Effectiveness of Pakistani Defence Diplomacy

The growing role of defence diplomacy has been a catalyst for change in the Pakistani military as foreign dignitaries are increasingly praising its effectiveness, marking progress for international perceptions of Pakistani military institutions.

Defence diplomacy, not to be misconstrued with gunboat diplomacy, is an example of soft power as it is used to attract, rather than coerce, others towards a point of view or to enact certain actions in foreign affairs.

The concept has its origins within the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) 1998 Strategic Defence Review which proclaimed defence diplomacy as a new mission in which trust would be built, “democratically accountable armed forces” developed, and conflict prevention and resolution secured. Despite the origination of the concept in the West, non-Western countries like Pakistan have adopted it as a practice of military international relations.

Measures of Effectiveness

As the Select Committee on Defence noted, defence diplomacy is “by definition, a long-term policy” and therefore the extent to which it is said to be effective will only be evident over a long period of time. But there are considerations which may foreshadow the effectiveness of Pakistan’s defence diplomacy.

Effectiveness of defence diplomacy can be evident in the short-term through positive recognition. Positive recognition is important in the realm of soft power because it shows that the military has been successful in attracting others towards its values and actions, which might be signalled by verbal reinforcement or awards.

Despite the difficulties of measuring effectiveness, there are examples of Pakistan’s defence diplomacy which have been positively recognised by international bodies and other countries.

United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping

One major example is the role of the Pakistani military in UN Peacekeeping Missions; missions which the retired Chilean general, Juan Emilio Cheyre, suggests are one of the best examples of modern-day defence diplomacy at work. Peacekeepers enact a multitude of tasks under the umbrella of defence diplomacy, including the protection of civilians and the prevention of conflict, as part of a “collective investment in global peace, security, and stability.”

The effectiveness of Pakistan’s defence diplomacy has been internationally recognised through the work of its first-ever female engagement team (FET) who have been peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The UN celebrates the “long history” of Pakistani military contributions to its peacekeeping missions; a history which is set to continue as over 6,000 Pakistani men and women (as of February 2018) serve the UN in many different capacities, including in the provision of humanitarian aid and vocational training.

The effectiveness of Pakistan’s defence diplomacy has been internationally recognised through the work of its first-ever female engagement team (FET) who have been peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The team, whose work has included female empowerment training and the provision of psychological support in response to abuse, were awarded UN medals in January 2020 for their services to the mission.

Pakistan’s military defence diplomacy was thus recognised as effective for the tact of the FET in dealing with the needs of the DRC’s civilians. Pakistan’s commitment is not limited to this team, however, as Pakistan is the top contributor of troops to the UN mission in the DRC. The awards and dedication of troops also mark how Pakistan shares in and embodies the values of the UN, which will improve the attraction of other democracies towards the Pakistani military.

Afghanistan

Pakistan’s defence diplomacy has also been recognised closer to home. The situation in Afghanistan has always been relevant to the stability of Pakistan. Despite the extent to which Pakistan has suffered over the last four decades, particularly as a result of terrorism, Western powers have long criticised the Pakistani military for allegedly supporting the Taliban.

But such perceptions are changing, and this is in part due to Pakistani defence diplomacy. The role of the Pakistani military in aiding the Afghan peace process has recently been recognised by Western dignitaries. Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States’ (US’) peace envoy to Afghanistan, gave his thanks to Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, for Islamabad’s role in the peace process.

Even more recently, the British Army’s Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Carter, visited General Bajwa and commended the Pakistani Army for helping to secure regional peace.

The awards and dedication of troops also mark how Pakistan shares in and embodies the values of the UN, which will improve the attraction of other democracies towards the Pakistani military.

This recognition by the West highlights the effectiveness of Pakistan’s defence diplomacy because it marks a significant shift away from the policy of criticising the Pakistani military for its involvement in regional international affairs. Indeed, General Bajwa’s promotion of defence diplomacy, particularly in relation to Afghanistan, has been acknowledged as a turning point for the increasing transparency of the way Pakistan’s Army is conducting international relations.

Pakistan’s Sporting Defence Diplomacy

Defence diplomacy, as the expression of the partnership between soft and hard power, is not exclusive to matters of serious concern but is also manifested in military competitions. In this arena, military representatives can engage with one another on a human level outside of operational settings to build relationships and trust.

The commitment of the Pakistani Army to such manifestations of defence diplomacy was illustrated in their recent participation in the pace sticking competition at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The team from the Pakistan Military Academy won, marking its third consecutive victory in the international competition.

Although the pace sticking competition was able to proceed within the COVID-19 guidelines, the annual Exercise Cambrian Patrol had to be cancelled. This is an exercise which assesses the military skills of patrol teams from the British Army as well as a number of foreign armies. The team representing the Pakistani Army won the gold award for this exercise in 2018 for the fourth consecutive time. The gold award is only given to teams which secure a minimum of 75% of points over a range of assessed tasks, from combat skills to evaluation of lawful and ethical behaviour.

For the Pakistani Army to win such competitions is to attract other armies to their values of discipline and determination as catalysts to their success on the international military stage. Furthermore, the fact that the Pakistani Army has been represented for consecutive years for both competitions is in itself evidence of the effectiveness of its defence diplomacy with the British Army, given that trust must have been established and maintained between representatives of both armies. These engagements will surely help to maintain positive military relations between the two countries.

A Challenging Future Ahead

Despite the evidence for the effectiveness of the Pakistan’s military’s defence diplomacy in the short-term, a challenging future lies ahead. Pakistan not only has to continue to address past negative perceptions of its military institutions but, as the prisoner of its own geography, faces on-going threats from India and maybe dragged into proxy or cold wars between the US and China.

Defence diplomacy is thus more pertinent than ever as the use of soft power tactics by the Pakistani military may be the key to de-escalating tensions.

Mary Hunter

Mary Hunter

Mary Hunter is a postgraduate Research Fellow at the Centre for Army Leadership, based in the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. She is also Research Fellow at the London Institute of South Asia and regularly writes articles on Pakistan and its diaspora in the UK.

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