Pakistan’s former army chief GeneralRaheel Sharif left for Riyadh on Fridayto take charge of a Saudi-led military bloc after getting the Pakistani government’s approval.
Amidst concerns about the Saudi-led grouping, Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that Gen Sharif had been “given permission to head the [Saudi-led] military alliance after completion of all legal formalities and requirements” by the Pakistan government three days ago.
Media reports suggested that the 60-year-old former chief of army staff was granted approval to serve as head of the alliance, dubbed as Islamic NATO, for three years.
“We have issued the NOC after he completed all formalities including a permission by army headquarters,” he said.
He said Saudi Arabia has approached Pakistan about three months ago to acquire services of General Raheel and Pakistan agreed to allow him to lead the alliance.
Sharif, who has army chief for three years till his retirement on November 29, 2016, left for Riyadh today on a special aircraft and was accompanied by his wife and mother.
The issue of General Raheel was a difficult decision due to the ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran but Pakistan decided to let him join the alliance as its first chief due to close ties with Riyadh.
It was not immediately clear if the government had discussed its decision with opposition parties, which recently expressed serious misgivings regarding the issue in light of the possibility that the alliance may be used against Iran, the Dawn newspaper reported.
Earlier this week, Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar JavedBajwa had assured Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoost that Pak-Iran ties would “remain unaffected by recent developments”.
“Pakistan greatly values historic Pak-Iran relationship and the same shall continue based on mutual trust and respect for each other’s interests,” Gen Bajwa had told Honardoost.
Extraordinary importance was attached to the meeting by diplomatic circles because it was the second between the two in around six weeks, a rare happening in Pakistan-Iran relations given the mutual mistrust, the Dawn said.
Earlier this month, Honardoost had said that Iran had reservations on the appointment of Gen Sharif as the head of the Saudi-led Islamic military alliance, warning that it may “impact” the unity among Muslim countries.
“We are concerned about this issue… that it may impact the unity of Islamic countries,” Honardoost said, adding that Tehran had conveyed its concerns to Islamabad.