ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s recently retired army chief Raheel Sharif has been appointed to lead a new Saudi-military alliance to fight terrorism, Pakistani media have reported.
Government officials in Saudi Arabia could not be reached on Sunday to confirm the appointment to head the coalition, the founding of which Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced at a sudden midnight press conference in December 2015.
Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said in an appearance on Pakistan’s Geo News channel on Friday that Sharif’s appointment had been finalised a few days earlier.
A statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA in December 2015 said the new coalition would have 34 members, though more have joined since then. It also said the coalition would be based in Riyadh to “coordinate and support military operations” against terrorism. Little has been heard of it since then.
The states it listed as joining the new coalition included Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and several African nations.
It did not include Shi’ite Muslim Iran and its allies Syria and Iraq, leading to speculation that it could become a potential Sunni bloc against Iran, a rival of Sunni Saudi Arabia for influence across the Arab world. Tehran and Riyadh are ranged on opposite sides in proxy conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
General Sharif retired last November, the first Pakistani army chief in more than 20 years not to seek an extension to his term like some previous military leaders.
Additional reporting by Katie Paul in Riyadh; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky