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After Army chief’s visit to Pakistan, UK pushing for deeper military and intelligence ties


Apr 28, 2011

General Sanders’ visit comes at a time when Islamabad is seeking UK’s support against international isolation. UK sees Pakistan as necessary against IS jihadists in Afghanistan.​

7 June, 2023 08:30 am IST
British Army's Chief of General Staff General Sir Patrick Sanders reviews regional security situation with Chief of Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir | Photo: Twitter/@_AhmedQuraishi
British Army's Chief of General Staff General Sir Patrick Sanders reviews regional security situation with Chief of Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir | Photo: Twitter/@_AhmedQuraishi
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New Delhi: The United Kingdom is considering measures to enhance its intelligence and military cooperation with Pakistan following a five-day visit to the country by its army chief, General Patrick Sanders, Indian government sources have told ThePrint.

General Sanders was told during his visit last week that assistance from the UK was needed to stabilise Pakistan and fight threats to the West from jihadist groups like the Islamic State, ThePrint has learnt.

General Sanders met with his Pakistan counterpart General Asim Munir as well as General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, chairman joint chiefs of staff. In February, General Munir had made a five-day visit to the UK to attend an annual conference.

Faced with anger in the United States over its role in the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Islamabad has been increasingly seeking the UK’s support to push back against the prospect of international isolation.

London’s backing enabled last year’s breakthrough visit by General Qamar Javed Bajwa to Washington — the first by a Pakistan Army chief in three years — and an $450 million deal to repair Pakistan’s ageing fleet of F16 combat jets. The US and Pakistan have also begun engaging in dialogue on counter-terrorism.

The UK hosts dozens of Pakistan Army officers on training courses each year, including at the Joint Services Command and Staff College.

Ever since 2015, the Pakistan Army has also regularly posted personnel as officer-instructors at the prestigious Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst as well as at the Joint Services Command and Staff College at the Shrivenham Defence Academy — the only South Asian country to do so. General Bajwa’s brother-in-law Colonel Haider Amjad is currently serving as an officer-instructor at Shrivenham, Indian government sources said.

Major Uqbah Hadeed Malik became the first Pakistani officer-instructor at Sandhurst in 2016, followed by Major Rizwan Hassan in 2019.

According to Mary Hunter, an expert on Pakistan, these Pakistani officer-instructors “will shape the competencies and attitudes of future British Army officers.”

A large number of Pakistan Army officers are also known to receive training from MI5 and MI6 — the UK’s domestic and foreign intelligence services — at an annual course held at the Chicksands Royal Air Force Base, an intelligence facility in Bedfordshire.

The UK believes the Pakistan Army is a necessary bulwark against Islamic State jihadists in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, leaked United States intelligence documents recorded that the Islamic State was engaged in nine plots against Western targets during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

“Islamic State has been developing a cost-effective model for external operations that relies on resources from outside Afghanistan, operatives in target countries, and extensive facilitation networks,” the assessment said.

London has also pushed India to engage with Pakistan on Kashmir, saying it will help marginalise jihadists. Last year, Christian Turner, the UK’s High Commissioner in Pakistan, said in a closed-door meeting that General Bajwa was seeking the restoration of the scrapped Article 35A of India’s Constitution, which gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir the right to designate “permanent residents” entitled to purchase land.

General Bajwa had claimed that he needed these political concessions to push back against pressure to escalate in Kashmir from hawks in the establishment — among them, Imran.

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Pakistan and UK — a history of cooperation

According to Hunter, the training cooperation between the British and the Pakistan armies began in the 1950s, when Sandhurst first started to accept overseas cadets. Pakistan was allocated 39 per cent of funding from the 1959 Commonwealth Military Training Assistance Scheme. The UK hoped the assistance would help secure Pakistan’s cooperation in a West-led alliance against the Soviet Union, together with countries like Iran and Turkey.

The long-standing intelligence cooperation between the UK and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate deepened after 9/11, amidst revelations that large numbers of Pakistani-British jihadists were training in Pakistan.

Fears of a fresh wave of Islamist radicalism were voiced in a government review, which cited “evidence of UK extremist groups, as well as a Pakistani cleric with a UK following, calling for the use of violence”.

Released in February, the review also pointed to “an element of crossover between those who seek to impose limits around blasphemy with those who voice incendiary rhetoric on Kashmir”.

General Sanders’ visit comes at a time of intense tensions between the Pakistan Army and former prime minister Imran Khan. According to reports, the Pakistan Army invited the owners and top editors of major domestic news outlets to Islamabad for a meeting last week, where they were directed not to cover Imran’s statements.

The BBC’s Caroline Davies reported that Pakistani media was instructed “not to mention or show Imran Khan, not even on their ticker tape”.

While this ban was not explicitly delivered, Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued a vaguely-worded order Friday, banning coverage of “hate mongers, rioters, their facilitators and perpetrators”.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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Highly problematic. Pakistan was already a client state that does detrimental things in exchange for money. Now the colonialists are openly mocking the people of Pakistan.

This right here is the reason why the people of Pakistan can never prosper. You have colonialists empowering generals at the expense of ordinary people. The UK along with the US play a vital and active role in empowering generals. These nations are complicit in keeping ordinary Pakistanis impoverished.

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