KARACHI: Former army chief retired Gen Raheel Sharif is said to be on his way to becoming the top commander of a Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance.
Gen Raheel retired in November last year after completing his three-year term as the chief of the army staff. When he was in office, rumours were rife that Saudi Arabia wanted him to command the alliance of Muslim countries, to which Pakistan is also a part, for fighting terrorism and extremism.
According to media reports, Gen Raheel went to Saudi Arabia on Dec 27 on a special invitation of the Saudi government. Details of his visit were not made public, but social media was abuzz with reports that he had formally accepted the offer to command the coalition. The Wikipedia page of the Islamic Military Alliance also contained his name as the commander in chief.
When quizzed on the subject in a Geo News programme, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif indirectly confirmed that Gen Raheel had been made the chief of the 39-nation coalition to combat terrorism.
Talat Hussain, the host of the TV programme, asked the minister whether Gen Raheel had accepted the position after getting government’s permission. “I don’t know its details as this thing was finalised a day or two ago so…definitely it would include our government’s approval as he could not independently assume a responsibility,” he said.
The minister went on to say that any such assignment or posting required proper clearance both from the federal government and the General Headquarters (GHQ) and a due process was followed before finalising the agreement.
“As you are aware that this thing was in the pipeline for quite some time and the prime minister was also part of the deliberations,” he added.
The defence minister’s vague remarks notwithstanding, there is no official confirmation on Gen Raheel’s appointment.
In a thinly veiled reference to the exclusion of some countries, including Iran, Iraq and Syria, the minister said he believed that the whole Ummah should be part of this alliance “without any exception”.
If Gen Raheel heads the Saudi-led alliance, he would be the first army chief to have accepted a military job after retirement.
In recent history, former COAS Gen Jehangir Karamat was the only one who had accepted a government offer to work as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States during the tenure of former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf.
Gen Karamat had returned to an active job in 2004 — six years after he resigned as the army chief.
The Saudi-led military alliance was announced on Dec 15, 2015, “to fight terrorism, with a joint operations centre based in Riyadh to coordinate and support military operations”.
It was said that the alliance had “a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organisations whatever their sect and name which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorise the innocent”.
Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and many Gulf Arab and African states are included in the alliance. However, Iran is not among the member states.
Pakistan had confirmed its participation in the alliance but said at the time that it was awaiting further details to decide “the extent of its participation in different activities of the alliance”.
The United States had also welcomed the formation of the alliance and said that an intensification of the effort against the militant Islamic State group as well as against other terrorist network was a welcome move.