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Saturday, Oct 19, 2019

Pakistan may leave anti-terror alliance if it becomes sectarian

world Updated: May 31, 2017 22:07 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Former Pakistan's army chief Gen Raheel Sharif  was to command the Saudi-led military alliance formed to fight terrorism.
Former Pakistan's army chief Gen Raheel Sharif was to command the Saudi-led military alliance formed to fight terrorism. (AP FILE)

Pakistan may be reconsidering its role in the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance against Terrorism (IMAT) as there is growing opposition over the sectarian nature of the alliance.

Foreign office officials have privately said that one of the reasons why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not allowed to speak at the recent gathering of leaders from Muslim countries to meet US President Donald Trump was because his speech contained comments about reconciliation with Iran. 

The government already gave a public commitment that it would not become part of any initiative whose aim is to target any other Islamic country, including Iran. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has assured on the floor of National Assembly that Pakistan would withdraw if the Saudi alliance turns out to be sectarian in nature.

The government has been avoiding discussion on the matter but now Sartaj Aziz, advisor to Prime Minister on foreign affairs, had agreed to brief the Senate on the matter after the chamber’s chairman Raza Rabbani served notices on ministers and secretaries of defence and foreign affairs to appear before its members.

The issue came to light when the house took up notice from opposition MP Farhatullah Babar who was asking for the  government’s response on reported statements from the Saudi authorities that the military alliance would not only be restricted to terrorist organisations like Islamic State and al Qaeda but would also act against any rebel groups posing threat to any member country.

Pakistani MPs have said that they do not want their country to be part of any sectarian alliance as it also goes against the country's constitution.

In the middle of this is the case of former army chief Raheel Sharif, who is supposed to lead the 41-nation anti-terrorism alliance.

It was thought that the government had already joined the alliance when in April it granted permission to Gen Sharif, who is now in Saudi Arabia, to lead the alliance.

Officials, however, clarified that the final decision is yet to be taken.

“What compelled Pakistan to have a second thought was the recent Arab Islamic-US summit in Riyadh where statements from Saudi authorities suggested that the alliance was meant to counter Iran as well as fighting terrorism,” said a report in the Express Tribune newspaper on Wednesday. 

The government in principle agreed to be part of the Saudi initiative if its sole purpose was to fight terrorism and extremism, officials insisted.

The final decision, however, will be taken once the terms of reference of the alliance are finalised during the meeting of defence ministers of the participating countries, officials added.

“What we need to understand is that the terms of reference of the alliance are yet to be finalised. The defence ministers of the participating countries will meet and discuss the modalities of the coalition. We must wait until we have all the information to comment on its outcome. We shouldn’t indulge in speculations,” foreign office spokesperson Mohammed Nafees Zakaria clarified at his last weekly briefing. 

First Published: May 31, 2017 14:36 IST

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