Pakistan is taking a relook at its position on the Saudi-backed 41-nation Islamic military alliance to be led by its former Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif to avoid further straining its relationship with neighbouring Iran, according to a media report.
The Express Tribune reported that Pakistan has decided to follow clear redlines in joining the alliance first announced by Saudi Arabia in 2015.
Its decision comes after statements by Saudi authorities at the Arab Islamic-US summit in Riyadh on May 20-21 suggested that the military alliance was meant primarily to counter Iran - a regional rival of Saudi Arabia.
The Riyadh summit focused on isolating Iran - which was kept out of the summit - and countering terrorism in the Middle East. Pakistani officials insisted that the Pakistan government in-principle agreed to be a part of the initiative if its sole purpose was to fight terrorism.
It was believed that the government had joined the alliance when in April it green-lighted Gen Sharif to leave Pakistan to lead the alliance. But the officials said a final decision will be made once the terms of reference (ToRs) of the alliance are finalised. The ToRs would be finalised during a meeting of the defence ministers of the participating countries in Saudi Arabia soon.
A senior official familiar with the development told the daily that Pakistan would present its set of proposals during the meeting. Pakistan, according to the official, would recommend that the military alliance should have clear objective, that is to fight terrorism.
Any deviation from this goal, he added, will not only undermine the alliance but lead to more divisions in the Muslim world. "We are very clear that we will join this alliance only to fight terrorism," the official emphasised. Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria has also indicated that Pakistan was yet to take a final decision.
"What we need to understand is that the Terms ofReference of the alliance are yet to be finalised. The defence ministers of the participating countries will meet and discuss the modalities of the coalition.
We must wait until we have all the information to comment on its outcome. We shouldn't indulge in speculations," Zakaria said in one of his briefings. The Pakistan government has already given a public commitment that it would not become part of any initiative whose aim is to target any other Islamic country, including Iran.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on the floor of the National Assembly has said that Pakistan would withdraw from the alliance if it turns out to be sectarian in nature. Even Gen Sharif had reportedly told the Saudis that he would lead the grouping only if its main purpose was to fight terrorism and not aimed at any other Islamic country.
To avoid any strain in its ties with Iran, Pakistan had pushed for mediation between Tehran and Riyadh. Islamabad even mooted the idea of inclusion of Iran in the military alliance.
However, those efforts could not succeed since SaudiArabia and Iran have serious differences on regional disputes, particularly the current hotspots in the Middle East.
Pakistan's main opposition parties, Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Peoples Party, have been calling for maintaining "neutrality" in the Arab-Iran rivalry. But given the longstanding strategic ties with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is unlikely to completely withdraw from the alliance. Nonetheless, officials stressed, Pakistan's participation would remain confined to counter-terrorism efforts.