The government told Senate on Wednesday that former Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General (retd) Raheel Sharif has not sought a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the government to take on any new role. This was the first official statement regarding the former army chief’s future plans following the earlier statement of Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on January 6, during a talk show where he said that matters related to Raheel Sharif role in Saudi Arabia-led 39-nation military coalition have been ‘finalized’.
The Minister backtracked from his stance before the Senate, saying that no formal request for granting an NOC had been received from the ex-COAS. He said that a decision on such a request, if and when received, would be taken in accordance with the relevant law. He said that under the rules, an NOC would be required from the defence ministry by any retired officer seeking re-employment in a government department.
The initial remarks of the Defence Minister in this regard had sparked a debate with many criticising Raheel Sharif for the decision. Commenting on the ‘news’ Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Asad Umar in a tweet had said ‘Raheel Sharif accepting to become head of a military alliance which parliament of Pakistan had decided not to become part of is unfortunate.’
A major reason for the concerns regarding Raheel Sharif accepting a role in the Saudi-led military alliance was the nature of the alliance which many believe is sectarian in nature. With Raheel Sharif working for Riyadh, analysts expressed fear that the move will likely create more friction in already tense Iranian-Pakistani ties.
It is pertinent to mention that in March 2015, Riyadh launched a military campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who had taken over swathes of territory, raising concerns in Saudi Arabia. A month later, Saudi authorities formally asked for Pakistani combat planes, warships and soldiers, but Pakistan’s lawmakers voted to remain neutral in the conflict. With the Defence Minister’s claim that matters pertaining to Raheel Sharif accepting a role in the Saudi-led military alliance have been finalized concerns were rightly raised regarding the ‘claimed’ appointment.
Moreover, it is still unclear as to how this Islamic Military Alliance will functions, will the member countries contribute troops and what will be the mandate of the alliance. With vagueness surrounding the whole affair the Defence Minister’s rather irresponsible comments sparked an unnecessary controversy. The government’s response to the initial statement of the Defence Minister (the one from January 6) was also strange. If the comments of the defence minster were not based on facts the government should have issued a clarification within hours. What transpired was altogether different, no rebuttal or clarification was issued and the debate raged on in national and international media.
Previously in the last week of December 2016, confusions, stirred by a fake news article involving nuclear threats to Pakistan by Israel, prompted Defence Minister Khawaja Asif to issue a statement directing the same to Israel. Israel’s ministry of defence, however, clarified that the statement attributed to former Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon was ‘never said’ and the reports are ‘entirely false’.
Instead of learning from his earlier mistake the defence minister issued another controversial statement that became the talking point in national and international media and raised questions regarding foreign policy. Minister and government officials need to a lot more responsible when issuing statements in the media on sensitive topics.
Government for some strange reason took days to negate the earlier statement of the Defence Minister.
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