Pakistan Army Chief Raheel Sharif
Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif.Reuters

The Saudi Arabia-led Islamic Military Alliance is all set to get a new and experienced leader to head the nascent force. Former Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif was on Friday, January 7, confirmed by Pakistani Defence Ministry as the chief of this organisation.

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The 60-year-old had retired in November 2016. Islamabad has clarified that the Pakistani government was taken into confidence before arriving at such a decision.

Previously, Saudi Arabia had included Pakistan in its newly-formed military alliance without consulting the Nawaz Sharif government.

Who is Raheel Sharif?

Gen (retd) Sharif has been lauded in Pakistan for carrying out Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the tribal areas of North Waziristan. He is said to have changed the focus of the Army to carry out counter-insurgency operations against Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) militants. As a result of his operations, the overall security situation in these areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan region has improved.

He is also credited with reducing violence in Karachi by expanding the role of paramilitary forces.

Gen (retd) Sharif is also known to have pursued reconciliation between Balochi freedom fighters and is said to have ended insurgency in Balochistan. He also created a brigade-level military unit to protect the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

What is this Islamic Military Alliance?

The Islamic Military Alliance is a military alliance between Muslim countries, with the primary objective of protecting Muslim countries from terrorist groups and terror organisations. Out of the 39 countries supporting the alliance, only a few countries have opted to provide military alliance.

Here is a list of member countries that are part of the organisation -- Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Gabon, Guinea, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE and Yemen.

Other countries that might join the coalition include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and Tajikistan.

Turkey has welcomed the coalition and called it the "best response to those who are trying to associate terror and Islam."

The coalition would serve as a platform for security cooperation with provision for training, equipment and troops, and involvement of religious scholars for dealing with extremism.

The coalition was announced by Saudi Defence Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud at a press conference in Riyadh in 2015. He said that the coalition would tackle "the Islamic world's problem with terrorism and will be a partner in the worldwide fight against this scourge."

He also said that the coalition will be used to "coordinate" efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

Is Iran not an Islamic country?

However, the coalition does not include Iran, also an Islamic country. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been at loggerheads with each other for influence in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni majority monarchy and Iran is Shia majority. Both the countries are known for waging proxy conflicts to be on top in the Islamic world, be it in Syria or Yemen.

What about Yemen civil war?

Saudi Arabia has been militarily involved in Yemen civil war after the Iran-backed Houthis deposed Saudi-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh and sent him into exile. Since 2015, the Saudi Air Force has targeted Houthis, but in the process killed scores of innocent civilians too. Saudi accuses Tehran of fuelling the violence and arming Houthis. Tehran has denied any role in Yemen.