At the time when it came to be known that former COAS General Raheel Sharif would be heading a Saudi-led coalition of 39 states to fight terrorism, the instant reaction from the Foreign Office over the issue was that of an outsider, unaware of the decision. While the government over time has come to back the decision, and has now announced that it will be part of the military alliance, was it because it is a pragmatic move for Pakistan’s interests, or did it have no choice considering it has had no control over the situation for the last one year?

The concern is that Pakistan cannot maintain neutrality, the way that it once did when refusing to send its troops to fight the Saudi war in Yemen. The Foreign Office claims that this is not true, that Pakistan will maintain neutrality in the Middle East, but in case of a conflict with Iran, or another request for support in the Gulf, can we actually say no?

There are other concerns that the government has not be able allay for its people. Why is this coalition confined to 39 countries and what were the criteria for inclusion? What is the purpose of the coalition? Is it for a war against terrorism or a Muslim NATO that is activated when one of the 39 countries is in trouble?

There is no great harm in linking with other states, at a time where our links with the west are tenuous and we are in a hostile neighbourhood except for China. We have a vast diaspora in the Middle East and religious sympathies. What is disconcerting is that our joining does not feel like a well-thought out decision, that we do not know what resources we will be expending on any potential war in the Middle East, and that we do not yet know what the coalition is for exactly. The only reason why the public accepts such moves is because of its trust in the Army and people like General Sharif, but this trust has been broken in the past. Rather than dealing with internal conflict, we now stand to be a player in international conflicts. Were we sure that this alliance would unequivocally be in our national interest? Being a country with no Foreign Minister, where transparency is not a priority and parliamentarians are either missing, corrupt, lazy, or misinformed, we will never know the answer to such questions.