Pakistan is reconsidering its position on the so-called 41-nation Islamic military alliance, led by Saudi Arabia, to avoid straining its relationship with neighboring Iran, according to Pakistan media reports. The military alliance was to be commanded by General Raheel Sharif, the former commander-in-chief of Pakistan army who retired from the Pak army last year.
Its decision comes after statements by Saudi authorities at the Arab Islamic-US summit in Riyadh on 20-21 May suggested that the military alliance was meant primarily to counter Iran, the media report said, adding that the Riyadh summit focused on isolating Iran -- which was kept out of the summit.
The officials argued that the Pakistan government in-principle agreed to be a part of the initiative if its sole purpose was to fight terrorism. It was believed that the government had joined the alliance when in April it allowed General Sharif to leave Pakistan to lead the alliance.
But the officials said a final decision will be made once the terms of reference (ToRs) of the alliance are finalized. The ToRs would be finalized during a meeting of the defense ministers of the participating countries in Saudi Arabia soon.
Pakistan, according to the officials, would recommend that the military alliance should have a clear objective, that is to fight terrorism. Any deviation from this goal, they added, will not only undermine the alliance but lead to more divisions in the Muslim world. "We are very clear that we will join this alliance only to fight terrorism," the officials emphasized.
Defense minister Khawaja Asif on the floor of the National Assembly has said that Pakistan would withdraw from the alliance if it turns out to be sectarian in nature.
Pakistani lawmakers have said that they do not want their country to be part of any sectarian alliance as it also goes against the country's constitution.
Pakistan's two main opposition parties -- Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan People's Party -- have been calling for maintaining "neutrality" in the Arab-Iran rivalry. But given the longstanding strategic ties with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is unlikely to completely withdraw from the alliance.
Iran has expressed its reservations regarding the appointment of the former army chief, retired Gen Raheel Sharif, as head of the Saudi-led 41-nation so-called Islamic military alliance, saying it is not 'satisfied' with the coalition.
Iran expresses concern
"We are concerned about this issue... that it may impact the unity of Islamic countries," Iran's Ambassador to Pakistan, Mehdi Honardoost, was quoted as saying.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency quoted Honardoost as saying that Pakistan had contacted Iranian officials before issuing the no-objection certificate (NOC) to Gen Sharif to lead the Saudi alliance. "But that does not indicate that Iran is satisfied with this decision or it has accepted the same," the envoy said.
The ambassador proposed that all important Islamic countries come together to form a "coalition of peace" in order to resolve their issues "rather [than] forming a controversial military alliance".
A controversial appointment
The appointment of General Sharif as the leader of the military alliance sparked debate over how the move will impact Pakistan's foreign policy, and whether it was fully sanctioned by parliament.