Islamabad in a fix over joining US-led coalition


ISLAMABAD: With the war against militancy raging on within its own boundaries, Pakistan has to decide within the coming days whether or not to join the US-backed international alliance against the ultra-extremist Islamic State (IS).

Ahead of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s upcoming trip to the US, the government is in a quandary over how it should respond to Washington’s request to join its military alliance against the militant group, which has established a self-styled Caliphate over large areas in Iraq and Syria.

PM Nawaz is expected to visit New York to address the United Nations General Assembly session next week.

The US started bombing IS hideouts in Syria using bases in Turkey in August last year. It has also formally asked Islamabad to join its military alliance to fight the growing global presence of the terrorist group.

 “Pakistan is caught between the American demand and its own ongoing battle against the militants,” a senior government official said on Sunday.

Islamabad has to decide soon with the PM’s trip to the US coming up. The official claimed the premier and army chief General Raheel Sharif are on the same page, unwilling to join the alliance.

Washington is expected to announce this new alliance – Sahel to South Asia – soon and has already taken Islamabad into confidence, he added.

Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah confirmed the US has shared the idea with Pakistan. “Details however are awaited,” he added.

Last month, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice held meetings with the Pakistani military and civilian leadership when she also extended an invitation to Premier Sharif for the Washington visit.

Officials at the PM Secretariat said Gen Raheel and PM Nawaz would this week discuss the US proposal and other issues ranging from the New York visit, Taliban regrouping, al Qaeda and other militant groups sympathetic to the IS.

With Pakistan facing pressure on its eastern and western borders, they said the fear of suspension of the Coalition Support Fund seems to be Washington’s tactic to pressure Islamabad into joining the proposed alliance against IS.

This would certainly feature during PM Nawaz’s visit to New York this month and then again during the strategic dialogue between the US and Pakistan scheduled for October this year, they added.

Military officials did not comment on the issue when contacted. Senior diplomats said US envoys had been given the task to meet leaders of major political parties to drum up support for this alliance.

A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Islamabad said President Obama developed a plan last year for partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel region, allowing the US to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the frontlines against terrorism. “We continue to coordinate with partners and allies in Europe and the Arab World,” he added.

Iran, Afghanistan and India have already shown willingness to join the alliance to fight against IS.

A spokesperson for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC said Pakistan and the US regularly discussed the potential threat of IS keeping in view the evolving nature of terrorism in the Middle East, Sahel region and other parts of Africa and Asia. Pakistan will also participate in the US-led initiative of leaders’ summit on ‘Countering IS and Violent Extremism’ in New York on the sidelines of the forthcoming UN general assembly.

However, Dr Arif Alvi of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf believes Pakistan should not jump into others’ wars. “We should fight our own war in Pakistan,” he said. “We must stay away from this alliance but we can share intelligence with international forces fighting against IS.”

Nafisa Shah of the Pakistan People’s Party called for a parliamentary debate before responding to the US’s proposal. “I personally support multilateral action against IS as it threatens global peace,” she added.

Pakistan, meanwhile, after denying the presence of IS in the country for long, recently put the name of the terror group on the list of proscribed organisations in the country.

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