Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif recently confirmed the recent development that former army chief General (retd) Raheel Sharif was made the chief of 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT). The defence minister said that the decision to appoint Gen (retd) Raheel, who retired in November 2016, was taken after taking the incumbent government into confidence. Pakistan had initially expressed surprise as Saudi Arabia named it as part of its newly formed military alliance back in December, 2015 without first getting its consent. However, after initial ambiguity, the government confirmed its participation in the alliance, but said that the scope of its participation would be defined after Riyadh shared the details of the coalition it was assembling. Saudi Arabia’s archrival for influence in the Arab world and Pakistan’s neighbor Iran was absent from the states named as participants in the new formed coalition, as proxy conflicts between the two regional powers span from Syria to Yemen.
The IMAFT has stated that its primary objective is to protect the Muslim countries from all terrorist groups and terrorist organizations irrespective of their sect and name and that it will fight terrorists in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan. However, the absence of Iran from the coalition has raised a number of questions. The appointment of Gen (retd) Raheel Sharif as the chief of the coalition could potentially upset Iran. When a military intervention was launched by Saudi Arabia in 2015, leading a coalition of nine Middle Eastern countries, to influence the outcome of the Yemeni Civil War, Pakistan decided to sit on the fence. The move was seen as Pakistan’s policy of not getting embroiled in any sectarian or other conflict in the Middle East. The former Army Chief’s latest career move has the potential to upset Iran, but there’s also the chance that the coalition could turned into a real force if the former Pakistan Army Chief can somehow convince Iran to join the coalition.
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