The Benefits of UK-Pakistani Military Cooperation

Pakistan Navy Ships

Increased military activity in the Gulf of Oman is the most recent example of the need for British military presence worldwide. Following a new security partnership with Japan, Britain could possibly look at stronger defence ties with Pakistan as a part of its Global Britain strategy, and to improve security in the Western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman. 

Following Brexit, it will be imperative for the United Kingdom (UK) to secure partnerships with global actors, to fill the gap left by the European Union. This includes deepening ties with the “Anglosphere” (Canada, Australia and New Zealand), the Commonwealth, and a recent strengthening of defence ties with Japan. These encapsulate the Global Britain framework, which involves the forging of relationships worldwide and determining “Britain’s role in the world” in the post-Brexit international context.

However, recent attacks on Norwegian and Japanese oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, allegedly conducted by Iran, reinforce the need for British presence in the region both diplomatically and, in the worst case, to enforce any global action. 

It would behoove the UK to consider stronger defence ties in the region. One such possible alliance could be with Pakistan, whose geostrategic location and friendly relations with the UK could benefit both states. Indeed, this is a perspective shared by Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who recently visited the UK to discuss strategic and defence partnerships with British Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter. 

Why Should there be a Partnership?

A Pakistani-British defence partnership would benefit both parties in an increasingly uncertain global context. Strong historical, cultural and linguistic links already exist, given the history of British colonialism in the Indian Subcontinent.  

Alongside this, there is prior history of military co-operation, such as intelligence sharing and the use of Pakistani airbases during the Global War on Terror. Joint exercises between the Royal Navy and Pakistan Navy have taken place in the past, to prepare both nations for counter-piracy, counter-terrorism, or whatever situations they may have to face. The HMS Dragon and HMS Argyll are two such vessels involved in joint exercises. 

Pakistani delegations have participated in British military competitions like the Exercise Cambrian Patrol in 2018, and the recent Pace Sticking Competition. RMA Sandhurst has had two successive Pakistani instructors, Major Ukbah Malik and Major Umar Farooq, who trained British officers, with Maj. Farooq’s platoon being declared the best of that year. The foundations for an effective defence partnership already exist.

The Benefits of a Strategic Partnership

This partnership would prove useful in countering Iranian influence and activity in the Gulf of Oman. Pakistan’s geostrategic location and access to the Arabian Sea make it an ideal partner for Britain to secure ships travelling through those waters, particularly in light of the alleged Iranian attacks on oil tankers in recent weeks, as well as the Iranian threats on British oil tankers moving through the Strait of Hormuz. Given Pakistan’s relations with Iran are stable, Islamabad is a useful ally who can exert diplomatic pressure, as well as bolster Royal Navy operations. 

This ties into the wider question of countering pirates, criminals, smugglers and terrorists operating in those waters. Maritime pirates have posed a potent threat in recent years, threatening or even kidnapping civilians in the Western Indian Ocean, as well as disrupting trade by hijacking and ransoming cargo ships and oil tankers. Alongside piracy, these waters are frequently used to commit terrorism or smuggle weapons. The threat posed by illicit nonstate operations in these international waters threatens global security, and Pakistan’s proximity to these waters makes it an ideal ally to alleviate this threat.

Pakistan has been a member of Counter-Piracy Task Force 151, so its experience, coupled with British naval power, make for effective maritime security and defending civilian, commercial and military targets in these waters. Additionally, it would provide security to an unstable region of the world, in keeping with the values enshrined in the UN Charter.

Following Brexit, and in keeping with the Global Britain framework, Britain will need as many allies as possible in an increasingly hostile world. While co-operation within the Anglosphere is the focus in reports by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, it would benefit Britain to move beyond that and engage with allies in the broader Commonwealth, such as Pakistan. Britain will have an ally in South Asia, as well as a client state for British military hardware. 

Cooperation is a force multiplier and will have lasting benefits for international security in the future. The foundation for a strong relationship exists, and fills a security vacuum in that region created by the abrupt changes in US Foreign Policy. This vacuum is best filled by militarily strong countries in the region, such as Pakistan.

Image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Aaron Peterson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.