Govt allows Gen Raheel to head Islamic military alliance: Asif

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Sophia Siddiqui

Islamabad

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif confirmed on Saturday that General (retd) Raheel Sharif has been allowed to lead the 34-nation Islamic military alliance.
On January 6 last, the defence minister had said the former chief of army staff had been appointed as chief of Islamic military alliance and posted in Saudi Arabia.
The government was taken into confidence about the ex-army chief’s new role, Asif told a private TV channel.
“The rules laid down by the Ministry of Defence for post-retirement assignments of army officers will be applicable equally to Raheel Sharif,” Asif had said in the Senate session.
In 2015, the oil-rich kingdom had announced the formation of the coalition to combat terrorism and Pakistan was made a member of the coalition.
“The government has given its consent and it has been decided in principle that General (retd) Raheel Sharif will go there (Saudi Arabia) to lead the alliance,” Asif said.
“A formal process in this regard is yet to be completed,” the minister said when asked if the former army chief had requested for a no-objection certificate.
The defence minister further said that the Saudi government had in writing requested Pakistan for Gen Raheel’s services. When asked if the former COAS had also asked the government for a permission, Asif replied, “It was not needed after the two countries have had an agreement.”
The minister termed it only a matter of time before the former army chief leaves for Saudi Arabia to “put a structure in place for the alliance”. There isn’t any structure (of the alliance) as yet and Gen Raheel will adopt a framework after arriving in the country,” Asif added.
Asif went on to say that a body comprising defence ministers of all member countries of the alliance, to serve as an advisory council, is expected to hold its first meeting in May. ‘Everything is finalized regarding the coalition.’
Saudi Arabia has also issued Gen Raheel and his wife three-year multiple visas, possibly making him the first Pakistani in ten years, who has been granted this facility in private capacity.
Raheel Sharif will reside in Riyadh where the joint operation centre of this alliance has been established. He will be the alliance’s founding ommander-in-Chief.
Soon after Raheel Sharif completed his term last year, it was reported in December that he would lead the Islamic Military Alliance, which was formed by the Saudis in 2015 to fight terrorism, especially the Islamic State and other groups.
Asif said this would be an “arrangement” between the two governments and it is “only a matter of time” before Sharif takes up the appointment. The structure of the Islamic Military Alliance is still not in place and Sharif is expected to give it shape, he added.
Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia are among the members of the alliance, which has a command centre in Riyadh.
Saudi defence minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud had said in 2015 that the alliance will tackle “the Islamic world’s problem with terrorism and will be a partner in the worldwide fight against this scourge”.

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