A Saudi-led alliance ‘against terror’ — ironic much?
In January last year, when the news about Saudi Arabia’s offer to Raheel Sharf came in, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had said that he was not aware if General Raheel has been made such an offer. Similar vague statements were made by other ministers
There was a great deal of confusion over the issue of former COAS Raheel Sharif becoming the head of a 39-state military alliance ‘against terrorism’ led by Saudi Arabia, but many denials later, the cat is finally out of the bag. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif admitted that the government accepted Saudi Arabia’s offer for the retired general to lead the ‘Islamic military alliance against terrorism’.
The development has sparked a debate over whether the direction of Pakistan’s foreign policy will undergo any changes after the country becomes a part of the said alliance. There definitely are a number of controversies surrounding the issue, and this is evident from the fact that it took the government quite some time to take a clear position.
In January last year, when the news about Saudi Arabia’s offer to Raheel Sharf came in, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had said that he was not aware if General Raheel has been made such an offer. Similar vague statements were made by other ministers.
The concerns being raised over the development are genuine, and it’s the government’s duty to take the public into confidence over what exactly we are signing up for. Saudi Arabia is engaged in a war with Yemen’s Houthi rebels and the kingdom has bombed the country many times, resulting in civilian casualties. Not too long ago, Saudi Arabia requested Pakistan to send troops for the protection of holy cities as they were under threat (from the handful of Houthi rebels?). It was then that wannabe Arabs in Pakistan who have their loyalties with the kingdom because of sectarian reasons desperately wanted the Pakistan military to get itself involved in a war happening thousands of miles away. But, thankfully, sanity prevailed and the parliament of Pakistan passed a resolution saying no to Pakistan military’s involvement in the conflict because of the damage done after similar experiments the country did in the past. It was indeed a victory for Pakistan’s democracy that parliament asked the government not to take sides in the Middle East conflict and remain neutral. But what the government is doing now raises questions over the implementation of the resolution.
Opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) criticised the government’s decision to grant NOC to the former COAS, and a spokesperson for the party said Pakistan “cannot afford to enter into any intra-state power games, especially those with sectarian overtures.”
Surely Saudi isn’t forming the alliance for nothing; there will be some objectives which are yet to be made public. Although the alliance is said to be ‘against terrorism’, Saudi Arabia’s role in funding terror in other countries is not a secret. A number of groups that acted as breeding ground for the militants in Pakistan had been receiving funding from Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, if it is an all-Muslim alliance, are Muslim countries that are not on good terms with Saudi Arabia, like Iran, also being made part of it? If not, won’t it be equivalent to forming a sectarian bloc in the region? Can Pakistan afford to align itself with any such groups, considering the population of the country comprises both Shia and Sunni Muslims?
The menace of sectarian violence already exists in the country and there are sectarian terror outfits that vow to ‘rid Pakistan of Shias’. Such outfits are not limited to targeting the Shia community but have also claimed responsibilities for other large-scale attacks like the one that killed Quetta’s lawyer fraternity last year. This shows the sectarian militants shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Is Pakistan going to become a party to an international conflict? If we choose to take sides in the Middle East conflict, which surely has sectarianism involved, it will harm the stability of the country by creating divisions among the nation, which is the last thing this already-troubled land can afford right now.
The secrecy and confusion with which the government dealt with the whole issue of Raheel Sharif and Saudi-led military alliance gave rise to a lot of suspicions. The people of Pakistan have a right to know what exactly this alliance is all about. The PML-N government that keeps talking about how it is the torch-bearer of democracy in the country should walk the talk and stop bypassing the parliament and the public.