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Editorial

January 11, 2017

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New horizons?

New horizons?

General Raheel Sharif seems like he is not a man for a quiet retirement. Having received much praise for three professional years as Pakistan’s army chief and leading an all-out operation against terrorism, Sharif has been reported to have accepted a position to lead the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) led by Saudi Arabia. The secrecy and uncertainty surrounding this move throws at least a partial shadow over what had been seen as an unblemished career for General Sharif. As Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani asked on Monday, there needs to be clarification about how a man who held the most sensitive and arguably the most powerful job in the country has been able to accept a key post as the head of a military alliance in another country. Surely, there must be some laid-down requirements for this, including the obtaining of permission from the government and the GHQ. Otherwise, the doors are open for any former military official to take up a personal post anywhere in the world and in any capacity. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif a few days ago hinted that General Sharif may have obtained the requisite permission or NoC. But this statement is insufficient. We need to know precisely how this chain of events came about, whether Gen Sharif is indeed accepting the appointment or whether he has set some conditions as certain media quarters are reporting, and what the precise nature of his assignment will be.

The alliance set up by Saudi Arabia in 2015 is something Pakistan has handled cautiously – suggesting that in case of violation of Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity or any threat to Haramain Sharifain, it would ‘stand shoulder to shoulder with Saudi Arabia and its people’. The alliance is composed of 39 Sunni-led Muslim countries, Iran being one of the key Muslim majority-countries that has been excluded. The current situation in the Middle East remains deeply troubled. Syria and Iraq have been caught up in long civil wars in which Iran and Saudi Arabia have found themselves on opposing ends. The Middle East and the larger Muslim world need a coordinated and coherent approach to fighting the threat of terrorism. Where exactly the alliance places itself remains unclear. We must remember that Pakistan carefully chose to remain outside the wars in the Middle East when it was called asked to get involved in the Saudi war on Yemen. Would the decision of a former Pakistani army chief to accept a position as military head of a controversial cross-Islamic military alliance not draw Pakistan into this conflict? There have already been suggestions from analysts that the matter should be placed before parliament for an open and transparent discussion. At the very least, we need to know what set of regulations cover the entire affair. At the same time, we ask if it is wise on the part of Gen Sharif in a private and public capacity to accept a position that has already become surrounded by controversy in his own country.

 

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