In a U-turn, Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Wednesday said that former army chief Gen (retd) Raheel Sharif did not seek government’s permission before joining the Saudi-led 39-nation military alliance. “Gen (retd) Raheel Sharif did not submit any application for a no objection certificate (NOC). There’s nothing in our notice,” the defence minister said in response to Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani’s query.
Asif said the former army chief had returned to Pakistan after performing Umrah in Saudi Arabia and if he applies for the NOC, then it will be decided according to law, the Express Tribune reported. Senate Chairman Rabbani on Monday asked Asif to brief the House whether Gen Raheel had sought permission from the government or taken it into confidence over his decision to head the Saudi-led military alliance to combat terrorism.
Rabbani had also asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify what would be the implications of the decision in terms of foreign policy and its effect on a decision, taken at the joint sitting of parliament, not to become part of any such alliance. Earlier, Defence Minister Asif said last Friday that the former army chief had been appointed the commander of the Saudi-led military coalition.
He went on to say that the government was taken into confidence about the former army chief’s new role. Questioning whether the government’s permission was sought before Raheel “accepted” the role, Rabbani had asked Asif as to who confirmed his appointment and what the rules were for a retired army officer to take up such a position. From a few politicians to retired army officers, journalists, intellectuals — all questioned the decision of a former Pakistani army chief to join a foreign military alliance less than two months after his retirement.
Pakistani leaders were initially taken aback when Saudi Arabia, without proper consultation with them, had announced in 2015 that Islamabad was also part of the new alliance. Iran was not included in the grouping which appeared as a vague attempt to forge a Sunni Muslim alliance against Shiite Iran to curtail its influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and rest of the Middle East. Pakistan was in an unenviable position as it has good ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. It was also not ready to be dragged into the politics of Middle East. Later, Pakistan confirmed its participation in the alliance, but had said that the scope of its participation would be defined after Riyadh shared the details of the coalition it was assembling.
According to Saudi Arabia, the alliance is formed to fight ISIS and other militant outfits.