Gen Raheel Sharif’s presence will restore a certain balance in what this coalition should do and what it should not, Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz tells the Senate.—AP
Gen Raheel Sharif’s presence will restore a certain balance in what this coalition should do and what it should not, Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz tells the Senate.—AP

ISLAMABAD: Conceding that the recent US-Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh widened the sectarian divide in the world, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz observed on Thursday that Pakistan would have to tread carefully in pursuing efforts for greater unity.

While addressing the Senate on a calling attention notice concerning the mandate of the 41-nation military alliance, Mr Aziz ruled out the possibility of an attack on Iran by the coalition. He said the Saudi foreign minister had clarified that the coalition members would be free to decide the activities they wanted to participate in. These activities included political consultations, intelligence-sharing, capacity-building, building counter-narratives and military cooperation.

He made it clear that the parliament’s resolution of April 10, 2015 would continue to serve as a guideline for Pakistan to maintain a balanced position in regional conflicts. He said that Pakistan would support the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia and protect the sanctity of Harmain Sharifain. “We will not do anything in deviation of the resolution,” he assured the house.

He said the military coalition’s terms of reference were yet to be finalised, and added that statements by Saudi authorities would not become ToR.

Foreign affairs adviser rules out military coalition attack on Iran

Mr Aziz made it clear Pakistan would not deploy troops out of Saudi Arabia. He said Pakistan’s foreign policy would remain unchanged and the coalition would not affect it in any manner.

Senate Chairperson Mian Raza Rabbani, however, pointed out that the Saudi king, in his speech, had said that the coalition was against terrorism, but then named Iran. “Expecting that he who is playing the flute will not be calling the shots is being a little optimistic. But I [will] go along [with] you in that we should be optimistic for the time being.”

He asked if the government would disassociate itself from retired General Raheel Sharif if the coalition decided to target a particular country. To this, Mr Aziz said that Gen Sharif realised the importance of maintaining a balance with Iran. “In fact his presence will restore a certain balance in what this coalition should do and what it should not,” he said, insisting that the focus of the coalition would remain on counterterrorism.

The adviser lamented that several global conflicts — whether in Iran, Syria or Yemen — had a sectarian dimension. “It is sad for the Muslim world, that in each case, Muslims were fighting against Muslims...Our approach is to create unity among the Muslim Ummah. We will continue this effort with many countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey,” he remarked. He described the summit’s focus on Iran as ‘political’.

The defence ministers of the 41 member countries were yet to meet and finalise the terms of reference, purposes, aims and objectives of the collation, he said. Once the contours of the coalition were finalised, they would be presented before parliament before being ratified by the cabinet, he added.

Earlier, Senator Farhatullah Babar said initially parliament was told that the alliance was meant to fight terrorism, and that Pakistan would not have to take sides in the conflict in the Middle East.

Reading out the verbatim Senate records of April 11, he said the defence minister had informed the House that a conference would be held in May to finalise the terms of reference of the alliance. He followed with the chairman’s ruling: “When the ToRs were finalised in May and before the Cabinet rectified them, they should be laid before the Senate and the National Assembly so that they are discussed in both the houses.”

Subsequently reports surfaced, he said, quoting Saudi authorities that the alliance was not restricted to confronting terrorist organisations, but on the request of a member state, could also move against rebels and militants posing a threat to member countries.

He then posed five questions: have the ToRs of the military alliance been finalised, if yes, what were the terms and why had they not been placed before the Senate as was promised on April 11; if the ToR had not been finalised, why was Gen Raheel Sharif allowed to join the alliance; in view of the emerging reality of the actual purpose of the alliance, would the government consider recalling Gen Raheel Sharif; what were the conditions of Gen Raheel Sharif’s appointment as head of the alliance and did it provide for recalling him in case it became necessary?

Responding to another calling attention notice, Mr Aziz said the arrest of Commander Kulbushan Jadhav and deaths of Indians in the recent US Massive Ordnance Air Blast in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan showed continued Indian presence in Afghanistan, from where they orchestrated attacks inside Pakistan.

He added that India’s barbarities in held Kashmir continued unabated and the situation had worsened after the Srinagar by-elections held on 9 April, 2017.

He said he had written to the UN secretary general, the UN Security Council, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to draw attention towards Indian barbarities in held Kashmir.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2017