ISLAMABAD - Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif yesterday told the Senate that no formal request for NOC had been received so far by his ministry from the former army chief General (r) Raheel Sharif about his reported appointment as head of Saudi Arab-led military alliance.

“If any request [no objection certificate] is received, it will be dealt according to the rules,” he said.

The statement of the minister contradicts his previous statement he made last week during a talk show at a private TV channel where he had said that General (r) Raheel had been made the chief of Islamic military coalition formed to combat terrorism.

Speaking in the Senate, Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said that since no formal request had been received for NOC so far, the implications of the appointment on Pakistan’s foreign policy could not be discussed at this moment.

Khawaja Asif was asked by the Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani to clarify the matter about the appointment of the former chief of army staff.

The defence minister said that “Gen Raheel had just informed about performing Umrah. He has returned to Pakistan now.”

He also stated that in case the former army chief requested for the NOC for such an appointment, the ministry would need to amend the existing rules under which all the government departments were bound to get NOC from the defence ministry in case a retired army officer was appointed in any department.

In the aforesaid talk show, Khawaja Asif had admitted that an agreement for Gen Raheel’s appointment had been finalised few days ago. However, he said, he did not have much information at that moment about the details of the said agreement.

He had said that the decision was taken after taking the incumbent government into confidence and “it was finalised here first”.

The defence minister said that any such assignment or posting required proper clearance from the government and General Headquarters (GHQ) both, and confirmed that due process was followed before finalising the agreement.

“As you are aware that this thing was in the pipeline for quite some time and the prime minister was also part of the deliberations,” he conceded.

During yesterday’s Senate session Federal Minister for SAFRON Lt General (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch also tried to assert that there was nothing on the ground about the appointment of the former army chief.

Senate chairman warned him, “The concerned minister has made his statement. I know my job, how to run the House. There is no need to tell me how to run [it].”

Seven senators, including Farhatullah Babar, Azam Khan Swati, Ilyas Bilour, Mohsin Aziz, Michael William and Taj Haider, opposed the appointment of General (r) Raheel Sharif saying it will have far-reaching implications on Pakistan’s foreign policy.

They unanimously endorsed the decision of the joint session of the parliament that Pakistan should stay away from the proposed Saudi-led military alliance.

Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the military alliance was apparently formed to fight terrorism but because of deliberate exclusion of Shia countries of Iran, Iraq and Syria the alliance is widely being perceived as a grouping of Sunni countries fighting against the Shia Muslims in the region.

“What will happen if tomorrow Iran formed a similar military alliance of Shia countries and invited a retired sympathetic Pakistani senior military commander to head it?, he asked. This is a recipe for disaster, Babar warned.

He said that the joint sitting of the parliament had unanimously said a big no to participation in the KSA-led military alliance and if a recently retired general went straight from the GHQ to head the same it would send a very wrong and disturbing message all around.

General (r) Raheel Sharif had earned unprecedented respect of the entire nation across the board and heading the new military alliance will not add to his standing, Babar said, urging the former general to himself decline the offer.

He said Raheel had announced his decision to retire from the army 10 months ahead of the date of retirement for which he was greatly admired and applauded by all.

“All that applause will die down if he joined the alliance within days of his retirement and tongues will start wagging about the early announcement,” Babar concluded.

Commenting on the speeches of the members, the chairman remarked that the parliament for its consensus decision about Pakistan’s joining Saudi-led military coalition would reconsider its decision in the event of any development about the appointment of General (r) Raheel Sharif.