Friday, January 06, 2017

Defence minister confirms Raheel Sharif's appointment to Islamic military alliance

The Saudi-led 39-nation military coalition was formed to "support military operations to fight terrorism"


ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Friday confirmed that former Army Chief General (retd) Raheel Sharif has been appointed to a Saudi-led 39-nation military alliance of Islamic countries to combat terrorism.

Speaking to senior journalist Talat Hussain during Geo News program Naya Pakistan, Asif said the decision was finalised in the past two or three days.

"Raheel Sharif has been made the captain of the Saudi alliance. Did he do this after asking the government?" asked Hussain, to which Asif replied: "I do not know the details. This was finalised only two or three days ago, so I will not comment much on this."

The minister said the decision to appoint the retired general, who spearheaded a campaign against militants at home, was taken with the consent of both the Army's General Headquarters and the government of Pakistan.

"No, definitely our government's consent must have been part of this," he replied when asked if the decision was taken in Riyadh or Islamabad.

The defence minister further said that "all proper clearances are taken" in such decisions.

"Right now, [I’m not sure] what is the shape or tenure of this…but this was ongoing for some time. You know, a 34 country alliance was formed. The prime minister also went there and a joint exercise took place.

"Now the alliance has grown from 34 nations to 39, with the inclusion of Turkey, Malaysia, and other countries. I think, without any exception, the entire Ummah should be part of this," he said.

According to rules in Pakistan, retired army chiefs have a two-year restriction that bar them from even giving media interviews and public speeches for two years after their stepping down.

"Within two years if there is any retired general or those who have served in the security forces, if they take any new appointment, even within the government, there is clearance for even that," he said.

Islamic coalition formed to combat terrorism

News of the alliance's formation was first reported in December 2015, with reports of Middle Eastern, African and Asian states including Saudi Arabia, Gulf states, Pakistan, Egypt being part of the then 34 nation coalition.

The objective of the Saudi-led alliance was "to coordinate and support military operations to fight terrorism".

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Sudan, Malaysia, Egypt, Yemen and other Muslim countries are said to be part of the coalition. The Joint Command Centre, headquarters of the military alliance is located in Riyadh.

The coalition would tackle "the Islamic world's problem with terrorism and will be a partner in the worldwide fight against this scourge" announced Saudi defence minister and deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud at a press conference in Riyadh in 2015.

Arrangements would be made for "coordination with friendly peace-loving nations and international bodies for the sake of supporting international efforts to combat terrorism and to save international peace and security", he had said.

Salman told reporters that the campaign would "coordinate" efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan, but offered few concrete indications of how military efforts might proceed.

"There will be international coordination with major powers and international organisations ... in terms of operations in Syria and Iraq. We can't undertake these operations without coordinating with legitimacy in this place and the international community," bin Salman said without elaborating.

Asked if the new alliance would focus just on Islamic State (Daesh), bin Salman said it would confront not only that group but "any terrorist organisation that appears in front of us".