Raheel Sharif departs for Riyadh to lead military alliance

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Islamabad, April 21 (IANS) Pakistan’s retired Army Chief General Raheel Sharif on Friday departed for Riyadh after the government granted him permission to head a 41-nation military alliance led by Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to Geo News, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif confirmed that the government had given the former Chief of Army Staff the No Objection Certificate (NOC) 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 Raheel Sharif as head of the military alliance to fight militancy.

General Raheel Sharif (Retd.) departed for Riyadh on a special aircraft and was accompanied by his wife and mother on the flight, Dawn reported.

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He was granted approval to serve as the head of the military alliance for three years, reports said.

With a Joint Command Centre headquartered in Riyadh, the coalition includes Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Sudan, Malaysia, Egypt, Yemen and other Muslim countries.

Saudi Arabia said the alliance, which noticeably lacks the presence of Iran, will “coordinate and support military operations to fight terrorism”.

Last month, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Nasir Janjua said that General Sharif spearheading the Saudi military alliance would bring unity to the Muslim world.

Janjua had said that in May, the advisory board of Defence Ministers of member countries would attend a meeting held in this regard.

“When General Raheel Sharif (Retd.) joins he will define a structure,” Janjua had said, speaking at a conference in Islamabad.

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Janjua stressed that with his experience General 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.

But Asif said the military coalition “will not act against Iran.”



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