Islamabad: Pakistan has agreed to allow former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif to head a Saudi Arabia-led 39-nation Islamic military coalition formed to combat terrorism, according to a media report.
This was disclosed by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif in a programme of private Geo TV.
Citing Asif, the channel said official documentation to issue the No-Objection Certificate (NOC) had not been done but the government has agreed in principle to issue the permission because the Saudi leadership had formally requested through a letter to let Raheel take up the command of the coalition.
Asif said he had visited Saudi Arabia for Umrah earlier this year, and had also met officials of the Saudi government.
In May, the advisory board of defense ministers of member countries will attend a meeting on the issue, he said, adding the structure of the alliance had not been decided so far.
“When General (Retd) Raheel Sharif joins he will define a structure,” he said.
In January this year, the defence minister had informed the Senate that the former army chief had not sought an NOC to lead a Saudi-led military alliance.
Asif had said Raheel 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.
From a few politicians to retired army officers, journalists, intellectuals all had questioned the decision of a former Pakistani army chief to join a foreign military alliance 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.