Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP on Thursday said it was becoming "apparent" that the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance, headed by former army chief Raheel Sharif, was against Iran and asked the government if it was going to recall the retired general.
"We were told that the alliance is against terrorism, but it appears it is against Iran," Babar said during a Senate session.
Earlier this week, the senator had placed a call-to-attention notice on the agenda for Thursday's senate session to draw the attention of the prime minister's adviser on foreign affairs to media reports that quoted Saudi authorities as saying that the alliance would not restrict its activities to terrorist organisations — like the militant Islamic State (IS) group — but would take also action against rebel groups posing a threat to any of its member countries on request from the country concerned.
"Now that the cat is out of the bag, will the government call [Sharif] back?" Babur asked, pointing out that one of the conditions of Sharif's appointment as head of the alliance was that he could be recalled at any time.
He further asked why the government had issued a no-objection certificate to Sharif before the alliance's Terms of Reference (ToRs) were finalised.
"The king of Saudi Arabia has said the alliance is against Iran," Rabbani said.
He wondered whether the government had disowned Sharif because the stance of the alliance towards Iran is contradictory to Pakistan's own relations with the neighbouring country.
Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani reiterated Babar's questions, asking whether the government had recalled the former Army chief.
"Has the government disowned Raheel Sharif?" the chairman asked, adding that the alliance's ToRs should be presented to Senate once they are unveiled.
Coming to the defence of the government, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said the statement made by the Saudi king was a political one.
Regarding the ToRs of the alliance, Aziz said that they have not yet been finalised and neither has the purpose and jurisdiction of the alliance.
He added that the ToRs on Sharifs appointment to the military coalition have also yet to be finalised. Aziz assured the senator and the Senate chairman that once finalised, the ToRs will be presented before Parliament.
He also assured them that "the alliance will have no affect on Pakistan's policy," adding that it is not correct to say that that the coalition is against Iran.
"The alliance is focused on [combating] terrorism. It is unfortunate that Syria, Yemen and Iran are divided along sectarian lines. The Riyadh summit may have deepened those divides," he admitted.
Aziz added that the military alliance will make every effort for the unity of the Muslim world, adding that member nations will be free to opt out of any activity of the military if they chose to do so.
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