ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has told Iran that it was committed to friendship with the brotherly and will not become part of any grouping targeting Tehran amid reports that former army chief Gen (retd) Raheel Sharif might assume leadership of a Saudi-led military alliance of Arab countries, The Nation learnt.

Senior officials said that Iran had been assured that Pakistan considered Iran as a friendly country and even if Raheel Sharif became part of the 39-nation alliance, the only agenda would be to defeat terrorism.

“Pakistan does not doubt Iran’s commitment against terrorism and the Saudi-led alliance is also not Iran-specific,” said an official.

Last year, Pakistan lifted sanctions against Iran following international sanctions were lifted after the country’s nuclear deal with world powers.

In 2016, Pakistan was active to ease Iran-Saudi Arabia tensions after Saudi Arabia executed 47 people on terrorism charges including Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia religious leader.

Nimr’s execution spurred Iranian demonstrators into ransacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran, prompting several Saudi allies to break off diplomatic ties with Iran .

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif remained in contact with the top Iran and Saudi leadership to defuse the tension. He held talks with Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and President Rouhani convincing them to resolve the disputes on the table.

Pakistan and Iran are also hoping to complete the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project soon to resolve Pakistan’s energy crisis.

The IP pipeline project - also called Peace Pipeline – is aimed at constructing a pipeline from Iran’s South Pars fields in the Persian Gulf to Pakistan’s major cities of Karachi and Multan.

Iran was concerned after Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s statement that Gen (retd) Raheel Sharif has been appointed as head of the Saudi-led alliance and the government had already accorded approval.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said that the issue of Gen (retd) Sharif’s appointment as head of Saudi-led Islamic military alliance was still being considered. He said that any decision would be taken in the larger national interest and in accordance with the constitution.

Dar said that Riyadh had desired to appoint Gen (retd) Sharif as head of the military alliance even prior to his retirement in November but the proposal was refused as both PM Sharif and Gen Sharif believed it would be a conflict of interests.

The finance minister was optimistic that Gen (retd) Sharif will seek approval from the government before agreeing to join the Saudi-led military alliance.

Another foreign ministry official said that the government had close ties with Saudi Arabia but Riyadh will be convinced not to target Iran as it would divide the Muslim Ummah.

“We agree with Saudia’s decision to fight terrorists but we, of course, do not expect them to confront Iran . At this point, there has been no hint from Riyadh of targeting Iran . We will of course not support any action against Iran ,” he said.

Defence analyst Lt-Gen (retd) Amjad Shoaib claimed that Gen (retd) Sharif had conditionally agreed to become head of the 39-nation military alliance.

“He has put three conditions. He also has asked them to include Iran in the alliance to give it an image of Muslims’ alliance instead of a sectarian alliance,” Lt-Gen Shoaib said. He said that Gen Sharif had also told the Saudi government that he will not work anyone’s command and sought a mandate to work for the unity of the Muslim countries.

Meanwhile, Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz visited Iranian embassy on Tuesday to sign the condolence book on the demise of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president of Iran and Chairman of the Expediency Council.

Aziz expressed the deepest condolence on the passing away of the former Iranian president.  He noted that Rafsanjani was a visionary leader and a statesman, who served his country throughout his life with dedication and distinction.

He further inscribed that Rafsanjani was a sincere friend of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan will always remember his lasting contribution to strengthening of Pakistan-Iran ties.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Syed Tariq Fatemi also visited the Iranian embassy to sign the condolence book to express condolence on the demise of Rafsanjani.

Conveying his heartfelt condolence at the loss of the great Iranian leader, Fatemi said that he would be remembered as one of the pioneers of the revolution in the Islamic Republic of Iran .

He said that “this was not only a loss of Iran but also of the government and the people of Pakistan who revered him as a true friend and well wisher of Pakistan”.

National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani also visited the embassy for condolence.