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Terminal X Interview: GCC Military Cooperation With Pakistan

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GCC countries feel most comfortable working with Pakistan’s armed forces, says expert
An Exclusive Talk With Terminal X

Raja Mujtaba

[Terminal X Exclusive]

Major (retd) Raja Mujtaba is an eminent Pakistani defence and security analyst who has appeared on several local and international media forums for his views on regional developments. He is also the Founder and Chairman of the Opinion Maker Centre for Policy Studies.

Profile: Major (retd) Raja Ghulam Mujtaba, besides serving Pakistan Army, also did service with Kuwait Air Force and Air Defence for a period of over 10 years. His role was advisory in nature, and he was tasked with looking after the Kuwait Automated Support System (KASS). This program was initiated in the late ’70s and it was a unique state-of-the-art technology obtained from IBM on the mainframe systems. Mr. Mujtaba and his team integrated the entire operations of the Kuwait Air Force and Air Defence, their aircraft maintenance, operational readiness, human resource management system, etc. In this capacity, he played a coordinating role between the US Navy, IBM World, Martin Marietta, AT&T and a host of other companies. The aircraft supplied to the Kuwait Air Force were from the naval version of Skyhawks at that time, then later on they went for another version of the naval aircraft i.e. the F-17s. Mr. Mujtaba returned to Pakistan after completing the project assigned to him because the conflict going on in the Gulf region back then between Iraq and Iran was getting dithery.

In this exclusive commentary, he answers some important questions put forth by Terminal X on important issues that have been taking place since the past few months involving Pakistan and the Arab states, especially those that form part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

On 13 April 2014, Terminal X reported that Kuwait recently joined four other GCC members (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Bahrain) in setting up a defence representative office in Islamabad to liaise more frequently and on a wider capacity with the joint staffs in Kuwait City and Rawalpindi. This comes after Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defence Minister arrived on a detailed visit to Pakistan early this year to hold consultative meetings with the civilian and especially military leadership.

It is also worth noting that Kuwait recently put a ban on various nationalities, including Pakistan. What then, is their mode of engagement with Pakistan? Major (retd) Raja Mujtaba has shed light on these and related issues in great detail based on his personal experiences in Kuwait as a Military Advisor.

Kuwait is now the fourth GCC state (after Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman) to set up a defence representative office in Pakistan. How do you view this development in the context of the growing ties between Gulf countries and Pakistan?  

The GCC countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE have enjoyed very strong military relations with Pakistan after the ’65 and 71 wars, especially after the 1967 Arab-Israel War. Prior to that, the Pakistan Defence Forces had established their reputation, their operational capability and they demonstrated to the world that they are a highly professional machine. By nature and temparament, Pakistanis have a very strong feeling for Islam and for Muslim fraternity, so when Pakistanis were deputed there (in Arab countries), they worked for dual motivation: one was of course their professionalism and the other was that they worked with the motivation of helping their fellow Muslim brothers in the areas of defence and operational readiness.

So this one reason that Pakistan and its people have always been there. Those Arab countries, on the other hand, have of course never thought on those lines. They always took it this way that from here (Pakistan) they can get cheap soldiers; ‘cheap’ in the sense that they would not cost them much, as compared to their hiring British or American soldiers to do the same job over there. And when the British and American soldiers go there, they go with a strong control of their own countries; whereas we Pakistanis, we normally try to cope up and work with them side-by-side, train them and also operate their systems and machines; Pakistanis are more trustworthy for them (the Arabs) than other nationals.

These Arab countries have indirect relations with Israel, if not direct. But now this equation has come to change; the Americans have switched over to Iran and now the ‘Iran threat’ is developing for these countries, especially for the royal families because they feel that if Iran gets more powerful and they are supported by the Americans, then their own hold and their say in their own countries would become questionable (by the people). So they feel that Pakistan is the only country that they can trust, hence they have opted to get Pakistani people there. If you remember, the GCC countries, specifically Saudi Arabia and UAE have pulled their ambassadors from Qatar. Why? Because they are strongly supporting the American party and they have a forward headquarters there (CENTCOM control at Al Udeid Air Base). So they feel that Qatar will be a threat to them and Qatar will not join them in any case.

And now the Iranian threat is there which is looming large. It is more of a creation by the West because it wants to sell its arms to this region. They have sold enough arms to the GCC countries. Now they may sell the same arms to Iran also because they want a market for their defence industry known as the ‘military industrial complex’, which controls policies in the White House and Capitol Hill. They’ve got to go wherever the military industrial complex and corporate culture takes them. Now they see that Iran is a bigger and better market, so they are switching over to them as well.

The West wants to play a dual thing: they are not interested in who’s who and from where they get the money. Their interests are purely commercial and the GCC countries, they are more concerned about maintaining their hold in the region. They know that if they do not toe the lines of the Americans in particular and the West in general, they can create turmoil; they can create uprisings in their countries against the royal families which will make them lost their grip over their internal dynamics. Eventually they will have to leave and move out to some safe place, which would be hard-coming. These are some of the reasons why they (GCC countries) are reverting to Pakistan.

