Islamabad: News about General Raheel Sharif poised to head a Saudi-led military alliance to combat terror has sparked a debate in Pakistan with the Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani asking if the retired army chief had sought the government's permission, according to a media report on Tuesday.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said last Friday that the former army chief will head the Saudi Arabia-led 39-nation Islamic military coalition formed to combat terrorism.
Senate Chairman Rabbani yesterday asked the government whether former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif had sought permission from the federal government or taken it into confidence over his reported appointment as commander of the 39-nation Saudi-led military alliance, Dawn newspaper reported.
Asking Defence Minister Asif to keep in mind the rules for a retired officer seeking an appointment, he asked whether "a no objection certificate was issued and the federal government was taken into confidence?"
"I heard your statement on TV and you were not clear yourself," Rabbani said, adding that a contradictory statement from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's aide Dr Musaddiq Malik had made the matter even more ambiguous.
Rabbani has also asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify what would be the implications of the decision in terms of foreign policy and its effect on a decision, taken at the joint sitting of parliament, not to become part of any such alliance.
There has so far been no official confirmation of the fact that Gen Sharif will assume command of the alliance, the report said.
Interestingly, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar yesterday indicated the government is unaware of the general's reported decision.
In a Samaa TV programme, Dar expressed ignorance about the Saudi offer to Gen Sharif. He, however, felt certain that Gen Sharif would consult the government and fulfill legal and constitutional requirements before taking any decision on leading the military coalition.
He said that Saudi Arabia wanted Gen Sharif to head the coalition while he was army chief.
"Basically when he was in service, the government of Saudi Arabia wanted him to head the coalition forces of Islamic countries while discharging his duties as COAS.
"It was consensus among Prime Minister Sharif, the government and the then COAS that it would be a conflict of interests," Dar said, adding that it was not fair for him to head a coalition force comprising 34 or 39 countries while being the COAS.
Meanwhile, Gen Sharif's reported decision to head a Saudi-led military alliance has sparked an online debate with many criticising him for the decision.
With over 9,500 tweets, Gen Sharif was trending on Twitter the whole day on Saturday. From a few politicians to retired officers of the armed forces, anchor persons, journalists, intellectuals all questioned the decision of Gen Sharif to join a foreign military alliance just over a month after his retirement.
However, most politicians having verified Twitter accounts refrained from commenting on the issue on the social media, Dawn reported.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Asad Umar was among the few politicians who shared his thoughts on Twitter and termed the move unfortunate.
He tweeted: "Raheel Sharif accepting to become head of a military alliance which parliament of Pakistan had decided not to become part of is unfortunate."
The Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen posted a statement on its website in which its secretary general, Allama Raja Nasir Abbas, expressed concern over the move and said that it was against the interest of Pakistan. He said that the former army chief must refuse this appointment.
But a spokesman for the outlawed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat said that his party fully supported Gen Sharif's move as it would be a great honour for the whole country if a former army chief headed an alliance of 39 Islamic countries against terrorism.