Pak considering US request to join anti-ISIS coalition

Islamabad: Pakistan is considering a US request to join a multi-nation coalition against the militant group ISIS which has become the most formidable threat to peace after al-Qaeda, officials said.

The US has requested Pakistan to join the Sahel to South Asia alliance, Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah said, adding that Pakistan is waiting for “details”.

ISIS or IS is an al-Qaeda splinter group and it has seized hundreds of square miles in Iraq and Syria. It emerged from a one-time Iraqi affiliate of Al-Qaeda.

But both civil and military leadership is in a fix as joining the coalition will bring domestic backlash.

“Joining a new war will be difficult to sell in the country due to opposition from political and religious groups,” a security official said.

But remaining out of the new group may increase isolation of the country which already faced international criticism for “not doing enough” against the war on terror.

Pakistan is also keeping in mind the attitude of the Saudi Arabia as Islamabad refused to join a coalition led by Riyadh in Yemen.

“Now joining the new group may further anger Saudis who are already not happy with Pakistan over the issue of Yemen,” the official said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is travelling to New York this week to attend the UN General Assembly annual session.

Next month he is expected to again visit the US on an official trip to meet President Barack Obama.

According to sources in the government, he is expected to have something to show the Americans that Pakistan is not a reluctant ally as it is generally perceived in Washington.

“The war against ISIS is different from Yemen conflict as several countries are involved in it like Turkey which is very close to Pakistan,” a government official said.

It does not mean join the war, as in principle both Prime Minister Sharif and army chief Gen Raheel Sharif are against opening any new front until the domestic mess of militancy is cleared.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf of Imran Khan and hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party are expected to protest against any move to coalition led by the US.

Overall mood in the country is also against any war being waged for any reasons.

Experts believe that the decision to join anti-IS alliance would need support of the parliament where any move to sanction it is unlikely to succeed.

However, strategically Pakistan would not gain much by sitting outside as it will deprive itself of any opportunity for joint trainings, meetings or monetary assistance like the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) under which it has received billions of dollars, experts say.

The government sources said that by joining the new coalition, Pakistan can expect that funds under the CSF may continue to flow, which otherwise are expected to be stopped after 2015. (PTI)