Exclusive: GCC Interested In Pakistan Cooperation For Indigenous Defence Production

Exclusive: GCC Interested In Pakistan Cooperation For Indigenous Defence Production
A few days ago, Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of Defence Talal Al-Otaibi met Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif in Islamabad. Al-Otaibi also met Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen. Sahir Shamshad Mirza and Army Chief Gen. Asim Munir, to discuss mutual defence production cooperation and strategy. While both governments have engaged in intense discussions on defence cooperation, a top bureaucrat from the ministry of defence production suggests that joint production between both countries is possible.

In an exclusive conversation, Lt. Gen. Humayun Aziz (Retired), the Federal Secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence Production, underlines the growing realisation among countries about a domestic defence industrial base and the need for reliable alliances to ensure the supply of essential defence needs. Lt. Gen. Aziz also highlights today’s shifting power balances where every country reassesses its defence and security requirements.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are diversifying their defence industrial relations seeking indigenisation of defence production, Lt. Gen. (R) Humayun Aziz (Retired) has said.

According to Lt. Gen. Aziz, this presents an opportunity for Pakistan, which has had profound and historical ties with the GCC.

“Pakistan has a strong defence industrial base and is a natural partner for defence production ventures. We have a long history of joint training, intelligence cooperation, and exchange of experts with GCC countries, particularly with the armed forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Lt. Gen. Aziz said.

The Ministry of Defence Production is one of the largest public entities in Pakistan, under which nine critical organisations function, including the Directorate General Defence Purchase (DGDP), Directorate General Munition Production (DGMP), Research Development Establishment (RDE), Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF), and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra. Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT), National Radio Telecommunication Corporation (NRTC), Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KSEW), and Defence Export Promotion Organisation (DEPO).

According to Lt. Gen. Aziz, Pakistan’s defence products are highly appreciated in KSA and the UAE by experts in the field of defence equipment. “It is estimated that Pakistan’s small arms, guns, tanks, aircraft, missiles, anti-tank weapons, and communication equipment can be easily absorbed in the GCC defence forces,” he said. “Given their past cooperation, these products and equipment can also be jointly produced in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, if so desired,” he added. Gen. Aziz said that although the primary purpose of Pakistan’s public sector defence production is to manage Pakistan’s defence requirements, they are also now capable of exporting state- of-the-art defence production skills to the world outside.

“We are not just good at making weapons of all sorts. Our weapons, communications, and electronic warfare equipment, rockets, and drones are state-of-the-art and in high demand,” he said, adding that Pakistan complies with all international exports’ treaties and agreements.

Even though Lt. Gen. Aziz does not disclose the exact worth or nature of defence exports to the GCC – due to the sensitivity of the subject and non-disclosure clauses normally associated with defence deals – the latest International Trade Information (ITC) report suggests Pakistan exported arms and ammunition worth US$ 3.8 million in 2021.

Official data shows the top export destination was the United Arab Emirates, which bought Pakistani arms and ammunition worth US$ 1.9 million in 2021.

Lt. Gen. Aziz says he is confident the [defence] cooperation will increase more because of the strong brotherly relations with the GCC countries. “We already have a history of cooperation in the fields of small arms manufacture, supply of various munitions, and training aircraft, and we can take it to any level mutually agreed between the brotherly countries,” he said.


Business relationship

Lt. Gen. Aziz’s claims are backed by other officials such as Lt. Gen. Omar Hayat, former Chairman of Pakistan Ordinance Factory. According to Lt. Gen. Hayat, the GCC countries are one of the most important markets for Pakistani defence industries.

“Our brotherly relationship with them and our proximity has combined to ensure that we put special emphasis on the business relationship. It is mostly small arms and ammunition sold in the GCC region, but we have sold some bigger calibre ammunition as well,” he added.

Sharing numbers from his tenure as POF Chairman, Lt. Gen. Hayat says Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF) exports increased from US$22.03 million to US$93.68 million in the fiscal year 2015-2016 and reached over 40 countries worldwide, confirming Saudi Arabia as the largest importer of Pakistani arms [during his tenure].

Lt. Gen. Hayat says Pakistani weapons are not just for security purposes but also make arms for hunting and sports purposes. “We make almost all types of conventional ammunition. The most popular items have traditionally been small arms ammunition. They are used both for defence needs and internal security needs. They are also used for hunting and sporting purposes,” Lt. Gen. Hayat said.


Potential competition

Regarding the potential competition in the GCC market, Lt. Gen. Aziz thinks no outside power should influence his country’s resolve to increase cooperation with the GCC. “I have the same hope of openness from our counterparts in GCC,” he added.

A security expert based in Islamabad, who refused to give his name on record, also endorsed the Federal Secretary. “The defence business is pretty cutthroat, and nobody wants to lose a good market. The Western defence industrial complex (DIC) cannot be happy with the recent initiatives of HRH MBS for self-reliance. They'd try their best to make sure that all efforts of KSA for indigenous development remain tied to the Western DIC. There may be an attempt to put pressure on Pakistan because of its economic situation, but it cannot weaken our resolve because we consider our strategic bond with the Gulf is interdependent and interconnected,” he said.


Made in Pakistan

However, he believes that Pakistan’s Defence Production Ministry must work more to create awareness of ‘Made in Pakistan’ products and equipment. “We need to do more to create further awareness about our defence production prowess. It is not just our pride as Pakistanis, but it also has a huge potential to be part of earning huge revenue for our country,” he said.


Public Private Partnership

Lt. Gen. Hayat also emphasises the need for greater public-private partnerships.

“The Pakistani defence industry is robust and impressive. However, we need to involve the private sector in this field now. I feel the way forward is to launch all future projects on public-private partnership,” he said.


The GCC Perspective

The President of the Emirates Policy Center Dr. Ebtesam Al-Ketbi emphasises that the United Arab Emirates’ defence partnerships with countries in the region and beyond are essentially aimed at safeguarding its security interests. In her statement she said that Pakistan is an important security partner alongside countries such as India and the United States. “Even from a geostrategic perspective, GCC is always keen to safeguard Pakistan’s security,” she says, highlighting the need and opportunity for the two sides to cooperate on matters related to security.

Dr. Al-Ketbi makes a case for looking at a broader security framework that enhances mutual interest in defence procurement. “The GCC and Pakistan also share a commitment to ensure security in Afghanistan so that it doesn’t become a hub of extremism, and Pakistan has an important role to play in it,” she says.