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Iran not OK with Gen Raheel Sharif heading Islamic military alliance

The appointment of Gen Sharif as the leader of the military alliance has sparked debate over how the move will impact Pakistan’s foreign policy, and whether it was fully sanctioned by parliament.

world Updated: Apr 04, 2017 14:18 IST
Gen Raheel Sharif,Iran Pakistan relations,Muslim Nato
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with then army chief Gen Raheel Sharif during the inauguration of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor port in Gwadar on November 13, 2016. (Reuters file)

Iran on Tuesday said it has reservations on the appointment of Pakistan’s former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif as the head of the Saudi Arabia-led 39-nation Islamic military alliance, warning it may “impact” the unity among Muslim countries.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted the country’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.

“But that does not indicate that Iran is satisfied with this decision or it has accepted the same,” Dawn newspaper quoted the envoy as saying.

He also said Pakistan had contacted Tehran before issuing the no-objection certificate to the retired general to head the Saudi-led alliance.

He said Tehran had informed Islamabad Iran would not become part of such a military alliance, adding that neither had Iran been extended an offer to join a coalition of this sort.

He proposed that all important Islamic countries come together to form a “coalition of peace” in order to resolve their issues “rather [than] forming a controversial military alliance”.

Gen Sharif, who retired as army chief last November, is likely to assume command of the anti-terrorism alliance, being dubbed the ‘Muslim Nato’, this month, the newspaper reported.

The Pakistan government had issued an NOC for Sharif to join the alliance after an understanding was reached between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on the matter, retired Maj Gen Ijaz Awan, a defence analyst and close associate of the former army chief, said.

The appointment of Gen Sharif as the leader of the military alliance sparked debate over how the move will impact Pakistan’s foreign policy, and whether it was fully sanctioned by parliament, the report said.

Pakistan had initially found itself in the crosshairs of Middle Eastern politics as Saudi Arabia named it as part of its newly formed military alliance of Muslim countries meant to combat terrorism, without first getting its consent.

However, after initial ambiguity, Islamabad had 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.

Raheel’s appointment had been criticised by some Pakistani politicians, retired army officers, journalists and intellectuals, who had questioned the decision of the former army chief to join a foreign military alliance after retirement.

The coalition was envisaged 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, the report said.

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, it added.

First Published: Apr 04, 2017 13:34 IST