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Parliament Questions Former Pakistani Military Chief’s Saudi Job

FILE: Raheel Sharif trying a rifle during his visit to the Pakistan Ordnance Factories in April 2015.
FILE: Raheel Sharif trying a rifle during his visit to the Pakistan Ordnance Factories in April 2015.

Pakistan’s parliament has asked the government to answer questions regarding the reported appointment of the country’s former army chief as commander of a Saudi Arabia-led multinational military alliance.

On January 9, Raza Rabbani, the chairman of the Senate, or upper house of the Pakistani Parliament, asked the country’s defense minister, Khawaja Asif, to brief lawmakers on the appointment of Raheel Sharif as the first commander-in-chief of 39 Islamic nations officially called the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT).

Rabbani asked Asif to inform the Senate about whether Sharif sought government permission about accepting a foreign job.

Former Pakistani government employees are required to obtain official permission in the form of a No Objection Certificate before taking foreign jobs soon after leaving their posts.

"Definitely our government's consent must have been part of this," Asif told Pakistan’s private GEO TV on January 6. But he was not absolutely sure about whether the decision to appoint Sharif was made in Islamabad or Riyadh. "I do not know the details. This was finalized only two or three days ago, so I will not comment much on this.”

Sharif, who retired in late November after leading the Pakistani military for three years, faced a crescendo of criticism for accepting the job.

While Saudi Arabia is a longstanding ally of Pakistan’s, in recent years Islamabad has struggled to balance its relations between Riyadh, ruled by a hard-line Sunni monarchy, and the Shi’ite clerical regime in Iran.

In recent years, Riyadh and Tehran have been vying for regional supremacy. Their rivalry has often descended into a sectarian competition by supporting rival factions in wars and conflicts across the Middle East.

Ghulam Mustafa, a former Pakistani military officer turned analyst, says Sharif made a mistake by accepting the job.

“All in all, this is not a good decision on the part of General Raheel,” he told the private GEO TV. “Even the aim of this alliance is not clear, and many important Muslim nations such as Iran and Indonesia are not part of it.”

The IMAFT was launched in 2015 to ostensibly fight the Islamic State. But unlike NATO or other major global military alliances, its mandate, organizational structure, and scope of operations is not clear.

-- With reporting by Geo.Tv, The Nation, Voice of America and The News

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