Strategic significance of army chief’s visit to Saudi Arabia
On his maiden tour abroad, after assumption of charge, General Asim Muneer, the army chief has paid a fruitful visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It would be recalled that the first port of call for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was also the kingdom, last year. The two brotherly countries have a lot in common, starting from the eternal spiritual bond. This special bilateral relationship carries a distinct mark of mutual synergy. Both countries are located in challenging neighborhoods, demanding constant vigilance and regular mutual consultations.
The army chief held a detailed meeting with His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman, the defense minister. After the meeting, the prince issued a tweet in which he said that strategic partnership between the two brotherly countries along with the current level of military and defense co-operation were reviewed. The two officials also identified ways and means of further strengthening their bilateral co-operation. Apart from that, they emphasized the strength and durability of bilateral relations between the two fraternal countries.
Indeed, the strength of bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has been exemplary. Both countries signed a Treaty of Friendship in the 1950s and carried it out in letter and spirit. Pakistan contributed troops to Operation Desert Storm and the kingdom helped Pakistan in times of need, including natural disasters. Defense training programs have been consistent and comprehensive, encompassing all three forces. Pakistan and the kingdom have regularly participated in bilateral and multilateral military exercises.
Saudi Arabia has a vast area and a strategic location. It exports vital energy resources to all corners of the world. It has to keep its army, air force and navy well equipped and trained. Its two-front situation is as much challenging as that of Pakistan. A bulk of the energy resources exported from the Gulf passes through Pakistan’s territorial waters. It is important, indeed crucial, for both sides that the oil and gas tankers navigate safely through the Gulf waters, the Gulf of Oman, the Indian Ocean onwards to the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea. Pakistan is committed to the safety and security of commercial navigation. And this is proven by its long association with Bahrain-based Combined Task Force (CTF) which is an effective international naval project that has successfully protected commercial navigation in the region.
International relations are changing in style and substance. Old black and white rules, rigid policies and security blocks are being replaced by more flexible approaches. This visit indeed afforded good opportunity to Pakistan’s new army chief to develop a rapport with the kingdom’s leadership to enhance future bilateral co-operation.
The Pakistan Navy has commanded the CTF several times. After the kingdom, the army chief is also scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates, another important Gulf country. Both the Middle Eastern states host a large number of Pakistani expatriates who not only contribute to these Gulf economies but also send vital foreign exchange back home. Thus, the multi-pronged co-operation between these countries and Pakistan contributes to regional peace and prosperity. It is also mutually beneficial and therefore carries a distinct flavor of synergy.
The kingdom’s armed forces are best equipped in the region. However, their human resources are overstretched because of the vast territory that has to be defended. Pakistan has unequivocally stated more than once that the security of Holy Haramain is crucial for the entire Muslim Ummah, and Pakistani forces will leave no stone unturned to ensure that. They are ever ready to take up the task as their religious duty. Extremism and terrorism are common enemies that both countries face. Psychological wars, cyberattacks and hits to the economy are new threats that combine to make the fifth-generation war. That makes eternal vigilance and periodic consultations between brotherly countries all the more necessary.
The Pakistani armed forces have also fought a long war against terrorists effectively. Terrorism is a common threat faced by our two nations. They can share their experiences in this regard in order to effectively control this scourge. Peace and stability are essential for economic development and terrorists destroy them by creating chaos. This ought to be preempted through timely intelligence gathering and sharing. Terrorists usually find safe havens in poorly governed areas and our neighbors readily provide that kind of environment by resorting to surreptitious activities.
Both countries have adopted a zero-tolerance policy about terrorism. The kingdom has also run an impressive reformatory program for extremists. Economic development is yet another effective route to combat terrorism. Pakistan offers vast opportunities for co-operation in defense production and food security through modernized agriculture and livestock development. That day is not far when the Gulf energy resources will start reaching China through Pakistan. China’s friendly relations with the GCC countries and enhanced economic interaction make triangular co-operation promising.
International relations are changing in style and substance. Old black and white rules, rigid policies and security blocks are being replaced by more flexible approaches. We have seen this during the Russia-Ukraine war where Pakistan’s policy resembled that of the GCC countries. This visit indeed afforded good opportunity to the new Pakistan army chief to develop a rapport with the kingdom’s leadership to enhance future bilateral co-operation.
— Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.