ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has failed so far to convince Iran to positively consider the offer joining the Saudi-led military alliance, The Nation has learnt.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry said that Pakistan had been making efforts to persuade Iran to join the multi-nation alliance.

Iran, however, sees the Saudi-led coalition as an alliance of the Sunni states with some ‘hidden agenda’ instead of the joint efforts against terrorism. Iran and Iraq, two Shia-majority countries, are not members of the alliance.

An official at the foreign ministry said that Pakistan had been trying to clarify its position and convince Iran on the genuineness of the Saudi alliance’s agenda. “We are continuing our efforts to satisfy Iran and tell them both Iran and Saudi Arabia are important for Pakistan. We are still hopeful of winning them over and making them part of the alliance,” he said.

Earlier, Iranian Ambassador to Islamabad Mehdi Honardoost raised concerns over former army chief Raheel Sharif’s appointment as head of the Saudi-led military alliance.

The government issued the No-Objection Certificate to the retired General last week and he left for Riyadh soon afterwards.

Iran and Saudi Arabia – two important Muslim nations – have serious disagreements on regional and international issues. On the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, the two countries are poles apart.

Speaking to journalists in Islamabad recently, Ambassador Honardoost said Tehran had conveyed its concerns on General Sharif’s appointment as head of the military alliance. “This could impact the unity of the Muslims. We are naturally concerned about this issue,” he had said.

The envoy said Pakistan did contact Iranian officials before issuing the NOC to General Sharif but this “did not indicate that Iran was satisfied with this decision or it had accepted the same.”

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua said Pakistan had no tension with Iran adding the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance was not against any country but terrorism.

Janjua said there was no change of policy on relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia. “Pakistan has the same policy. We have no border issues with Iran and our border with Iran is friendly,” she said.

She said the Saudi military alliance – to be headed by former army chief Raheel Sharif – was not designed against any country but was aimed at defeating terrorism. “Basically the Muslim countries have joined hands to eliminate terrorism. The alliance has no secret agendas,” she said.

Press Attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Islamabad Abbas Badrifar told The Nation that Iran was not considering to join the Saudi-led alliance as it did not buy the idea. “There is no way we can become part of this alliance. As our ambassador said last week, we have our reservations (against the alliance). This alliance will not be helpful,” he said.

Badrifar said Muslim nations needed a peace alliance rather than a military alliance. “We don’t need more bloodshed. We need efforts for peace. We disagree with the basic idea of the military alliance,” he added.

He said Pakistan and Iran were in touch and did discuss the Saudi-led alliance. “But we are still not convinced about even considering the option of joining the alliance in its present form,” he maintained.

The alliance was formed by Saudi Arabia in December 2015 with its headquarters in Riyadh. Pakistan had also delayed approval to Raheel Sharif – considering Iran’s objections — for several months before finally giving a nod to the former army chief.

Another official at the foreign ministry said Pakistan will continue efforts to make peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia. “In the near future, we could see all the Muslim countries on one table,” he anticipated.

Defence analyst Major General Farooq Malik (Retd) said Pakistan could not refuse to support Saudi Arabia due to historic ties. “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s relationship is very important for both the countries. They have supported us in the past so there is little chance we will ever ditch them,” he said.

International affairs expert Dr Huma Baqai said Pakistan should continue efforts to settle Iran’s reservations. She said Pakistan was obviously part of the alliance to defeat terrorism.

“The agenda is clear. The alliance is aimed at eliminating terrorism. It cannot be designed against any country. Pakistan is a friend to both Iran and Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Defence analyst Major General Farooq Malik (Retd) said Pakistan could not refuse to support Saudi Arabia due to historic ties. “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s relationship is very important for both the countries. They have supported us in the past so there is little chance we will ever ditch them,” he said.

International affairs expert Dr Huma Baqai said Pakistan should continue efforts to settle Iran’s reservations. She said Pakistan was obviously part of the alliance to defeat terrorism.

“The agenda is clear. The alliance is aimed at eliminating terrorism. It cannot be designed against any country. Pakistan is a friend to both Iran and Saudi Arabia,” she said.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 26-Apr-2017 here.