Arab version of NATO gets new commander

Islamabad, Pakistan. An unknown Pakistani General is suddenly becomming a very important world figure, as his finger on the nuclear button and now promotion to head of a Saudi coalition, is attracting world attention.

A lot of questions are starting to be asked about General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s retired army chief. His rise to be the supreme commander of the multinational Saudi-led “Islamic military alliance” created by Riyadh in 2015, has now been confirmed as he leads an Arab version of NATO with 41 member states.

Sharif had the most powerful post there is in Pakistan and his finger on the nuclear trigger. The highlight of his tenure in office was a major crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban, which has plagued the country with horrific terror attacks.

The Saudi controlled Islamic military alliance now has 41 members. Some Saudi commentators have argued that Pakistan was best prepared to provide a commander for the group because it is the only Muslim country with nuclear weapons. In fact, Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world. Sharif is considered a military leader who has commanded a nuclear strike force and does have credentials unlike any other Muslim general.

Saudi Arabia has depended on Pakistani military support for decades. In the 1980s, thousands of Pakistani troops were deployed in the kingdom, and rumors of a Pakistani promise to provide Saudi Arabia with a deterrent if necessary are decades old. Pakistan has been a charter member of the Islamic military alliance since its inception. Pakistan remains the fireman Riyadh calls when trouble starts.

Naming Sharif commander of the military alliance would enhance the uncertain credibility of the so-called Arab NATO. The alliance has carried out large scale military exercises in the kingdom, but it has not developed a strong joint command or a headquarters staffed by representatives of its 41 members. Previous Arab and Muslim military alliances have always proved to be hollow shells with much talk and little power. Sharif will yet again, have to show his ability to lead as the Saudi coalition prepares to act against a nuclear armed Iran.