Islamabad: Pakistan's recently retired army chief Gen Raheel Sharif will head the Saudi Arabia-led 39-nation Islamic military coalition formed to combat terrorism, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said today.
Asif, while speaking during a talk show on Geo TV, admitted that an agreement in this regard was finalised a few days back.
He said the decision was taken after taking the incumbent government into confidence and "it was finalised here first". The headquarters of the new Saudi-led coalition would be based in Riyadh.
Asif said that both the government and army were on board regarding the decision to let General Raheel take charge of the alliance.
He, however, refused to share the details of agreement under which Raheel has been appointed the chief of the Saudi-led alliance.
"As you are aware that this thing was in the pipeline for quite some time and the Prime Minister was also part of the deliberations," Asif was quoted as saying.
Raheel retired as the army chief in November and has been succeeded by General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Pakistani leaders were initially taken aback when Saudi Arabia, without proper consultation with them, had announced in 2015 that Islamabad was also part of the new alliance to combat militancy.
Iran was not included in the grouping which appeared as a vague attempt to forge a Sunni Muslim alliance against Shiite Iran to curtail its influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and rest of the Middle East.
Pakistan was in an unenviable position as it has good ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. It was also not ready to be dragged into the politics of Middle East. Hence, the government had announced that a decision about joining the group would be taken once its details were known.
Later, Pakistan confirmed its participation in the alliance, but had said that the scope of its participation would be defined after Riyadh shared the details of the coalition it was assembling.
After remaining dormant for months, the group is trying to reassemble.
The coalition includes countries like Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Sudan, Malaysia, Egypt, Yemen among others.