Pakistan today defended the appointment of its former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif as the head of a Saudi-led multi-national military coalition against terrorism, saying the alliance is not against any country, a day after Iran raised its concern on the issue. “The Islamic (military) alliance is against terrorism, not any (specific) country,” Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua today said during a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs here.
The meeting discussed the issue of clearance given to former army chief to lead the Saudi-led 41-nation military alliance and Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Referring to ex-army chief’s appointment, Janjua said, “any retired military officer is free to accept any job.”
Her remarks came a day after Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted the Islamic republic’s Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost as saying that Tehran had conveyed its concerns to Islamabad.
“We are concerned about this issue… that it may impact the unity of Islamic countries,” Honardoost said.
Gen Sharif, who retired as Pakistan’s army chief last November, is likely to assume command of the anti-terrorism alliance, being dubbed the ‘Muslim NATO’, this month.
Janjua said Pakistan remains committed to its policy of non-interference in the conflicts of Muslim countries and ruled out any change in the policy regarding Iran, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
She said Pakistan and Iran enjoy cordial and brotherly relations and have no border dispute between them.
Pakistan is trying to reduce tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, she said, but acknowledged that her country was finding it hard to maintain balance in ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the wake of appointment of Gen Sharif.
“It is difficult for Pakistan to maintain equal relations with both countries but Pakistan will not go against Iran’s interests,” she said.
Gen Sharif will not act against Iran as the head of the military alliance, she asserted.
The former army chief’s appointment had been criticised by some Pakistani politicians, retired army officers, journalists, intellectuals, who had questioned the decision of the retired general to join a foreign military alliance.
Pakistan government is under pressure from opposition as it was asked by parliament in 2015 through a resolution to stay neutral in the conflict in Yemen.
It is feared that the alliance may be forced to intervene in Yemen in the name of tackling terrorism.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that statements by the Pakistan government and foreign office were contradictory.
He warned against any tilt towards Iran or Saudi Arabia in the conflict.
The Saudi government had surprised many countries by announcing that it had forged a coalition for coordinating and supporting military operations against terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan, the report said.
Iran, Saudi Arabia’s archrival for influence in the Arab world, was absent from the states named as participants, as proxy conflicts between the two regional powers rage from Syria to Yemen.