By Prashanth Parameswaran
Late last month, Pakistan’s army chief paid his introductory visit to Brunei as part of a wider regional trip. Though much of the focus was unsurprisingly on the army chief himself and the other legs of his visit, the Brunei trip was nonetheless significant in that it put the spotlight on a defense relationship that is otherwise not often in the headlines.
Pakistan and Brunei have long enjoyed close bilateral ties, with their status as Muslim-majority nations playing a role in the forging of the relationship and in the official rhetoric of both sides to this day. That relationship extends to the defense realm as well. Defense ties were formally codified with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defense cooperation back in 2004, and the relationship includes the usual components including visits, exchanges, and training, even though some of this often happens quite quietly and challenges have at times slowed the pace of ongoing collaboration.
These interactions have continued on into 2018. Indeed, just in early March, a delegation from the Pakistan Navy had visited Brunei as part of their study tour which had once again reinforced the ongoing defense relationship between the two sides. A more general review of ties had occurred at the 5th iteration of the Brunei-Pakistan Joint Defense Working Committee (JDWC) meeting that was hosted last November in Brunei.
From March 25 to 27, in another demonstration of this relationship, Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was on an introductory visit to Brunei as part of a wider regional trip. His three-day official visit, his first since taking his current position in late 2016, saw him meet with top Brunei officials including the deputy defense minister, the head of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF), and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah himself who also holds the defense minister portfolio. Bajwa’s trip also included other engagements, including a banquet in his honor and a visit to the Royal Brunei Land Force (RBLF) headquarters. During those meetings, both sides reviewed their existing defense cooperation and also discussed potential avenues to further strengthen defense ties. Brunei’s defense ministry (MINDEF) unsurprisingly did not publicly disclose more in the way of specifics about what was being discussed, beyond noting in its official account that the trip’s purpose was to further defense ties between the countries. But as we move through the year and more interactions, including the sixth JDWC meeting to be held in Pakistan, some of those specifics may become even clearer.
(The author Prashanth Parameswaran is Senior Editor at The Diplomat based in Washington, D.C., where he writes mostly on Southeast Asia, Asian security affairs and U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific. He is also a PhD candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. His writings have appeared in a wide range of publications in the United States and in Asia, including Foreign Policy, The National Interest, The Washington Quarterly, The Straits Times, and The Nation.)
Meanwhile, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement that Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa met sultan of Brunei, Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin Waddaulah and other leaders in Darussalam on 26th March during his official visit to Brunei.
Matters of mutual interest including bilateral defence cooperation and military to military ties between the two countries discussed,” the military’s media wing added.COAS also met Deputy Def Minister, Maj Gen Dato Paduka Seri Haji Awang Halbi bin Mohd Yussof (retd).
Later, the ISPR added, COAS met military leadership of the country including Commander of Brunei Land and Brunei Royal Armed Forces. Matters of mutual interest including training and security cooperation came under discussion. The political and military leadership of Brunei acknowledged Pakistan’s achievements in fight against terrorism and efforts for regional peace and stability.