services of Gen Raheel Sharif and the government has decided in principle to approve this request.

“However, Gen Raheel will have to apply for that or Saudi Arabia will have to write. A [formal] permission will be granted in the light of the rules of the Ministry of Defence,” Asif said while talking to Javed Chaudhry – the host of Express News’s talk show Kal Tak.

The defence minister said there should be no problem granting this permission ‘if there is no violation of the rules’. “The terms of reference including duration of the job will become clear after the meeting of the alliance which is due in May,” he said.

Asif said this was an alliance against terrorism and Gen Raheel’s appointment was not in violation of the 2015 resolution of the parliament, which said that Pakistan should not embroil itself in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will mediate in case of any conflict. If any brother country asks for help in case of any aggression, Pakistan will help. Our forces have been in Jordan and Syria in the past,” he said.


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Reader Comments (36)

  • Komal S
    Apr 3, 2017 - 1:21PM

    Why is it so important for a country like Pakistan to be in this coalition? Iran is not going to be please, in turn Russians will not be happy. Might be a good personal pride for the ex-general, but does not make sense for Pakistan.Recommend

  • jacob
    Apr 3, 2017 - 1:56PM

    Is Iran willing to jeopardise its relations with pakistan for India?Recommend

  • salman
    Apr 3, 2017 - 1:57PM

    @Komal S:

    GCC will pay you good for it so that’s ok. Not backing Saudis here was like isolating yourself which your arch enemy actually dearly wanted.Recommend

  • Shakeel Ahmed
    Apr 3, 2017 - 2:09PM

    This is an internal matter for the government of Pakistan. Iran’s happiness should have no bearing on our security policy. Iran has actively been promoting terrorism in Yemen, it has promoted political agitation in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, it has supported a dictator with militias in Syria, it has provided sectarian militias in Iraq, it has helped Hizbollah run a seperate military and political system in Lebanon, a decision that led Lebanon to war with Israel a few years ago. Pakistan has never told Iran what to do in these matters. Recommend

  • Feroz
    Apr 3, 2017 - 2:28PM

    When there is a Parliamentary resolution passed asking for neutrality in the middle-east disputes, where was the decision to joining the Saudi alliance taken ? While both foreign countries as well as local citizens know that Mullah/Military combination controls ideology, narrative as well as decision making and street power, such contempt for the peoples will deserves condemnation in the strongest terms. Media must not be a party to the game of deflection and deception being played. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Apr 3, 2017 - 2:28PM

    @Komal S:
    how many times Pakistan democracy can withstand the encroachment from its military stallwarts and how many times the democracy has to get rid of them by their exiles into the desert land. Iran need not worry about the retired fortune soldiers who knows nothing beyond following orders.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Master
    Apr 3, 2017 - 2:35PM

    Iran didnot asked Pakistan before making Chah bahar port with our sworn enemy india.they are doing that in their national why we should leave 39 countries only for one country and get isolated?
    Iran is sending spies in form of uzair baloch and expect that Pakistan will leave 39 countries for Iran?Rubbish Recommend

  • Parvez
    Apr 3, 2017 - 3:04PM

    PML-N has put Pakistan in an embarrassing position….why ?Recommend

  • riz
    Apr 3, 2017 - 3:11PM

    Why Iran not asked Pak before allowing India for developing the Chahbahar port.Recommend

  • Prabhjyot singh madan
    Apr 3, 2017 - 3:13PM

    There goes Iran your another neighbour on the south western border. Congratulations to general raheel and to Pakistan and please start sending troops soon. Best of luckRecommend

  • Faisal
    Apr 3, 2017 - 3:37PM

    Millions of Pakistanis work in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries and send billions of dollars in remittances every year to Pakistan that helps the economy. We should look at what is our interest rather than what suits Iran.
    Biggest Proof it was the right decision: India is upset at Gulf Arabs choosing a Pakistan General to lead their armies! Recommend

