ISLAMABAD: Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz said on Wednesday that it was not possible to call former army chief retired Gen Raheel Sharif back to the country because he had taken up the command of an international coalition set up by Saudi Arabia for fighting terrorism in his personal capacity and had not been deputed by the government.

The adviser assured the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that Pakistan would not take sides in the Saudi Arabia-Qatar spat.

The assurance was given during an in-camera briefing to the committee on Pakistan’s position on the situation arising in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia and its allies Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates severed ties with Qatar over allegations of promoting extremism and terrorism and hindering efforts to contain Iran.

According to a member of the committee, when an opposition senator called for recalling the former army chief to preserve Pakistan’s neutrality, Mr Aziz said it was not possible to call him back because he had taken up the position in his personal capacity and had not been deputed by the government.

Mr Aziz, according to one of the legislators who attended the session, said Pakistan would stay neutral.

The adviser said Islamabad’s position was dictated by the Pakistani foreign policy’s longstanding principle of not getting involved in conflicts between Muslim countries and the 2015 parliamentary resolution of maintaining neutrality on the Yemen issue.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had last week undertaken a visit to Jeddah in an attempt to mediate in the crisis.

However, Saudi Arabia did not encourage the Pakistani initiative. The prime minister had initially planned to visit other countries in this regard, but hasn’t proceeded so far.

Committee Chairperson Senator Nauzhat Sadiq said Prime Minister Sharif had spoken to Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani over the phone to urge him to settle the matter.

The Foreign Office had earlier stated that it was concerned over the unfolding crisis in the Arab world.

“Pakistan believes in unity among Muslim countries. We have made consistent efforts for its promotion,” Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif had said at the time of Gen Sharif’s departure for taking up the command of the alliance that the government had granted him a no-objection certificate to accept the position.

Several ministers had been insisting ahead of Gen Sharif’s departure that his involvement with the alliance would help to reduce friction among Muslim countries.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2017

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