This means Pakistan and other member states have the liberty to determine their respective role in the coalition
Nearly two years after its formation, the broader contours of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) were finally agreed upon by member states at a meeting of defence ministers held in Riyadh on Sunday, November 26th. The final declaration issued after the meeting has envisaged a raft of measures to fight terrorism. But the following clause is most important and relevant to Pakistan: “Within the framework of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, the participation of the coalition states will be defined in accordance with each country’s capabilities and resources, as well as in accordance with each country’s desire to participate in a given military operation.”
This means that Pakistan and other member states have the liberty to determine their respective role in the coalition. Although Pakistan is part of the Saudi initiative since the start, the extent of its role is unclear. The government has set certain red lines. For example, it has made clear that the country would neither send boots on foreign soil nor become part of any initiative that targets any other Islamic country.
But despite this assurance, main opposition parties are far from convinced. Their biggest concern has been that joining the Saudi alliance would undermine Pakistan’s relations with Iran, something, they argue, can have huge domestic and strategic repercussions. Their fears are not unfounded altogether given the animosity between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Also countries such as Iran, Syria and Iraq are not part of the coalition raising fears that the aim of Saudi initiative may not just be to fight terror but to further its own regional agenda. That impression has been stoutly dispelled by former Pakistan Army Chief and military commander of the coalition General (retd) Raheel Sharif. His clarification aside, the main challenge for Pakistan is to avoid getting embroiled in Saudi-Iran rivalry. The Terms of Reference of the coalition are such that Islamabad can now maintain delicate balance in its foreign policy without antagonising its long-term strategic partner Saudi Arabia and its key neighbour Iran.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2017.
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