‘Pak not joining any anti-Iran coalition’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Tuesday said, that Pakistan under no circumstances would join a military alliance against Iran, contrary to speculations doing the round because of the country’s support for a Saudi-led coalition of 34 Muslim nations aimed at curtailing the spread of extremism and terrorism in the region, Dwan reported.

Mr Asif, said in a policy statement before the house: “After Iran, Pakistan has the second largest Shia population in the world, so how can we even think of joining an anti-Shia military alliance.”

Above all, the defence minister claimed, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah – the founder of the nation – was also an adherent of a Shia sect, just like many others who had played a key role in the development of this country.

Acknowledging the existence of fault lines between the Sunni and Shia sects, the minister stressed that the government’s efforts would remain focused on promoting religious harmony, both within the country and elsewhere in the region. In the over 20-minute speech, he clarified several times that Pakistan would never commit its military to any alliance against another Muslim country.

He said that the 34-nation Saudi-led coalition was still evolving; it was unclear how this coalition would work and what precise role its members would be playing. However, thus far it appeared that the initiative was meant to develop a counter-narrative against the vilification of Muslims the world over.

“As per my understanding, a collective effort will be made through this coalition, at a diplomatic level and through the media, against forces that are working to create unrest in the Muslim world,” he said.

On various defence pacts that Pakistan signed with Saudi Arabia since 1980, the minister said the two countries were deeply engaged in all sorts of defence-related cooperation, which included training, regular joint military exercises and defence production cooperation, among other heads.

“At present, 1,125 Pakistani officers are present in Saudi Arabia on various assignments mainly involving training, and the number will only increase in the coming days because the two countries heavily bank upon each other in the field of defence.”

The minister also told the house that the meeting held by PM Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif with the Saudi leadership “had gone well”, and hoped that a similarly positive outcome would be achieved in Tehran. “Our intention is to de-escalate the tension between Riyadh and Tehran,” the minister said.

However, this explanation did not satisfy opposition lawmakers. PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar said that for outsiders, the 34-nation alliance seemed like a deliberately anti-Shia initiative that excluded countries such as Iraq, Iran and Syria. The PPP lawmaker also contended that in the presence of the Organisation for Islamic Countries (OIC), one wonders what prompted Saudi Arabia to create another platform if its only purpose was to fight the extremist mindset.

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