As the recent National Day military parade shows, the Pakistan Army now has a global diplomatic footprint that is turning into a multi-faceted force that includes defence diplomacy, conflict resolution and peacekeeping, international education and last by no means lest – military sales and defence cooperation.
It is a sharp contrast to September 11, 2001 – when under pressure and isolation threats, the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Musharraf buckled under American pressure. Almost two decades on, the Pakistan Army has become one of the most international armies in the world – more than three dozen militaries from around the world from Latin America to Australia are undergoing training in Pakistan’s various service staff colleges, and defence cooperation with emerging BRICS powers is at an all-time high.
The diversification also underpins the new geopolitical realities of the army – unlike 2001 – it has nothing to fear as its allies and strategic outreach diversifies beyond an old dependence on American equipment and financial aid.
The legacy of American dependency
After September 11, 2001, one could hardly blame Musharraf as he realised the limitations of the army’s fighting position – after a decade of US sanctions following the Pressler Amendment, Pakistan’s military was in bad shape and could not challenge any American threats.
The Pakistan Air Force and the two dozen F-16s were hardly in a serviceable condition - its force was almost wholly just trained to fight on its eastern border rather than a counter-insurgency on the Afghan border as the Americans were demanding.
The US has been blackmailing Pakistan for almost three decades on the sale of F-16s, even the ones that Pakistan paid for were not delivered – and only after Pakistan agreed to take part in the global war on terror did F16s start arriving after two decades.
Even then Pakistan had to go to Turkey and Jordan for the delivery as a more reliable partner albeit with American permission. Pakistan is also yet to take delivery of Bell AH-1Z helicopter – the first batch was meant for delivery in 2017.
As of last autumn, it was reported that these latest sales are being blocked and kept in storage after Trump’s cancellation of military aid. It is here where American foreign military sales—while still in demand—are no more a considerable nuisance for Pakistan. Over the last decade, Pakistan has firmly moved away from dependency on American military equipment and towards new international partnerships and self-reliance through an indigenous weapons program.
Pakistan’s international training program
Just as the US announced last year it would cut Pakistani military participation in its elite training institution, the Russians signed a historic first welcoming Pakistani officers at their top military academies and colleges. Not only is this a complete reversal of Pakistan’s Russia policy but also a new era of Pakistan’s defence diplomacy. Similarly, the two have now set up regular training exercises, and Pakistan has bought attack helicopters.
Beyond just being at the receiving end of training, Pakistan had become the first non-Western army to have a platoon commander at the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst, when Major Uqbah Hadeed Malik became the first Pakistani instructor at the world’s premier defence academy. Under Uqbah’s command the finest British officers and international cadets went on to graduate – subsequently Uqbah’s successor, Major Umar Farooq won the prestigious Sovereign Platoon, the best-trained unit at Sandhurst.
Pakistan also has a Lt-Colonel as an instructor at the British Army’s Staff College in Shrivenham, again a role customarily given to just British or NATO officers. Following on from the British Army, it was reported that both the German and Czech armies had shown an interest to learn from Pakistan given its experiences in fighting in Afghanistan.
Training and providing conflict resolution expertise of course has been a long tradition of Pakistan, and at the United Nations, Pakistan has consistently been one of the largest providers of training and security. Now Pakistan is turning its training and conflict resolution into a global unit with major repercussions on its international relations and defence diplomacy.
Pakistan goes global in its international alliances
On the 23rd March celebrations, the presence of the Turkish Air Force, Saudi & Bahrain Special Forces, Azerbaijan and Sri Lankan troops—in addition to its historical military ally China’s air force—underlines the international nature of Pakistan military’s alliances.
The presence of the Malaysian Prime Minister and Azerbaijani Defence Minister were all the more important as the Pakistan Air Force looks to sell its jointly produced aircraft, the JF-17 to the two countries.
Late last year Nigeria became the first country to confirm its purchase of the JF-17 from Pakistan. Earlier Myanmar had also bought the aircraft, although the Chinese rather than Pakistanis executed that deal. South Africa and Brazil have also increased their military cooperation with Pakistan, with recent high profile visits and negotiations for sales and purchases by the Pakistan Army and its air force.
Australia has also increased its cooperation with Pakistan and strengthening its old training relationships. Notwithstanding its relations with the Saudi military, the Pakistanis have also confirmed their security presence to aid Qatar during the upcoming world cup there.
Turkey is stepping up its role with Pakistan and again signing its biggest defence deal and furthering air force ties as it seeks to replace US hegemony in the defence trade globally.
As Pakistan frees itself from American military dependency, it is forging a global path to provide training, equipment and cooperation to countries previously out of its domain.
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