Role of Pakistan’s military diplomacy in crises | By Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi


Role of Pakistan’s military diplomacy in crises

IT must be of no surprise that in special circumstances, a country’s military diplomacy plays an in strumental role in managing foreign relations.

This is true that under General Bajwa’s command, Pakistan’s military diplomacy has been playing a significant role in revitalizing our foreign relations.

Generally, it is believed that the military has no role in managing interstate relations, but such is not an absolute truth, since military strategists render an important role in weaving the bilateral bonds between the states.

Since the post 9/11 world, Pakistan’s military has played a multidimensional role regarding our relations with the western neighbours— Afghanistan and Iran.

In the current scenario, General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s shuttle military diplomacy has been highly proactive in tandem with our Foreign Office while resetting our ties not only with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but also with the other Middle Eastern States of significant concern.

Significantly, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) has historically been seen as the man who sets the country’s strategic agenda, this then trickles down to other institutions.

There was also a glaring gap between policy and diplomacy, leading to much confusion over ‘grey areas’, such as Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan relationship with the Saudis and the broader Middle East.

Over the past two years, our military diplomacy in the Middle East has engaged most countries, without taking sides.

Pakistan’s relations with the KSA: .Pakistan’s military matters most to the Saudis when it comes to the bilateral relationship.

The two countries as in the past will continue defence cooperation, including joint exercises and training missions.

Currently, a 4-day visit of the COAS Gen Bajwa to the KSA remains a milestone in bringing historically close relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

In view of the former Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan, Dr Ali Awadh Asseri ‘’this promising moment in Saudi-Pakistan ties is occurring amid a favourable turnaround in regional geopolitics, marked by breakthroughs on different fronts’’.

The civil and military leadership on both sides was resilient enough to counter the challenges and misunderstanding by bringing the two friendly countries on the track.

The bonds of resilience are rooted in the people-to-people relationship, which eventually helps them overcome temporary glitches and sustain cooperation on issues of mutual concern and interest.

This time is no different — and here is why Pakistan’s Army Chief and PM Imran Khan were warmly invited by the KSA leadership.

And above all, General Bajwa’s astute interaction with his Saudi counterparts, particularly the recent appointment of retired Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia remains an important factor for resetting defence and the strategic relationship between the two countries. Riyadh’s interest in participating in the CPEC is a great triumph for Pakistan.

Looking to China may be the best choice left for Riyadh, amid eroding US support for the Kingdom. And Pakistan could serve as a bridge bringing the two countries closer.

Pak-Iran ties: since November last year, Pakistan Army Chief has been engaged in developing good office between Tehran and Islamabad. The visit of Iranian FM Javad Zarif to Islamabad was instrumental in this regard.

COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had called Iran’s Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri, to express his concern over the attack.

According to a press release issued by the ISPR, both countries had pledged to enhance security measures on either side of the border.

A Pakistani media house had reported: “Gen Bajwa rightly told Gen Bagheri that Pakistan had started fencing the border but would require mutual cooperation to ensure border security and to stem smuggling activity which was also used by terrorists and narcotics traffickers to cover their movement”.

Subsequently, in April, 2021, Pakistan FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi visited Tehran. After concluding his visit to Iran, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that relations between Pakistan and Iran have taken a direction of positivity and cooperation.

On the situation in Afghanistan, he said Tehran and Islamabad had greater consensus on the issue for efforts towards peace and stability.

Qureshi said that the Iranian side had also updated him regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) talks with the United States.

Pak-UAE relations Year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the “diplomatic relations and exemplary friendship” between Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

In the current context, UAE’s Ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba had confirmed on Wednesday that the Gulf State was mediating between India and Pakistan to help the nuclear-armed rivals forge a “healthy and functional” relationship.

The UAE is Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and has supported Pakistan in the areas of education, health, energy and infrastructure development under the UAE-Pakistan Assistance Programme (UAE-PAP) launched in 2011 by President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Bilateral relations between the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan have acquired new dimensions at defence levels emerging into a trust-worthy strategic partnerships and are still continuing.

Apart from trade and economic relations, Pakistan UAE military ties are time-tested.

The Pakistani military has a historic role in helping to train and equip the UAE military, such as training fighter pilots of the UAE Air Force and other defence-related equipment and technology acquisitions.

Pak-Qatar relations: Pakistan appears to be building ties with Qatar. Doha and Islamabad recently concluded a revised LNG deal that was brokered in part by the Pakistani army chief.

The new terms can be seen as relatively generous. Pegged at 10.2% of Brent crude oil, it’s lower than the rate offered to Bangladesh.

In January, Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa (during his two-day official visit) had met with the top Qatari leadership, including Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Both officials discussed matters of mutual interest, defence and security cooperation, a statement from the military’s media wing had said.

—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.