ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Former Chief of Army Staff General (retd) Raheel Sharif departed for Riyadh on Friday after the federal government granted him permission to head a military alliance of Muslim countries led by Saudi Arabia.
Speaking to Daily Sun News News, Federal Defence Minister Khawaja Asif confirmed that the government had given Sharif a No Objection Certificate after completion of all legal formalities and requirements.
Asif said the former top commander was given the NOC after approval from the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi.
The defence minister had said earlier that Pakistan had received a written request from the Saudi government for employing Gen (retd) Sharif as head of the military alliance.
Our correspondent in Lahore confirmed that Sharif departed for Riyadh earlier today on a special aircraft from Riyadh which had arrived in Lahore to receive him. Sharif was accompanied by his wife and mother on the flight.
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Last month, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Nasir Janjua said that Gen (retd) Raheel Sharif spearheading the Saudi military alliance would bring unity to the Muslim world.
The national security adviser had said that the structure of the alliance had not been decided so far and that in May, the advisory board of defence ministers of member countries would attend a meeting held in this regard. “When General (Retd) Raheel Sharif joins he will define a structure,” Janjua said, speaking at a conference in Islamabad.
He stressed that, with his experience, General (retd) Sharif would remove misunderstandings among Muslim countries. “Iran and other countries opposed of the alliance will also benefit from this.”
Earlier this week, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost expressed reservations over Sharif’s role as head of the Saudi-led military alliance.
“It was correct that Pakistan had contacted Iranian officials before issuing the NOC, but it did not indicate that Iran was satisfied with this decision or it had accepted the same,” he said.
“All important Islamic countries should come together to form a coalition of peace to resolve their issues rather forming a controversial military alliance.”
News of the alliance’s formation was first reported in December 2015, with reports of Middle Eastern, African, and Asian states including Saudi Arabia, Gulf states, Pakistan, and Egypt being part of the then 34-nation coalition.
Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Sudan, Malaysia, Egypt, Yemen and other Muslim countries are said to be part of the coalition. The Joint Command Centre, headquarters of the military alliance, are located in Riyadh.
The coalition would tackle “the Islamic world’s problem with terrorism and will be a partner in the worldwide fight against this scourge,” Saudi defence minister and deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud had said at a press conference in Riyadh in 2015.