Former Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif has been appointed as the commander of the Saudi-led 39-nation military coalition to combat terrorism.
The coalition is fighting Shia rebels supported by Iran in Yemen and General's Sharief's appointment is seen as an attempt to thaw Saudi-Iran relations. Pakistan has in the past offered to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh to end the conflict in Yemen.
"Gen Raheel’s appointment was made a few days back and that the government was taken into confidence about the former army chief’s new role," Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif was quoted as saying on Friday by The Express Tribune.
Before Gen Raheel’s retirement, there were rumours that he is likely to be appointed as the head of coalition.
Saudi Arabia had cobbled together last year in the wake of the conflict in Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries.
Speculations about Gen Raheel’s appointment were rife after he was recently spotted in Saudi Arabia. A video showing Gen Raheel escorted by security officials while performing the Umrah pilgrimage was seen in social media recently.
However, there was no official confirmation about his visit to Saudi Arabia.
The Express Tribune report said that the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing, would not offer any comment when approached about his appointment, saying that the military’s media wing was not authorised to say anything on his activities since he is retired.
Since the defence minister has confirmed Gen Raheel’s appointment, the move is seen as significant given the fact that Pakistan was initially reluctant to join the Saudi-led initiative.
In fact, Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia being strained after Islamabad refused to send troops to Yemen to fight Houthi rebels last year.
Saudi Arabia was upset with the parliament’s resolution urging the government to stay away from the conflict in Yemen that a senior Saudi envoy at the time said the Kingdom felt betrayed.