In today’s evolved strategic needs of the modern world, military diplomacy has become even more crucial when it comes to achieving national objectives like the economy, trade, and security. These three domains have become compatible and depend on each other to attain the soft power goals of a country. The role of militaries has now expanded beyond the conventional hard power domain and they have started supplementing national efforts to achieve national policy objectives.
When it comes to the art of effective military diplomacy, the Pakistan Army under the visionary headship of General Bajwa proved to be a Picasso of it. In times of extreme vulnerabilities and security dilemmas in the region, the combined military exercises of the Pakistan Army with various countries reinforced national and economic relations with the people of other nations.
Ties with Russia were also revived as a result of successful military training and exercises. Some examples of these exercises include; the Pak-Saudia Special Forces joint counter-terrorism exercise Al-Shehab-2 December 2017, joint exercise DRUZBA 2017 between special forces of Pakistan and Russia Armies in September 2017, the Pakistan-Jordan joint exercise Fajr-ul-Sharq 1 in December 2016, the counter-terrorism training of Nigerian Special Forces Battalion by a Pakistan Army SSG team in Tarbela June 2017, Pak-China joint military exercise Warrior–VI 2018 in December 2018, Operation Reflect at the UK conducted from 20-27 October 2018, Sixth bilateral exercise Sea Guardians 2020 between Pakistan Navy and PLA (Navy) in January 2020, Pakistan-Bahrain joint exercise Al Badar IV 2020 in February 2020, ATATURK-XI 2021, a joint Special Forces exercise between Turkish and Pakistani forces February 21, Pakistan-Morocco Bilateral Joint Exercise in October 2021.
Moreover, as many as 46 countries took part in Naval Ex Aman-21. NATO allies like the US and the UK also participated alongside Russia in Aman-21. Under the backing of the Pakistani Navy, divergent forces have shared counterterrorism strategies, recognizing that the threat of terrorism is bigger than any single state. In March 2022, the US and Pakistan Air Forces held a joint exercise, Falcon Talon 2022, at a Pakistan Operational Air Force Base.
The military leadership’s role during General Bajwa’s tenure was also essential in consolidating relations with Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, USA, UK, and Europe, which attracted much-needed foreign exchange to the country. The military leadership also made important contributions in securing loans from the IMF, Saudi Arabia, and gas contracts with Qatar.
This is also because of Pakistan Army’s convincing diplomatic skills that it is being privileged with the security services to one of the largest international sports events FIFA World Cup-2022 in Doha. During the ongoing FIFA world cup in Qatar, Pakistan is the only country to send foot soldiers to Doha, with 4,500 infantry troops deployed on security duties throughout the event. This distinction is an indication of global trust in the capabilities of Pakistan’s war-hardened troops.
The military leadership was also a key player in resolving the Afghan crisis, paving the way for a negotiated settlement between America and the Taliban authorities. In this regard, Pakistan organized multi-format meetings between all the stakeholders to somehow achieve an agreement guaranteeing peace in the war-torn country. After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Pakistan’s security establishment is still engaged to convince the international community that there is no way besides engagement with Afghan incumbent authorities to resolve the imminent crisis.
General Bajwa also played a crucial role while mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia when they were on the verge of a direct armed conflict in 2020 by doing his best to avoid any military confrontation between both brotherly nations. Pakistan also maintained a neutral stance during KSA-Turkey’s strained relations after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
By acclaiming COAS Bajwa’s diplomatic outreach, Saudi Crown Prince and PM Mohammed Bin Salman has awarded COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa with King Abdulaziz Medal for making significant contributions to defense cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa also received the UAE’s highest civil award, the Order of Zayed or Order of the Union Medal, for making significant contributions to furthering bilateral ties between both countries.
After an attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket team in Lahore in 2009, despite all security efforts to create a stable peaceful environment in Pakistan, it seemed that international cricket would never resume in the country. But Pakistan Army again came forward to sail the country out of isolation by inviting military teams from Australia, England, and Sri Lanka to play cricket, thus changing international perception and providing confidence to the international teams ultimately leading to the revival of international cricket in the country.
Pakistan Army, under COAS Bajwa’s command, managed to get Pakistan out of diplomatic isolation by successfully engaging with Gulf partners and by maintaining equilibrium in ties with China and the United States. It was the result of General Bajwa’s continuous efforts that under grave economic pressures, Pakistan got relief in the form of debt rollover from China and Saudi Arabia.
Top military minds in Pakistan strongly believe that no country can thrive while remaining aloof from what is happening in the outside world. Therefore, cashing its ideal geo-political and strategic location, Pakistan’s military leadership successfully kept the country relevant in international affairs without undermining national and regional interests. In the recognition of Pakistan Army’s diplomatic contributions, The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) entitles Pakistan’s military diplomacy as “more action, fewer words”.
The writer is a Lahore-based researcher.