Iran breaks ‘silence’ on Raheel’s new task

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  • Honardoost suggests “coalition of peace” to resolve issues of Islamic countries; A Foreign Ministry official calls criticism, skepticism against alliance unnecessary

In its first official response on the Saudi-led military coalition, Iran on Monday expressed concerns over the appointment of former chief of army staff General Raheel Sharif as the head of the Islamic Military Alliance.

Talking to IRNA news agency, Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoost expressed his country’s reservations on the issuance of NOC (no objection certificate) to General Raheel for his new assignment as head of the military alliance.

The former army chief is all set to take up the command of the military alliance during this month. It is pertinent to mention here that Defence Minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif had recently confirmed that the government had issued an NOC to the former army chief to lead the military alliance.

When asked whether Pakistan had took Iran into confidence over the matter, Honardoost responded in the affirmative. “Yes, it is correct that Pakistan had contacted Iranian officials before issuing the NOC, but it did not indicate that Iran is satisfied with this decision or it had accepted the same,” he said.

Contrary to his predecessor, Honardoost is too active in Pakistan and is often available for media for anything on Pakistan and Iran relations. When asked if Iran had been offered to join the alliance, the envoy responded in a big no. “No such offer was extended to us,” he said.

But actually, “we had informed Pakistan that Iran would not become a part of any alliance like the military alliance,” he said. Rather than forming a ‘controversial’ military coalition, Iran strongly believed that all important Islamic countries should come together to form a “coalition of peace” to resolve their issues, Honardoost said.

COUNTERTERRORISM: On the other hand, the government time and again made it clear that the appointment of Raheel Sharif as head of the military alliance aims at providing leadership as the former army chief led a successful security operations to root out terrorists from Pakistan.

An official of the Foreign Affairs Ministry told Pakistan Today that the criticism and skepticism against the alliance was unnecessary as it was too early to oppose it. “Though the ToRs (terms of reference) for the alliance are yet to be formed but one thing has been agreed by all the countries involved: This alliance is formed with one single objective – to counter terrorism,” the official said.

About the misuse of the alliance, the official said that some media outlets under influence of western lobbies were raising useless questions to challenge the alliance. “Let me make it clear once and for all, this alliance is not going to be used against any Muslim state. It is not formed on sectarian lines. It is purely an alliance to defeat terrorism following return of the Islamic State and other fighting groups in Syria and Iraq,” he concluded.

Whether it has been defence minister, Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz or Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakria, all have time and again explained aim and objective of the coalition. Saudi Defence Minister Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also clearly spelled that the alliance was for counterterrorism and it would move against terrorists irrespective of the fact that whosoever was involved in terrorism.

CONTROVERSY: The military coalition, also tagged as Muslim NATO, is reportedly designed as a loose alliance of an undisputable majority of Muslim countries with no details available at hand. Some media speculations about the purpose and mechanism of the alliance has added to the controversy since the first time the news about the alliance came to the fore.

Initially, the Pakistan government had adopted a very cautious approach towards the alliance though the Saudi officials had claimed last year that Pakistan was a part of the alliance. It was only last week that the Foreign Office spokesperson officially confirmed the joining after the lapse of almost six months.

The decision to join the alliance is drawing a lot of criticism from some analysts, former diplomats, and opposition parties because they believe that such a move could create more problems for Pakistan on diplomatic front. Many critics believe that the alliance may be used to target the interests of Iran and Iraq governments which are not a part of the alliance.

Moreover, it being argued that the alliance may be used to neutralise the resistance by Houthi militia and its ally, the forces loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh who have captured a large swaths of territory in Yemen. The western media outlets have been raising questions about the alliance.