Pakistan’s new army chief: Nuclear ties with Saudis, US exit from Afghanistan, Riyadh’s anti-Iran drive

Changing of Pakistani chiefs of staff

Changing of Pakistani chiefs of staff

Gen. Raheel Sharif, 57, who comes from a distinguished Punjabi military family, started work as new chief of Pakistan’s armed forces chief this weekend with three formidable tasks on his plate, spin-offs from fast-moving events involving the United States, Iran and Israel.He will have to adapt his military policy to next year’s US military evacuation from neighboring Afghanistan leaving a dangerous void.

Pakistan has been inextricably bound up in the 12-year US-led war in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and its ally Taliban, both of which used Pakistan’s lawless tribal territories as rear bases for their war on coalition forces.

The Obama administration is trying at all costs to prevent the Taliban from seizing the government in Kabul after President Hamid Karzai’s retirement. Its strategy, so far without much luck, is to enlist Iran to help in this objective which, however, is diametrically opposed to that of Pakistan Prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Sharif is anxious to be rid of Taliban, whose expanding terrorist operations are threatening his government’s stability, and wants to push them over into Afghanistan. In particular, he would like to clear them out of the northern and western border districts, where Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri has set up his central command.To achieve this goal, the Pakistani government must reach terms with Taliban leaders for their cooperation.

The new armed forces’ chief’s second mission is to complete the transfer to Saudi Arabia of the nuclear weapons plus ballistic missiles Riyadh purchased and which Pakistan held in reserve under a secret defense pact the two governments signed in 2004.

This transfer may have already started.


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