21st Century Wire
The Pakistani Defence Minister, Khawaja Asif, announced on 6th January that General Raheel Sharif, who recently retired as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), will head the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT).
The IMAFT is a Saudi-led 39-nation Islamic military coalition whose primary objective is to protect Muslim countries from all terrorist groups irrespective of their sect and name. It will coordinate anti-terrorism assistance for members “all over the Islamic world.” It will operate in line with the UN and Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) provisions on terrorism.
The formation of the IMAFT was announced by the Saudi Defence Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud on 15th Dec. 2015 in Riyadh, which will be its Joint Command Centre and headquarters.
According to the Saudis, the IMAFT will be used for military operations against terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan. In particular, the Alliance will target the Islamic State (ISIS), which has a presence in Iraq, Syria, and Libya.
Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also said that the IMAFT was a “good thing,” which was required to tackle problems in “Myanmar, Palestine, Syria, Libya, and Kashmir.” Notably, this list is somewhat different from the one announced by the Saudis, mentioned above.
Khawaja refused to share the details of the agreement under which Gen. Sharif has been appointed Chief of IMAFT.
THE 39-member Islamic Alliance includes Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh, the UAE, Sudan, Malaysia, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Qatar, Libya, Nigeria, Oman, and Pakistan.
While some countries have opted not to assist militarily, others have. They include Bahrain, Bangladesh, Libya, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE.
However, so far, there are no reports of actual troop contribution by any member.
The formation of the IMAFT in 2015, was welcomed by US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter who said it was in line with greater involvement of Sunni Arab countries in the campaign to combat ISIS.
While the IMAFT ’s stated objective is to fight terrorism in all countries belonging to the Muslim “Ummah,” there are some notable absentees. They include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Indonesia, and Afghanistan.
The absence of Iran has prompted some observers to view the IMAFT as a “Sunni NATO,” driven primarily by Saudi Arabia and aimed at containing Iran and its allies such as Syria.
The Alliance could also be used to fight proxy wars between its influential members such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on the one hand and Iran and other countries on the other. Another use could be to curb Iran’s influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other states.
Though the Alliance claims that its goal is to fight terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida, some of its members such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Qatar are believed to support them and other terrorist groups to achieve political objectives.
The appointment of Gen. Raheel Sharif as the head of IMAFT also lends a nuclear dimension to the Alliance, as Pakistan is the only Muslim country that has nuclear weapons, sometimes described as an “Islamic Bomb.”
Soon after its announcement in Dec. 2015 the IMAFT was expected to deploy military forces in Syria to fight ISIS, but that has not happened so far. It remains to be seen if that would happen in the near future, at a time when Russia and Syria seem to be gaining the upper hand in the war in that country.
Some analysts believe that if regime change cannot be achieved in Syria anymore, the US, Saudis, and their allies might try to partition that country by creating a “Sunni Principality” in Eastern and Central Syria, which also happens to be the ISIS stronghold.
Fighting ISIS may provide a pretext for IMAFT to enter Syria to achieve its real objective, mentioned above.
Interestingly, the Saudis have said nothing so far about whether the Alliance will do anything to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which lies at the core of the problems in the Middle East. This is unusual, considering that Saudi Arabia projects itself as the leader of the Muslim “Ummah.”
READ MORE SYRIA NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Syria Files
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