Pakistan which has close bonds of civilisation, history, ethnicity, culture, faith, and commerce with all the Gulf countries has an abiding interest in Gulf security and has contributed significantly towards that objective. Therefore it is a misunderstanding to assume that since one of the twelve recommendations, made by Pakistan’s Parliament, cautions against participation in armed action in Yemen, that Pakistan is neutral on Gulf Security or is under Iranian pressure. Its one thing to support Saudi Arabia within its borders but unfair for any GCC country to expect Pakistan to do their fighting in a third country. Turkey has the same position as Pakistan, and Oman a GCC member state is not participating in the coalition’s aerial campaign in Yemen.
Pakistan has always supported Muslim causes, the majority of which have been Arab, from Palestine and the Maghreb uprising till now. However its principled position has been not to take sides in a conflict between Muslim countries, or in foreign occupation, preferring to work for peaceful resolution. That was evident during the Algeria-Morocco dispute and the Iran- Iraq War; and, even whilst headed by a military ruler in 2003, resisting Western pressure to send troops to Iraq. Now, with a Parliament composed of many parties including vocal representation from religious parties, Pakistan’s democratic system cannot be compared in its decision making to states ruled essentially by a single ruler when it comes to committing its forces abroad.
At the IISS Manama Gulf Dialogue in Bahrain attended by the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran amongst others in December 2006, in which I participated, Pakistan’s high level delegation led by General Ehsan ul Haq Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in a presentation on The Future of Gulf Security proposed that the GCC harmonize its positions to build and institutionalise a collective security system, to meet existing and emerging internal and external threats, rather than being largely dependent on western powers. This was one track.
The second track was to actively contribute to the evolution of the defence capabilities of the GCC countries by helping train their Armies, Air Forces, and Navies both in Pakistan and in their own countries. Pakistan has longstanding defence cooperation agreements with all the GCC countries, the earliest with Saudi Arabia followed by the UAE.
Military cooperation with Saudi Arabia began in 1967. After a Saudi request in 1979, armed forces personnel were sent temporarily on deputation only within the Kingdom. Under the bilateral 1982 Protocol combined military exercises have become a periodic fixture. From 2004 there have been a series of Al-Samsaam (sharp sword) joint military exercises. Al-Samsaam 5 began last month, March 2015.
In 1968 Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nayhan, then the farseeing ruler of Abu Dhabi, asked President Ayub Khan for assistance in training defence personnel to take over command when the British officers left. The first five Air Chiefs were from Pakistan.
Defence cooperation with Kuwait began in 1968, with Bahrain in 1971, and formalised with Qatar in the early 1980s. With Oman cooperation dates from the 1960s given its traditional links with Gwadar. It should be remembered that despite Iraqi President General Abdel Karim Kassem’s opposition to Kuwaiti independence, Pakistan immediately concurrently accredited its Ambassador in Baghdad (my father) to Kuwait, demonstrating our support.
The third track to strengthen Gulf Security has been the tremendous input of Pakistani workers contributing their blood, sweat, toil, and sometimes their lives, in extreme unbearable heat, and often trying living conditions, to help build the GCC states’ infrastructure to enable their becoming banking, business, property and port hubs at a fraction of the cost otherwise required. Not to mention a large body of professionals in all fields including in building up Gulf airlines.
While these ties, especially defence, with the GCC are very close, Pakistan has historical and cultural linkages with its neighbor Iran too. The two relationships are not mutually exclusive. On the Iranian nuclear issue, Pakistan’s position has always been that while Iran’s rights must be respected, it should also fulfill its international legal obligations which would reassure other countries. Pakistan has been against any coercion or use of force which would destabilise the entire region, including the Gulf.
What is the architecture of Gulf Security that Pakistan being in close proximity to the Gulf, and with core national interests in this region, envisages? Growing convergences would be the overarching objective. To begin with, a GCC collective security framework has evolved, and after the first anti-ISIL coalition of September 2014 this is the second coalition led by Saudi Arabia with the GCC countries playing the key role. That should discourage outside influences provided a political solution is found for Yemen, and internal challenges, also pointed out last week by President Obama, faced. Secondly, a recognition by all the Gulf countries that the ability to export their hydrocarbons unhindered is a shared objective, requiring stability. Thirdly, that no country should interfere in another country; and this includes using proxies. Pakistan itself has long been victim to such sectarian violence/terrorism by external proxies. Fourthly, Gulf Security is not a zero sum exercise: security for one side cannot be at the expense of the other. Pakistan shall continue to make its contribution to Gulf Security as a key player.
The GCC should study Pakistan’s Parliament’s eleventh recommendation, that Pakistan enhance ties with the GCC and other regional countries, which provides the GCC with reciprocal opportunities. The first meeting of the GCC-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue was held in 2011 but there has been little follow-up. No free trade agreement. Pakistani workers excluded from Kuwait, and under quotas elsewhere. No movement in planned joint defence production to reduce GCC dependence on western suppliers. Agreements with several countries for civil nuclear energy but none with Pakistan, which can provide training and technical expertise towards building and safely operating safeguarded power reactors trilaterally with foreign suppliers. Reliance on expensive goods, commodities, processed food, and medicines from far away, when investment in Pakistan would provide a much closer competitive source and strategic depth. Here it is the GCC, which tends to take Pakistan for granted, which has to step up.