ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has opposed the government’s decision to allow former chief of army staff (COAS) retd Gen Raheel Sharif to assume the command of a yet-to-be-formed, Saudi-led 39-nation military alliance of Muslim states.

“We strongly oppose this decision and will soon raise the issue in the parliament,” PTI spokesman Fawwad Chaudhry told Dawn.

He said PTI Chairman Imran Khan had tasked three parliamentarians of the party — Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Shireen Mazari and Shafqat Mehmood — with preparing a strategy under which a privilege motion and a calling attention notice would be moved in the National Assembly so that a threadbare discussion could take place there on the issue.

The PTI’s reaction came after an interview of Defence Minister Khawaja Asif was published in some newspapers on Sunday in which he revealed that the government had issued issue a no objection certificate (NOC) to the former army chief to lead the military alliance.

The PTI spokesman said his party was of the view that all parliamentary parties had decided in the parliament that Pakistan would remain neutral in the Middle East crisis. But the decision to issue the NOC to Gen Sharif is contrary to the parliament’s decision. “Even if the government had decided to issue the NOC to the former army chief, it should have come again to the parliament to give reasons why it wanted to do so,” he said.

The PTI spokesman said the 39-nation military alliance of Muslim states was apparently being formed against Iran and, therefore, the appointment of Pakistan’s former army chief as its commander would send a negative message that the country was also against Iran.

Read: Pakistan will not participate in conflict that divides Muslim Ummah: Khawaja Asif

Mr Chaudhry said the government’s decision could further expand the already existing divide between Sunni and Shia communities in Pakistan. “Our Shia brothers have already been targeted in the country and this decision will intensify sense of insecurity prevailing among them,” he added.

The proposed military coalition has reportedly been envisaged to serve as a platform for security cooperation, including provision of training, equipment and troops.

The PTI spokesman said the Middle East crisis was not confined to the Muslim states but super power Russia and Turkey had also been involved in the bloody war in Syria. “Raheel Sharif’s actions can also affect Pakistan’s relations with Iran, Russia and Turkey,” he expressed the fear.

He said under the country’s laws it was mandatory for all government officials not to take up a new job until two years after their retirement. And therefore Defence Minister Asif had told the Senate on Jan 11 that retd Gen Sharif would be required to seek NOC from the government before accepting the Saudi offer to assume command of the military coalition.

Mr Chaudhry said a statement of Federal Minister for Safron retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch against issuance of the NOC to retd Gen Sharif was evident of the fact that the government had not taken even its cabinet members in confidence on the decision. “Neither the parliament nor the cabinet has been taken into confidence,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2017

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