MANAMA, BAHRAIN – General Raheel Sharif spoke publicly on Monday for the first time since he was appointed as commander of the Muslim military coalition against terrorism. In a speech at the Middle East Military Alliances and Coalitions conference in Bahrain, Sharif outlined the goals of the Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition.
Saudi Arabia’s defense chief Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud announced the alliance in December 2015, and Sharif was named as its military commander in January. His speech suggests he plans to draw on his experience as the chief of staff of Pakistan’s army, where he oversaw a massive crackdown on terrorism called Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Forty-one Muslim-majority nations have joined the coalition, which has been billed as the Muslim NATO, and Sharif said it is actively looking to expand and work with existing international organizations.
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Speaking in Manama, Sharif said the coalition will focus on four key areas, including military, ideology and communications, as well as a coordinated effort to disrupt terror financing.
“There are facilitators, financiers, abetters, sympathizers, and sleeper-cells. They work for each other, and the foot soldiers are mostly mercenaries and money plays a major role,” he said.
Sharif urged a coordinated and strategic response, adding that terrorists exploit acrimony between nations. While the coalition intends to build law enforcement and intelligence capabilities and share best practices, he said, the international community must step in.
“The international community will eventually have to help resolve regional conflicts and disputes,” he said, especially the Israel-Palestine conflict, the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and the situation in Kashmir.