Pakistan minister defends naming Raheel Sharif as coalition head

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Islamabad, March 29 (IANS) The decision to appoint Pakistan’s former Army chief General Raheel Sharif to head the 39-nation coalition of Muslim nations is an administrative decision, Defence Minsiter Khawaja Asif said.

According to Asif, the force is “purely against terrorism” and not linked to the conflict in Yemen, Dawn online reported.

He said: “The decision was taken after much deliberation and I will stand by it in Parliament.”

“They (Saudi Arabia) first wrote a letter to our government regarding the matter some six weeks ago, after which the government discussed the matter internally and sent a written agreement to the proposal after a week,” he said.

The Defence Minister remained cryptic when asked which other nations will be contributing to the coalition, and said the details of the coalition will only be revealed after a meeting is held in May.

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Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Ali Muhammad Khan said the government needed to discuss the appointment.

“I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth,” Khan said, adding it was “strange” that Raheel Sharif remained silent on the issue.

The headquarters of the military alliance would be based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan had initially found itself in the crosshairs of Middle Eastern politics as Saudi Arabia named Islamabad as part of its newly formed military alliance of Muslim countries meant to combat terrorism, without first getting Pakistan’s consent.

However, after initial ambiguity, the Pakistan government confirmed its participation in the alliance, but said the scope of its participation would be defined after Riyadh shared details.

The coalition was envisaged to serve as a platform for security cooperation, including provision of training, equipment and troops, and involvement of religious scholars for dealing with extremism.

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The Saudi government surprised many countries by announcing that it forged a coalition for coordinating and supporting military operations against terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

Iran, Saudi Arabia’s archrival for influence in the Arab world, was absent from the states named as participants, as proxy conflicts between the two regional powers rage from Syria to Yemen.



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