ISLAMABAD - Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz yesterday said since former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif was leading the Saudi-led military coalition against terrorism in an individual capacity, he could not be summoned back.

Briefing the Senate standing committee here, Aziz said Pakistan was not taking sides in the Gulf crisis. “Pakistan will pursue a neutral policy on the Gulf crisis and try its level best for reconciliation among brotherly Muslim countries. Raheel Sharif was not sent by the government to lead the alliance, so he cannot be asked to return,” he said.

The meeting was aimed to discuss the ongoing diplomatic rift in the Middle East that began after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives severed diplomatic ties with Qatar.

Pakistan People’s Party Senator Kareem Khawaja earlier suggested that General Raheel Sharif should be asked to return so that Pakistan could play a neutral role.

Aziz said Sharif, who retired as the army chief last year, was not a government nominee for the job, but was working in his personal capacity.

This month, Pakistan said it had deployed no troops in Qatar amid the oil-rich country’s standoff with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said some false reports appeared to be part of a malicious campaign aimed at creating misunderstanding between Pakistan and Muslim countries in the Gulf. The reports said Pakistan had decided to send military contingent to Qatar following Turkey who sent troops to the state.

There were claims that Pakistan could send up to 20,000 soldiers to Qatar.

This came after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terror networks. Pakistan did not follow the friendly countries as it also had close ties with Qatar. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has personal ties with both the Saudi and Qatari royal families. Nawaz Sharif has also launched a campaign to settle the Saudi-Qatar row through talks.

The Saudi-Qatari row comes at a time when Pakistan is going through tensions with India, Iran and Afghanistan.

The government had allowed Raheel Sharif to command a Saudi Arabia-led military alliance of 39 Muslim majority states. The alliance was formed by Saudi Arabia in December 2015 with its headquarters in Riyadh. Iran had objected to the formation of the alliance, fearing it was a Sunni-alliance rather than a Muslim alliance. Considering Iran’s objections, Pakistan had also delayed giving approval to Gen Raheel Sharif for several months.

Sartaj Aziz told the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee that General Sharif was not sent to Saudi Arabia by the government in an official capacity. He said the parliamentary resolution on the Saudi Arabia-Yemen issue passed in April 2015 was the central point of Pakistan’s policy on the issue.

When Saudi Arabia launched a military operation against Yemen in 2015, the parliament adopted the resolution unanimously, proposing Pakistan “should maintain neutrality in the conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Senator Shibli Faraz pointed out that if General Sharif was asked to return to Pakistan, relations with Saudi Arabia would be negatively affected.

Committee Chairperson Nazir Sadiq said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had not only met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz as part of his mediatory efforts in the Gulf, but had also talked to Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani on the phone to resolve the rift, said an official statement.