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Raheel Sharif only performing advisory role, not heading any troops in Saudi Arabia: Sartaj Aziz

Raheel Sharif only performing advisory role, not heading any troops in Saudi Arabia: Sartaj Aziz

While answering questions of lawmakers in the Senate on Tuesday on allowing ex-army chief general (retd) Raheel Sharif to head the Saudi-based alliance of Islamic countries, Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said that the former chief of the army staff was not leading any army in Saudi Arabia.

Lawmakers in the Senate yet again questioned the logic behind allowing the ex-army chief general (retd) Raheel Sharif to head the Saudi-based alliance of Islamic countries and also raised queries about what they alleged the ‘duality in the ongoing war in Pakistan against militancy.’

The government was asked why it permitted the former army chief to proceed to Saudi Arabia while ToRs were not so far finalised and that nothing against Iran would be acceptable to parliament.

They maintained that parliament must be informed who exactly framed Pakistan’s foreign policy, as the House took up the opposition’s lengthy agenda, for the 264th requisitioned session.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz made a policy statement in the Senate with particular reference to the recent visit of chairman of US Armed Services Committee to first North Waziristan and then Kabul and the terms of reference (ToRs) of the Riyadh-based military alliance and its impact on Pakistan in the light of permission given to former COAS Raheel Sharif to head it.

He said as soon as the ToRs would be finalised and received, these be placed before parliament. He said the retired chief of the army staff was presently performing an advisory role and not heading any troops there.

Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani questioned why Sharif was in Saudi Arabia if he was not yet leading any army. Lawmakers also wanted to know the reason why the former army chief had been sent to Saudi Arabia if the ToRs were still unclear. Rabbani asked how the government had deemed it okay to send a former army chief — who has knowledge of the country’s nuclear secrets — to a sensitive area without even knowing what he would be doing there. “What if the ToRs are not in the interests of Pakistan’s national security? What will you do then? You have already sent Raheel Sharif to Saudi Arabia,” he questioned.

PPP’s Senator Farhatullah Babar asked why Raheel Sharif had announced 10 months prior to his retirement that he would not be looking for an extension in his tenure as the army chief. He asked, “What was the purpose of making the announcement so far in advance, particularly if no offers had been made to him at that point?” He also asked whether Raheel Sharif wished to signal his availability post-retirement to Saudi Arabia and whether the announcement was made for the benefit of the Saudi leadership.

Babar 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 the support to the militant groups, he said that the Foreign Office was quick to welcome the recently the UN decision to list Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) as a terrorist outfit but on the other hand has been asking China to block the UN move to sanction Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) whenever such a move came up before the world body. “Because of such duality in policy, the world accuses us of running with the hare and hunting with the hound in the fight against militancy and calls for reversal of this policy which was untenable,” he asserted.

ANP Senator Ilyas Bilour said Pakistani lawmakers would not allow there to be any sectarian conflict in the country while asserting that ToRs against Iran would not be acceptable. He cautioned that the future generations would be in great peril, if there would ever be a sectarian conflict.

He recalled during the 1965 war with India, Pakistan’s jets would land in Tehran, as Iran had greatly helped Pakistan and today, Muslim countries were joining hands against Iran.

Senator Tahir Hussain Mashhadi of MQM said that the adviser’s briefing was what they had been reading in The News and Dawn. He alleged the government had no vision and no foreign policy and that was the reason behind Pakistan’s isolation, while at the United Nations, countries like Mongolia would get more votes than Pakistan.

He claimed that only the armed forces had achieved successes against beasts while the government had been a total failure and today, the US was trying to allay its people’s concerns by asking Pakistan to do more against terrorists, whereas it had failed everywhere in taking on the menace of terrorism. “Pakistan’s parliament will accept ToRs that will envisage elimination of Israel, liberation of Al-Quds, Palestine and Kashmir,” he maintained.

Senator Usman Khan Kakar of PkMAP wanted to know whether the US was Pakistan’s friend or enemy and who framed Pakistan’s foreign policy and claimed the people knew who framed it, but the government functionaries lacked the courage to plainly say so.