  • Xnain
    Apr 3, 2017 - 5:11PM

    @Komal S:
    I remember Ruhani’s statement before Pakistani press that Iran can’t build relationships with Pakistan on at the cost of relationships with India. And now asking Pakistan to cost the relationships with entire GCC block for sake of herself. Iran can start by deporting the raw operatives from Chahbahar to have sound grounds for making such demands. Recommend

  • Perpective
    Apr 3, 2017 - 5:24PM

    The Saudi-led military alliance is a reaction to Iran’s fomenting trouble around Saudi Arabia. Iran is trying to encircle that country by using Iraq, Syria, and now has actively engaged in overthrowing the legitimate regime in Yemen, where it is attempting to entrench a minority government subservient to its strategic interests. It is well known that Iran has supplied military hardware to the rebels in Yemen and there are credible reports of its soldiers actively participation in the fighting there.
    In such a background, the Saudis have felt threatened and have formed the alliance in question. Pakistan is only interested in assuring the integrity and inviolability of Saudi Arabia and would not participate by sending its soldiers in Yemen or against Iran, anywhere. Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Apr 3, 2017 - 5:40PM

    It’s alliance of 39 Muslim countries. Pakistan is the only nuclear state in 39 countries, therefore it deserves to lead it. Iran is jealous, other opponents of this Alliance are terrorists and their supporters. Should we stand up with our friends or should we follow countries like Iran and people like Taliban Khan? Recommend

  • Reader
    Apr 3, 2017 - 5:57PM

    Hands off Iran. This is our internal matter. Better explain what RAW agents are doing in Iran?Recommend

  • Mohammad Asad Afridi
    Apr 3, 2017 - 6:30PM

    Who is Iran or for that matter anyone to have any concerns what so ever about what we do. Pakistan must do everything that is in our national interest and the rest is all crapcrap talkRecommend

  • Shahid
    Apr 3, 2017 - 6:34PM

    Pakistan interests are deeply tied with S.Arabia. There are two million Pakistani employed in Saudi Arabia. How many Pakistanis are employed in Iran ? None.Irans only aim is to propagate Shiaism and can go to any extent for that. Irans hands are deeply stained with innocent Syrian blood.They are a rich country. But not willing to help Pakistan by financing their gas line into Pakistan. Lastly do they ever ask or care what Pakistan thinks before making their policies ? A big no is the answerRecommend

  • Ameer Qaisrani
    Apr 3, 2017 - 7:04PM

    Iran being selfish here. It should also join the allianceRecommend

  • sajjad
    Apr 3, 2017 - 7:38PM

    Pakistan is not Lucky with uts neighbours. Unfortunately Pakistan has no real friend and is left with no choice but to look for its own Benefit. This is a very bitter Truth that Two of its neighbours have more loyality towards India than Pakistan and as of Current status pakistan Must stand with the GCC countries instead of TerroristRecommend

  • Juan
    Apr 3, 2017 - 7:42PM

    Seems a lot of folks have swallowed the anti-Iran propaganda that Saudi Arabia has put out, and of course a great deal of it is driven by sectarian prejudice and the paranoia is no different from rightwing US or Israeli ideologues.Recommend

  • Hugh Slaman
    Apr 3, 2017 - 8:24PM

    Dear Iran,
    Please mind your own business.

  • Juan
    Apr 3, 2017 - 10:29PM

    There are Pakistani expats in Iran, though a lot less than in Saudi Arabia, which is more desirable for economic, migration and religious reasons. While Iran does proselytize Shi’ism, it isn’t trying to do it by force (outside Iran) and this is simply sectarian anti-Shia fear mongering amongst paranoid Sunnis. While Iran is indeed guilty of siding with the regime, the situation is a lot more complex than it seems considering the makeup of the Sunni Islamist rebel opposition, supported by KSA, whom you have ‘deep interests’ with apparently. Iran, may have oil and economic opportunity but is not rich, otherwise they wouldn’t have been facing shortages thanks to sanctions, which is also partly behind the issues with Pak completing the pipeline. Recommend

  • Ibne Adam
    Apr 3, 2017 - 10:30PM

    1. Iran has supported Iraq and Syria, based on sectarian affinity.
    2. Iran has propped up rebels in Yemen with the same sect as the predominant one in Iran.

