Former Pakistan Army chief Raheel Sharif has been made the head of a 39-nation military coalition formed by Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism, defence minister Khawaja Asif said on Friday.
Asif confirmed reports about Sharif, who retired last November, being chosen to lead the alliance during an appearance on a TV talk show on Friday night.
The Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), created by Saudi Arabia in December 2015 to combat the Islamic State and other groups, currently has 39 members, including Turkey and Malaysia. It is based at a command centre in Riyadh.
“I do not know the details, this was finalised two or three days ago. So I don’t want to comment too much on it,” said Asif, speaking in Urdu.
The Pakistan government and the army top brass had given their consent for the appointment as retired officers can take up such assignments within two years of stepping down only with the government’s assent, he said.
“Our government’s say was involved in it, he couldn’t have done this independently. All the clearances were taken,” Asif said. “This was in the pipeline for quite some time and the prime minister was also part of the deliberations.”
Asif described the military alliance as a “good thing” saying the “Ummah” (Muslim brotherhood) requires unity to tackle problems in “Myanmar, Palestine, Syria, Libya and Kashmir”. He did not give details.
Raheel retired as the army chief in November and has been succeeded by General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Pakistan was at the centre of a controversy when Saudi Arabia named it as part of the military alliance without seeking Islamabad’s consent. The government later confirmed its participation in the alliance but has not committed itself to providing troops for any possible operations.
The coalition was envisaged to serve as a platform for security cooperation, including provision of training, equipment and troops, and involvement of religious scholars for dealing with extremism.
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.
Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival 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, the report said.
The coalition includes countries like Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Sudan, Malaysia, Egypt, Yemen among others.
(With inputs from PTI)