It is a pleasant surprise that the parliament and the larger political community seems to instinctively adopt the most reasonable stances when it comes to endless permutations of the Middle East crisis. Stay neutral, don’t get sucked into a needless conflict, maintain good diplomatic and trade relations with everyone, and try to use your position as a global political player to bring the squabbling countries together. It is a commendable, if rather simple stance, and a relic from the days when Pakistan was a leader among Muslim nations. Regardless, it has kept Pakistan out of several conflicts like the Iraq-Iran war, the invasion of Kuwait and now the bombing of Yemen.

And while Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz may tell the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that Pakistan would not take sides in the Saudi Arabia-Qatar spat and that it adheres to the neutral stance, the actions of the government say something entirely different.

Pakistan is decidedly part of the military alliance dubbed the “Muslim NATO” out of confusion over its role as much as for effect. Our top civilian and military leaders have attended the war games carried out by this group and our soldiers are stationed in Saudi Arabia. The Prime Minister was part of Donald Trump’s audience on his recent visit and he accompanied the Chief of Army Staff back to the Kingdom a few days later. Perhaps most importantly, General Raheel Sharif, the last COAS, still hugely popular among the country and considered the face of the military’s resurgence heads this military alliance as commander.

However, when Sartaj Aziz was questioned about the possibility of recalling Gen Raheel Sharif, he claimed that he could not be recalled as he is there in his personal capacity – which makes it seem that the government has no control over his actions and our involvement in the alliance. This again is a misrepresentation; it was the government that issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) to the general, giving him their blessing for this job.

While he may choose to refuse, the government does have the right to recall him, as Gen Raheel Sharif is effectively a de facto ambassador for Pakistan at the head of this alliance – it is ridiculous to suggest the government has no control. These comments also make us wonder how much control the government actually has over this alliance – it was dragged in unwillingly and now can’t seem to get out.

It is time that the government clears up the vague commitments and relations that make up this alliance. Either divest Gen Raheel Sharif from all authority as a Pakistani representative, or own up to the fact that he is there on your behalf. The same goes for our military and economic environments – one way or another, the government needs to explain to the public what being part of the “Muslim NATO” means.