An important question about the 39-country Islamic Military Alliance has been resolved – recently retired Pakistan Army Chief Raheel Sharif will lead it, at the request of Saudi Arabia.
Many other crucial questions about the alliance remain, however.
Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif confirmed Gen Raheel’s appointment in a recent TV interview, and said it was an understanding between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. This action itself is unprecedented – for a Pakistani general, just four months after his retirement, to lead a military alliance in another country.
The objectives of the alliance, announced by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in December 2015, are still obscure. Prince Salman made the announcement at a crucial time, when Saudi Arabia was trying to establish its hegemony in Yemen and Syria.
Questions abound that have never been answered by any country of the alliance. Who will provide soldiers for the alliance? Who will fund it? What will be the role of it? Where it will fight? Why did Saudi Arabia want a Pakistani General to lead the alliance?
If the Islamic Military Alliance is meant to be engaged in the War on Terror, what function will it serve? Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arab and several other Islamic countries’ forces are already engaged in this war in their respective territories.
In the past, Pakistan Army participated in several peace missions on the UN’s call. In November 1979, followers of an Arab hardliner cleric Sheikh Bin Baaz had occupied Holy Kaaba in Mecca, and a troop of Pakistan Special Services Group (SSG) was sent for the operation as non-Muslim forces cannot enter Mecca.
Sending a retired general to a foreign monarchy is something else entirely for the Pakistan Army.
This time, the decision has been made by a single person, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has very close and strong ties with Saudi Royal Family. But, as head of a democratic state, he should have not made such decision.
He could have consulted the parliament before taking any step. He could have paved a reasonable way for Gen Raheel’s departure for the alliance by getting an endorsement from parliament.
By taking this action unilaterally instead, Sharif proves Imran Khan’s allegations that the prime minister is a king, and that he has turned the parliament into a rubber stamp. This time Sharif didn’t even bother with the stamp.
International analysts believe that the Saudis’ move aims at curtailing Iran’s influence and role at an international level. The decision might be more dangerous for Pakistan where Saudi Arabia and Iran have been fighting proxy wars for the last four decades, and where the world’s second largest Shia populations exists.
Pakistan’s government is supposed to represent the interests of the entire nation. Sharif’s acquiescence to this Saudi request does not bode well for our democracy.