Retired army chief Gen Raheel Sharif has left for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to head a 41-nation military alliance, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on Friday.
The reports suggested that the former chief of army staff was granted approval to serve as head of the alliance for three years.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told Geo News that Sharif had been “given permission to head the military alliance after due process”.
Geo News said Sharif departed for Riyadh earlier today on a special aircraft and was accompanied by his wife and mother on the flight.
Concerns about the Saudi military alliance
The 41-nation armed coalition was initially proposed as a platform for security cooperation among Muslim countries, and included provisions for training, equipment and troops, and the involvement of religious scholars for devising a counter-terrorism narrative.
Since news of the alliance first surfaced, there have been concerns about its nature and how it may affect a pre-existing parliamentary resolution on Yemen passed unanimously by lawmakers calling for “neutrality in the conflict” in 2015.
Minister for Defence Khawaja Asif has time and again reassured the nation that Pakistan’s stance on Yemen would not suffer due to this new-found coalition.
In the latest of these reassurances, on April 13, Asif told the National Assembly:”We will stick to our prerogative when it comes to Yemen, and the agreement we have will remain binding.”
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Shireen Mazari raised concerns in the NA, saying that a military alliance cannot be a solution to terrorism. The PTI urged the government to determine the nature and purpose of the alliance and make its Terms of Reference clear.
“There are at least 10 militaries present in the alliance who are also a part of a Saudi alliance against Yemen,” Mazari earlier cautioned.
PTI’s Asad Umer had said, “The matter is not of Raheel Sharif’s appointment, the question is if we should be part of the alliance or not.”
Earlier this week in a meeting at GHQ in Rawalpindi, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa assured Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoost that Pak-Iran bilateral ties would remain unaffected by recent developments.
Extraordinary importance was attached to the meeting by diplomatic circles because it was the second between the two in around six weeks, a rare happening in Pakistan-Iran relations given the mutual mistrust.
“Pakistan greatly values historic Pak-Iran relationship and the same shall continue based on mutual trust and respect for each other’s interests,” Gen Bajwa told Amb Honardoost.