GENERAL RAHEEL SHARIF, SAUDI COALITION AND PAKISTANI PUBLIC OPINION
Ever since the news started circulating that General Raheel Sharif has been offered the command of a coalition of 34â€“odd Muslim countries joint force by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), all hell broke loose. Main opposition came from Iranian supporters in Pakistan. What surprises me is that they care more for Iran and less for Pakistan. There are two factors to be considered in this matter. First, it is an honour for a Pakistani general to be offered this position of prominence by a country that has stood with Pakistan through times good and bad. The same cannot be said about Iran, which may have been friendly in the time of Reza Shah Pehlavi, but has been unsympathetic and unfriendly since the arrival of the Ayatollahs. This is not based on conjecture but on personal experience. Iranian officialdom has always been arrogant towards Pakistan. They donâ€™t miss an opportunity to lecture us and are equally ready to convey their displeasure. Saudis have always been sympathetic to Pakistan. Pakistani military power and nuclear capability are a source of pride for them; not so for the Iranians. Saudis have helped Pakistan regardless of which party, civil or military, has been in power because they sympathize with people of Pakistan. The second issue is that the public that showered praises on Gen Raheel Sharif, is now being maligned by a small minority as if suddenly, this patriotic general will take leave of his senses and do things that are contrary to the interest of Pakistan. This decision is being construed as anti-Iran. Why are we worried about the Iranian interest? Has Iran ever considered Pakistanâ€™s interest while formulating its policy towards India and Afghanistan? Also is it wise to remain neutral between a consistent friend and blow-hot-blow-cold neighbor? Diplomacy demands that we should improve relations with all nations but it also calls for not rebuffing old sincere friends. There are times when one comes across a Y-fork in oneâ€™s path and one has to make a decision. One cannot go on two different paths at the same time.
There is another matter to be considered and that is when we emphasize too much on our sectarian alignment and see everything through this filter. On social media the issue is constantly being discussed on these lines. This is fraught with too many risks. No matter how logical our argument is, we cannot bring the people of the other sect around to our own perspective. Arguments prove divisive. They risk the cohesion and unity of our armed forces specially. Libya, Iraq and Syria were destroyed because of divisions in their armed forces. Pakistan is still united due to the unity of its armed forces. By focusing on and promoting our sectarian differences we will be obliging our enemies. Remember, Trumpâ€™s main theme during his visit to KSA was that he wanted his Muslim friends to fight his Muslim enemies. Why should we do it? It is incumbent on both Iran and KSA to bury the hatchet and stop fighting proxy wars to expand their territories and influence.
Iranâ€™s supporters in Pakistan also propose a diabolical scheme. That is, that this grand coalition should only fight Daesh, Taliban and Al Qaeda and leave alone Iranian militias, Houthis, Hezbollah A-Hejaz, Hamas etc. This coalition was created ostensibly to fight terrorism generally and defend the member states from terrorism. The Iranian supportersâ€™ plan would leave Iranian proxies intact while neutralizing the Saudi ones. That is some self-defeating strategy from the Saudi perspective!
It is evident that in the Middle East or Levant specially, there are too many fingers in the proverbial pie. Many entities are fighting for dominance or survival so their strategies are working for attainment of conflicting objectives. There is a Sunni alignment and a Shia one plus there is Israel and the United States. All parties involved have their own threat perceptions and objectives, which cannot be rationalized or reconciled. However, the Muslims should stop fighting one another. All parties should renounce claims and intents of taking over territories outside their borders like Israel has been doing or some Shia ideologues have expressed to take over Hejaz and the Holy Places.
Coming back to Gen Raheel Sharif, let us leave him alone. He was reliable to head the Pakistan Army, why canâ€™t we rely on him now to do the best for Pakistan? It is petty and mean to claim that he went there for dollars. The criticism against him is based on political and sectarian leanings of individuals and groups. We should care more for Pakistan and less for Iran!