Pakistan’s military diplomacy and the Middle East

Pakistan’s military diplomacy and the Middle East

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Ever since its creation, Pakistan has considered that the country has a role to play in developing a strong multifaceted relationship with other Muslim countries especially those of the Middle East. In this endeavor, the Pakistan military has played a significant part and continues to do so. The level of mutual confidence between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is reflected in the fact that Pakistan has for years had a composite military brigade in the Kingdom, with the specific mission of training and advising. Even before this, the Pakistan military played a significant role when its special forces were deployed to eliminate elements that captured the Grand Mosque in Makkah in 1979. The military also provided security to Saudi Arabia during the Iran–Iraq war as there were indications that it could engulf the Kingdom. Senior Pakistani military officers have been sent on secondment to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. Pakistan’s former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif was made the head of the Saudi-led Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism and still continues to serve in Saudi Arabia. With Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Pakistan’s military leadership has enjoyed a close relationship with the Kingdom and has been awarded the highest civilian awards. 

The oil boom in the Persian Gulf during the 1970’s and 1980’s had a transformational affect in the importance of Middle Eastern countries. It was the harbinger for rapid economic growth and raised the geo-strategic importance of the region. To protect their interests during this period, many Gulf states turned towards Pakistan’s assistance in the formation of their military capabilities. A number of Pakistan Air Force, Army and Navy personnel were also deputed to Saudi Arabia, primarily to train and establish local security forces and to provide technical assistance. 

Though Pakistan enjoys a comprehensive mutual relationship with Saudi Arabia, its military has played a significant role in advancing this relationship and placing it on a sound footing. Equally, Saudi Arabia has been an extremely reliable and close ally and a major source of assisting Pakistan in economic and strategic areas, especially in difficult times. 

Pakistan’s close cooperation with the militaries of several Middle Eastern countries—Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and others-- is based on a mutuality of interests. 

Talat Masood

The Pakistan Air Force has contributed in training pilots from several Middle Eastern countries, especially from Saudi Arabia and UAE. Similarly, Pakistan Navy and the Royal Saudi Navy cooperate with each other and have conducted several joint exercises to benefit from each other’s experience. In the past, the Pakistan Navy has provided training to the Royal Saudi Navy. From the very beginning, Saudi Arabia has been Pakistan’s closest defense partner and the two militaries and intelligence services share extensive military and intelligence cooperation. 

Joint military exercises with brotherly Muslim countries take place frequently, developing mutual understanding and enhancing military capabilities. Pakistan’s close cooperation with the militaries of several Middle Eastern countries—Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and others, is based on a mutuality of interest. The oil boom undoubtedly raised the strategic importance of the region but at the same time increased their vulnerabilities. Their defenses had to be strengthened and Pakistan played a role in this. There are bilateral agreements with most of these countries on defense cooperation. The Pakistani military units up to battalion, brigade and division level have served and are still serving in several Middle Eastern countries. It has defense protocol agreements with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Oman and a few others. 

Defence cooperation between Pakistan and Kuwait dates back to the late 60’s. Officers from all three of Pakistan’s services have been training Kuwaiti forces and served in technical and advisory roles during the Gulf War. 

The Pakistan army also has a small contingent of Pakistani troops stationed in Qatar. Members of the armed forces of these countries attend professional courses at military training establishments such as the Pakistan Staff College, National Defense University and the Infantry School. 

Pakistan’s Navy has been an active member of the combined task force, comprising mostly of Navies of Western European countries based in Bahrain. This fleet has the primary purpose of curbing maritime shipping involved in terrorism in Africa. 

The Pakistan military’s strong relationship built on a mutuality of interests has contributed significantly in promoting a broader and a multifaceted relationship with Muslim countries especially those of the Middle East. The future of this relationship, however, will also depend on Pakistan’s government’s political stability and the image that it carries in the international community. 

- Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues.
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