KARACHI: Defence Minis­ter Khawaja Asif’s remarks during a TV programme on Friday that former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif is poised to head a Saudi-led military alliance sparked a debate on Saturday with many criticising the general for the decision.

The minister had indirectly confirmed during a Geo News programme that Gen Raheel had been made the chief of the 39-nation coalition established to combat terrorism. There was no official confirmation or denial from the government, the Inter-Services Public Relations, Saudis or even from Gen Raheel’s side on Saturday.

With over 9,500 tweets, Raheel Sharif was trended on Twitter the whole day on Saturday. From a few politicians to retired officers of the armed forces, anchor persons, journalists, intellectuals — all questioned the decision of a former Pakistani army chief to join a foreign military alliance less than two months after his retirement.

However, most politicians having verified Twitter accounts refrained from commenting on the issue on the social media.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Asad Umar was among the few politicians who shared his thoughts on Twitter and termed the move unfortunate.

He tweeted: “Raheel Sharif accepting to become head of a military alliance which parliament of Pakistan had decided not to become part of is unfortunate.”

The Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen posted a statement on its website in which its secretary general, Allama Raja Nasir Abbas, expressed concern over the move and said that it was against the interest of Pakistan. He said that the former army chief must refuse this appointment.

A spokesman for the outlawed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat told Dawn that his party fully supported the move as it would be a great honour for the whole country if a former army chief headed an alliance of 39 Islamic countries against terrorism.

Retired Lt Gen Abdul Qayyum, who is a leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, said that leading the 39-nation military alliance would be an honour for the country. He, however, rejected the allegation that the military coalition was against any country or a sect. “Joining the Saudi-led military force is our religious obligation,” he told reporters at a function in Wah Cant.

In a tweet, anchor Asma Shirazi questioned: “What if a general accepts the offer of becoming a chief of an alliance against Saudis #RaheelSharif”.

However, there were some people who believed that the defence minister deliberately spoke about a move that has yet to be finalised.

Columnist Dr Muhammad Taqi tweeted: “One gets a sense that Khawaja Asif Sb may’ve spoken too soon; trying to throw Raheel Salahuddin Sharif Ayyubi under the public opinion bus?”

On the contrary, an overwhelming number of tweets from common users hailed the decision and praised the general for his “successful” efforts in combating terrorism in the country.

Cricketer Ahmed Shahzad tweeted that he was proud that Pakistan was working to combat terrorism under the leadership of Gen Raheel.

Hundreds of people congratulated Gen Raheel on the social media. “A solider is always a solider doesn’t matter whether he’s on duty or not “Raheel Sharif”,” reads a tweet.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2017

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