He pointed out even many religious elements stayed silent when the US was made ‘Imam’ (leader) of the Saudi alliance. He alleged retired generals worked on the directions of the US and the Arab monarchs. “Don’t forge relations with monarchs, as they only use you at the time of need. We should not become a part of any alliance,” he said.

Kakar blamed politicians for always agreeing to power-sharing instead of transfer of power. He charged the financial kaaba of retired generals was Saudi Arabia.

PPP’s Taj Haider said that the US always preferred friendship to safeguard its own interests and that it used friends’ forces to achieve its objectives. “Any agreement by the US or its friendship lasts only till its interests are served,” he said. “Yesterday, we fought the US wars and today, we are fighting the Saudi war. There should be a ceasefire now. Today a prime minister is working to break unity,” he charged without elaborating.

Rabbani greeted PPP Senator Saeed Ghani on winning the recent PS-114 by-election and added that Mashhadi sb was not allowing notification of his victory. The MQM has filed an application in ECP, alleging rigging, which the PPP has rejected outright.

PTI’s Azam Swati strongly opposed Pakistan’s role in the Riyadh-based alliance and warned it was an attempt to put up an artificial threat to Iran to trigger a sectarian strife.

The House witnessed some anxious moments when PML-N Senator Mushahid Ullah slammed the opposition lawmakers, especially those belonging to the PPP and PTI, who accused the government of following a flawed foreign policy as well as secretly allowing former army chief Raheel Sharif to head the alliance of Islamic countries.

The PML-N firebrand shouted at Senator Azam Swati of PTI and Mashhadi, accusing the former of indulging into mudslinging as taught by his leader Imran Khan, and the latter of maligning others by forgetting the ‘murder, extortion’ by his former leader Altaf Hussain. “I can speak for more than an hour on what the leader of Mashhadi used to do on the orders of his former leader Altaf Hussain. And the PPP must not forget their foreign policy when Salalah attack took place; when America intruded into Pakistan’s territory to hunt down Osama bin Laden, and what Hussain Haqqani (a former PPP ambassador to the US) used to do against Pakistan who is now called a traitor by Zardari,” he asserted.

This prompted the opposition to confront the PML-N senator in protest, declaring his behavior inappropriate, but he responded even in a harsher tone, shouting at enraged opposition senators to have some patience to listen, as their governments had no good track record. Rabbani intervened and managed to control the situation.

Speaking on the matter, leader of the opposition Aitzaz Ahsan said that the Sharif family had nothing to do with the foreign policy, as their sole purpose was to strengthen relations with the royals of the Gulf states. “The reason they give a damn to foreign policy of the country is reflective in the recent developments when a Qatari prince wrote a letter to save the Sharifs in the PanamaLeaks case. The prime minister is not going to appoint a full time foreign minister, as he is afraid that he will not have the opportunity to strengthen his ties with Bill Clinton, Qatari Prince, Saudi royals, etc, if there is a full time foreign minister,” he regretted.

Earlier, Aziz said Pakistan was taking indiscriminate action against all groups of terrorists in the best national interest. He was responding to a motion moved by 30 senators about the implications of the statement of chairman US Armed Services Committee in Kabul soon after his visit to Pakistan.

He contended Senator John McCain-led a five-member delegation during his visit to Pakistan early this month and he held meetings with the prime minister and chief of the army staff. He said the visiting delegation was briefed about Pakistan’s initiative for the elimination of terrorism from the country and making the Pak-Afghan border more secure.

Aziz explained the delegation was impressed by the steps taken by Pakistan against the terrorists and the members also lauded Pakistan’s contribution for elimination of terrorism from the region. He said when the delegation visited Afghanistan then they were briefed by Afghan authorities about their reservations.

He said the statement made by the chairman US Armed Services Committee was in response to the briefing by Afghanistan.Responding to another motion regarding the ToRs, Aziz said that the 41-member Islamic military counter terrorism alliance had not yet been finalised. He said the ToRs would be finalised through a consultative mechanism of the member countries at the defence ministers’ level.

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