Defence Minister Khawaja Asif didn’t exactly pose a picture of confidence when he confirmed the appointment of retired Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif as the commander-in-chief of the Saudi Arabia led Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) on a private TV channel a few days ago. He stammered through a generic notion of Muslim solidarity, excused himself from most questioning by claiming to not know much about the subject and crucially said that, “definitely, our government’s consent must have been part of this” – the uncertainty being the key point here.

On Wednesday, he didn’t fare much better in front of the Senate either. When questioned about the government’s role in the appointment, he told the Senate that General Raheel Sharif has not sought a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the government to take on any new role, and if such a role is sought, it would require the proper clearance from the Defence Ministry – despite the fact that this is a fairly unprecedented situation, and the legal logic for this requirement is a shaky one.

While this appears to be a solid stance on the issue, the fact of the matter is that it contradicts most of what the Minister told the media a few short days ago – not to mention that all this bluster has come after the appointment had been allegedly done and dusted. Add to this the studied circumspection with which Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, declined to take a hard stance on this development, and the government’s authority in the matter starts to look pretty slim. Nobody in the government was seemingly part of the decision making process on the alleged acceptance, and no one seems to be willing to outright deny the ex-army chief the ability to work for the Saudis, despite acknowledging the fact that this appointment carries several unsavoury geopolitical implications.

The only person who seems to be in charge of this train – the army ex-chief himself – is so far mum on the issue. There has been no confirmation or denial from his part; only second hand accounts and rumours of his plans. Till he reappears and explains his baffling decision to the public, it seems like we are stuck with the Saudi led IMAFT – at least by association.