Defence Minister Khawaja Asif confirmed on Saturday that General (retd) Raheel Sharif has been allowed to lead the 34-nation Islamic military alliance.

On January 6, the defence minister said that the former chief of army staff had been appointed as chief of Islamic military alliance and posted in Saudi Arabia. The government, he had said, was taken into confidence about the ex-army chief’s new role.

However, in a shift from his earlier statement on January 11, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that General (retd) Raheel Sharif did not seek government’s permission before joining the alliance.

“The government has given its consent and it has been decided in principle that General (retd) Raheel will go there [Saudi Arabia] to lead the alliance],” Asif told Geo News.

“A formal process in this regard is yet to be completed,” the minister said when asked if the former army chief had requested for a no- objection certificate (NOC).

The defence minister further said that the Saudi government had in writing requested Pakistan for Gen Raheel’s services. When asked if the former COAS had also asked the government for a permission, Asif replied, “[It was not needed after] the two countries have had an agreement.”

The minister termed it only a matter of time before the former army chief leaves for Saudi Arabia to “put a structure in place for the alliance”. There isn’t any structure [of the alliance] as yet and Gen Raheel will adopt a framework after arriving in the country,” Asif added.

Asif went on to say that a body comprising defence ministers of all member countries of the alliance, to serve as an advisory council, is expected to hold its first meeting in May.

In 2015, the oil-rich kingdom had announced the formation of the coalition to combat terrorism and Pakistan was made a member of the coalition. Riyadh and its Gulf Arab neighbours have been locked in months of warfare with Iran-allied rebels in Yemen, launching hundreds of air strikes there.