    So my dear, Iran’s actions speak clearly of sectarianism and this is no propaganda.Recommend

  • Zohair
    Apr 3, 2017 - 11:45PM

    Iran would never miss an opportunity to spread or protect shiaism. They should rather dicipinie their sect in different Arab countries to live in harmony. Is there a sunni mosque in Tehran??? They are real extremist and mind their own sect knowing that Muslim world is represented by 90% sunnis. They don’t mind to stab Pakistan by extending friendship with India. Recommend

  • Well said
    Apr 4, 2017 - 3:12AM

    Well said: “Responding to Iran’s concerns, Gen Qamar said Pakistan had never objected to Tehran’s close ties with New Delhi and, therefore, Pakistan expected Iran to respect the decision over the Saudi alliance.”
    Further, it has been clarified that Pakistan would only help protect Saudi Arabia against foreign incursions.
    Iran and that countries’ proxies in Pakistan stop being paranoid about Pakistan’s participation.Recommend

  • Fear
    Apr 4, 2017 - 4:49AM

    Iran has nothing to fear but fear itself.Recommend

  • Saqib
    Apr 4, 2017 - 9:03AM

    Who is Iran to object Gen. Raheel’s role.Recommend

  • Saeed Masood
    Apr 4, 2017 - 10:56AM

    What is Iran afraid of..?? Iran has serious problems with its foreign policies,Friendship with India, Jealousy with CPEC, Afghanistan and more…Recommend

  • Syed Amanatullah
    Apr 4, 2017 - 11:01AM

    Your comments are out of context and not focused on the topic of discussions. Recommend

  • Amar
    Apr 4, 2017 - 2:22PM

    Iran is trying to wear boots that are too big for it. It is a 380 billion GDP economy yet it tries to push its weight against as many people on a name of respect all thanks to the policies of its supreme leader they don’t know how to run a country you need to run a country like running a business work with different people lose a bit of respect in the short term but gain it back in the long termRecommend

  • Mamu
    Apr 4, 2017 - 2:41PM

    Did Iran ask Pakistan before making agreement with India? NO! Then why should Pakistan be concerned of what Iran thinks.Recommend

  • Rambo
    Apr 4, 2017 - 2:46PM

    Think of it other way round. What if Pak comes attack then will Iran help us or the 39 Muslim states? Off course the 39 Muslim states will help.Recommend

    Apr 4, 2017 - 3:42PM

    When we are sovereign state Why Pakistan government showing leniency for the issue which is not related to Iran, we do not need to take dictation from Iran as we have our own policies, agenda and relationship with other countries of the world specially with Muslim countries. We respect our neighboring countries but it doesn’t mean to allow them to interfere in our issues. It is the responsibility of Pak government to give a clear message to Iran that we are independent to take decisions in country’s interest and Iran has no right to involve in our policies. Imagine if the same situation occurred in Iran they would give us a shut-up call. The Pakistan show courage and do not take any pressure of Iran in this matter. Recommend

  • Prabhjyot singh madan
    Apr 4, 2017 - 4:42PM

    @Master: “OUR SWORN ENEMY”. I am sorry but India is not the enemy of Iran or any Muslim country except our neighbour chinestan.Recommend

  • Elli
    Apr 4, 2017 - 5:16PM

    We are proud of you General Saab (you are our hero), your help to our GCC brothers would be highly appreciated.Recommend

  • Syed Amanatullah
    Apr 4, 2017 - 10:22PM

    Discriptive analysis of Hindu society, which caused disunity among politicians during Indian independence history during 1930-40 that forced Muslim League to part ways and introction of two nations theory led to creation of Pakistan which is still not accepted by the same Birhaminsed politicians and trying to inflict any loss or damage to Pakistan.Recommend

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