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Pakistan, Iran work to heal Saudi alliance rift
Iran’s Ambassador Mehdi Honardoost on Wednesday met army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for the second time in over a month in an apparent effort by the two sides to iron out differences on Pakistan’s move to allow the former army chief to head the Saudi-led counter-terrorism alliance.
Although, a handout issued by the military’s media wing did not explicitly mention the controversy surrounding the Islamic Military Alliance against Terrorism, officials familiar with the GHQ meeting confirmed that the issue was the main agenda item.
“Evolving regional security matrix and other issues of mutual interest were discussed, including measures against common threat of terrorism,” said Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement.
It quoted the army chief as telling the Iranian envoy that “Pakistan greatly values historic Pak-Iran relationship and the same shall continue based on mutual trust and respect for each other’s interests.”
This was the second visit of Iran’s Ambassador to the GHQ. He previously met the army chief on March 4 just days before the government confirmed that former army chief General (retd) Raheel Sharif would soon join the Saudi-led alliance as its head.
Iran has expressed concerns over the development raising fears that this may strain ties with Pakistan.
The 41-national alliance was announced in 2015 by Saudi Arabia with an apparent aim to fight growing threat of terrorism. Countries such as Iran, Iraq and Syria are not part of the grouping; something that critics believe can deepen sectarian divisions in the Muslim world.
Pakistan has all along insisted that its participation in the alliance is not against any country including Iran.
Gen Raheel is also in favour of inclusion of Iran into the fold in order to dispel the alliance’s sectarian outlook.
The terms of reference of the alliance that some dubbed “Muslim NATO” have not yet been finalized. The defence ministers of the participating countries are expected to meet soon in Riyadh to approve the alliance’s mandate and its scope.