Pakistan is the only country which has highly professional and highly-trained soldiers, airmen and sailors who can provide defence training to them with loyalty. This is precisely the reason why this development is taking place. In times to come, it will increase.

It also suits Pakistan, if their retired soldiers are accommodated there. This will lessen the burden on the Pakistani economy because they are finding jobs outside Pakistan and contributing to the foreign exchange.

Kuwait is specifically on the lookout to hire Pakistani military experts to train their 11,000-strong army (land forces). In your view, should Pakistan Army provide these services?

Pakistan Army is a very professional army, highly-trained. They’ve been battle-tested for over a decade now since they have been fighting the war on terror. In Pakistan Army, we have not heard any cases of suicide or nervous breakdown or anything similar. The average Pakistani soldier is fighting with determination and commitment, driven by strong faith in the country and their military leadership. So they are working on those lines. That is how it will continue and that is why they are providing them with more and more people. But eventually, there will be a time that they will not be able to find a sufficient number because everything has its limits.

On the other hand, it must be ensured that once the Pakistani soldiers, airmen or sailors land in GCC countries, they must never be deployed against any other country. They must also never be deployed on any duty other than strengthening their own people there. They must not be deployed to fight against the people of those countries in case of internal turmoils, because then it will cause a greater resentment against the Pakistanis and eventually Pakistan will have to initiate extra diplomatic efforts which are not easy to come.

Kuwait had recently put a ban on various nationalities, including Pakistanis. Will this move serve as a condition to uplift the ban or will it be unrelated? Please let us know what your experience says.

Kuwait frequently does this because it does not let any single foreign nationality outnumber the other because if they grow more in number, they will cause problems for them within the country. This could also be the case in any other Arab state. The Palestinian group, or the Egyptians or Jordanians, etc. But, for Pakistanis to indulge in those sort of (miscreant) activities is not possible and no Pakistani will ever do it.

Pakistanis cannot mix with them in that sense because of the Arabic language, most Pakistanis do not know it. They learn some with time. But still, that feeling of Arab and non-Arab (the discrimination) remains there. In their private, social lives, they (Arabs) are in their own circle of Arabism and not Islam.

This is also one of the reasons why the ban was put in place.

Why do you think is Kuwait on the lookout for Pakistani military experts while it already has a strong American military presence on its soil?

American presence on any soil cannot be trusted because they are too heavy to be managed by the host country. And once they land there then they come with everything that they want and they move the host country like their colony, like their slaves; this becomes very embarassing for the host country.

Pakistanis have no such designs. They have no such behavior or attitudes, nothing like that. So the Arabs feel more comfortable with Pakistan. This is one of the primary reasons why the Arabs want more Pakistani troops because they can work more confidently with Pakistanis as compared to the Americans or other Western military forces.

Do you foresee a greater regional role being played by the Pakistani military, specifically in the Middle Eastern security and defence spheres? Please elaborate. 

Pakistan does indeed have a greater role to play within the context of its foreign policy. This foreign policy has to define what Pakistan’s role has to be. It cannot be defined without taking the military into confidence because the military has to tell them how far they can and cannot go.

This is the normal working principle. Even countries like the US do not formulate their foreign policy without consulting the Pentagon first. Similarly, if India devises a foreign policy, it does not do so without consulting its own armed forces, especially the army.

This is because eventually, the foreign policy of a country has to be supported by its military capability. So they must not design any foreign policy beyond these capabilities because if they do so, and the military is not able to support it, that foreign policy can buckle or fail. But yes, diplomatic efforts are something different because they can be executed anywhere. However, the objectives or the goals that they have to pursue in their foreign policy have to based on the strength of their military.

Pakistan’s foreign policy is also influenced by the Pakistan Army, Air Force and Navy. They are much justified in doing so because if they do not support the foreign policy, it will become hollow.

The other thing is the regional context: Pakistan at the moment is deployed both on the eastern border and western border besides fighting the enemy within the country in places like FATA, etc; so Pakistan has to come out of these situations, it has to find a solution to this problem, one way or the other.

What I see is that at times, the political government sees shortcuts to their progress because they want to accumulate votes and this accumulation is mostly based on unrealistic and cheap popularity; once they get in that sort of a thing, then naturally in the long run the country suffers because nothing will happen as a quick solution. They will hence have to find a permanent solution to settle their problems with the TTP and all those terrorists which are operating within Pakistan. In order to do that, they must be able to contain them and eliminate them wherever they have to be and strengthen their internal situation. Because without stable internal security, the Pakistani military will face a lot of difficulties in playing any regional role, whatsoever it may be.

The commitment at home is very heavy, demanding and tiring.

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