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The New Arab

Pakistani army chief could lead Saudi-proposed Islamic anti-terror coalition

Gen. Sharif (C) has said before Pakistan's army would defend and protect Saudi Arabia [AFP]

Date of publication: 13 March, 2016

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General Raheel Sharif may be picked to lead the anti-IS Sunni coalition proposed by Saudi Arabia before the end of last year, according to US military and political sources.

The commander of Pakistan's armed forces Gen. Raheel Sharif could be selected to lead the 34-nation Islamic anti-terror coalition after he retires, according to Pakistani press quoting US political and military sources.

The sources said Pakistan’s military leadership’s "neutral policy" towards Saudi Arabia and Iran would remain intact and this office would not cause any change in policies of the Pakistani military.

Gen. Sharif is known for his close ties to Saudi Arabia. He has repeatedly declared that the Pakistani army is keen to protect Saudi security and defend Saudi Arabia.

The army chief accompanied the Pakistani prime minister last week on a visit to Saudi Arabia to attend the closing ceremony of the North Thunder military drills.

Pakistani troops were also part of the closing ceremony, which performed air drops and air assault.

Gen. Sharif is known for his close ties to Saudi Arabia. He has repeatedly declared that the Pakistani army is keen to protect Saudi security and defend Saudi Arabia.

The Pakistani officials, including the army chief, met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Defence Minister Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who had personally announced the formation of the Islamic coalition in December, which some at the time said was nothing more than a PR stunt.

There were also concerns the coalition, consisting mainly of Sunni nations, was aimed at Shia Iran rather than its declared enemy the Islamic State.

Raheel Sharif was appointed head of the Pakistani army in November 2013. He led a major shift in the army's doctrine, focusing on Taliban as the nation's main enemy rather than India, Islamabad's historical foe.

Sharif also has an academic background, having served at the helm of the Pakistani military academy.

The leaks come at a time when Saudi Arabia recently declared the new coalition would take military steps and take form on the ground soon, after the chiefs of staff of its member states meet at a later, as of yet unspecified time.

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