Once again, Senators including Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani raised questions about Pakistan’s role in Saudi-led military alliance and appointment of former army chief Raheel Sharif in that alliance, on the first day of the new session of Senate called on opposition’s requisition. Sartaj Aziz, the adviser to the prime minister on foreign affairs failed to allay concerns of Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani and members from the opposition benches over the government move to allow the former army chief to proceed to Saudi Arabia as commander of the proposed force whose composition and ToRs were elusive.
In his policy statement, Sartaj said the government was still waiting for Riyadh to share ToRs of the proposed alliance of Muslim countries, Saudi’s announced to conjure, ostensibly to fight terrorism.
Aziz said ToRs of this proposed military ‘coalition’ were to be discussed and finalised by defence ministers of more than 40 countries, in a huddle which has not taken place yet.
He failed to allay concerns of Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani and members from the opposition benches over the government move to allow the former army chief to proceed to Saudi Arabia as commander of the proposed force whose composition and ToRs were elusive.
“If ToRs are yet to be finalised, how did your former army chief proceed to lead this coalition force. In case its ToRs did not suit Pakistan, what would be your strategy then, would you call back Raheel Sharif,” questioned the Senate chairman.
“There are no troops in this coalition. This coalition is different than the one in the ongoing war in Yemen. As per our information, former army chief is not commanding any force. Probably he [Raheel Sharif] will be working in some advisory role to draft ToRs and how to tackle extremism,” Aziz said, when confronted with a volley of questions by the Senate chairman.
Aziz tried to obfuscate the matter, saying Saudi Arabia had been using services of our retired military officers in the past as well and they had been calling Raheel Sharif for more than a year.
“Those retired officers were of major or colonel level. Here, it is the question of a former army chief of your country. He has all the knowledge of your nuclear arsenal. How can you say, this will not affect your foreign policy,” confronted the chairman.
The long due policy statement of the adviser raised questions over the government’s claimed obliviousness over the proposed Saudi-led military alliance’s matter.
He was supposed to appear before the Senate last month, but due to rapidly changing situation in the Middle East and his busy schedule, he could not make his statement during the last session.
Opposition parties clubbed the matter with their heavily loaded agenda for this session which has been actually called to discuss the situation after Panamagate Joint Investigation Team submitted its report over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family’s malfeasance.
Taking part in the discussion on ToRs of the Riyadh-based military alliance, Senator Farhatullah Babar questioned whether the premature announcement by Raheel Sharif to not accept any extension in service 10 months before the actual date of retirement without even being offered such extension was intended to assure the Saudis that he will be available for service in the military alliance.
He said that if it indeed was the case then a whole set of new and pertinent questions would have to be answered.
Many will wonder whether this premature announcement about not accepting any extension in tenure was in any way linked to the job in the military alliance waiting in the wings, he said.
About support to the militant groups, he said that the FO was quick to welcome the recent decision of the UN to list Jamaat-ul Ahrar as a terrorist outfit, but on the other hand has been asking China to block UN’s move to sanction Jaish-e-Muhammad, whenever such a move came up before the world body.
Besides Leader of Opposition Aitzaz Ahsen, senators Azam Swati of PTI, Col (retd) Tahir Mashahdi of MQM, Ilyas Bilor of ANP, Usman Kakar of PkMAP, Taj Haider, Sherry Rehman, Sehar Kamran and others spoke on the subject, highlighting failures of the country on the foreign policy front during successive regimes, especially the incumbent government. They warned the government to not become party of any move which could foment sectarian divide in the country.
Adviser Aziz also briefed the Upper House on recent visit of delegation of US Arms Services Committee led by Senator John McCain. The visit was for assessing situation to enhance troops in Afghanistan. He claimed Pakistan conveyed to visiting US delegation that there was no military solution to Afghan issue and there was a need to reactivate quadrilateral mechanism that involved Pakistan, Afghanistan, US and China.