Pakistan can’t recall Gen Sharif from Riyadh: Sartaj Aziz

Islamabad: Pakistan cannot recall former Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif from Riyadh as he has taken the command of the 41-nation Saudi-led military alliance against the Islamic State in his “personal capacity”, the country’s top diplomat said today.

Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan Prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, in a briefing to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs here said that Gen Sharif was not sent by the government to lead the alliance and therefore, cannot be asked to return.

However, news reports have previously said the 61-year-old former chief of Army staff was granted approval by the government to serve as head of the alliance for three years. Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif had told Geo News in April that the government has given Gen Sharif a ‘No Objection Certificate’ to lead the military alliance.

Gen Sharif, who remained the Army chief for three years until he retired in November, left for Riyadh in April.

According to Saudi Arabia, the alliance is aimed at fighting the Islamic State (IS) and other militant outfits. But after the recent Gulf crisis began to unfold and a Saudi coalition boycotted Qatar for allegedly supporting terrorism, Pakistan found itself in a fix over which side to take.

Aziz said Pakistan will not take any side in the Gulf crisis.

He clarified that Pakistan has remained neutral during the Yemen conflict as mandated by the resolution passed by the parliament in 2015. The top diplomat was referring to the time when Saudi Arabia had launched a military operation against Yemen and Pakistan maintained a “neutral” role. He said the same resolution will serve as the foundation for the role Pakistan will take in the current Gulf crisis.

“Pakistan doesn’t want to interfere in other countries matters and will stick to its non-partisan policy on the Middle East issue.”

Committee chairperson Nazir Sadiq said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has met Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and has also spoken to Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on phone to reduce tension in the region. Pakistan has followed a thin line to maintain ties with the Gulf nations amid increasing bilateral rivalries.