Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkiye close ranks on defense


Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkiye close ranks on defense

Visitors attend Saudi Arabia’s first World Defense Show, north of the capital Riyadh  (AFP file photo)
Visitors attend Saudi Arabia’s first World Defense Show, north of the capital Riyadh (AFP file photo)
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Turkiye, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan held their second Trilateral Defense Collaboration meeting this week. The first meeting was held in Riyadh last August, while the third will be held next month during the World Defense Show, also in Riyadh. This trio of meetings aims to boost these countries’ shared objective of self-sufficiency in defense and increase the scope of trilateral defense cooperation. Besides the technicalities of these meetings, it is important to look closely at the defense nexus between these three countries and the driving forces behind the growing security bonds between them.

Over the past decade, the Middle East has undergone a myriad of geopolitical vicissitudes that have had a transformative impact on the conventional alignment paradigms among the region’s states. These shifts have resulted in a change of alignments in the region, paving the way for the emergence of new partnerships. Within this context, Turkiye, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan maintain a robust trilateral relationship that is increasingly important to the security, economic and diplomatic interests of all three countries. They hold joint military exercises and sign deals to consolidate their commitment to defense cooperation.

Pakistan and Turkiye both neighbor Iran. Thus, the foreign policies of Ankara and Islamabad have always been influenced by their geographical locations and intricate geopolitical dynamics. The recent reconciliation between Riyadh and Tehran — a monumental shift facilitated by China — has provided an opportunity for both Pakistan and Turkiye to balance their relationships with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In the case of Turkish-Saudi relations, the reconciliation climate in the region since early 2021 has been instrumental in mending ties and allowing them to move forward on areas of collaboration, most importantly in the defense realm.

In this regard, last year’s signing of a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation between the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Turkish defense equipment manufacturer Baykar for the supply of drones — which took place during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Saudi Arabia — is crucial. The Turkish side said that the deal was the largest defense and aviation export contract signed by a Turkish company to date. The Kingdom became the seventh nation to purchase Bayraktar TB2 and Akinci combat drones, following many of its Gulf neighbors. Pakistan has also purchased Bayraktar TB2 and Akinci drones, which have become a game-changer for the country’s defense capabilities.

Their relationship is increasingly important to the security, economic and diplomatic interests of all three countries

Sinem Cengiz

On the other hand, Pakistan and Turkiye’s defense relationship is much more structured and deep-rooted, dating back to the 1950s. During the Cold War, they became part of pro-Western defense alliance the Baghdad Pact, which later became known as the Central Treaty Organization, to boost their political and security collaborations. Despite the short-lived nature of the alliance, Pakistan and Turkiye have continued to enhance their security cooperation. The Pakistan-Turkiye Military Consultative Group was established in 1988 to further coordinate military cooperation. The Pakistani armed forces are still trained by Turkish forces.

Pakistan also maintains close military ties with Saudi Arabia, providing extensive support, arms and training for the Saudi armed forces. Since the 1970s, Pakistan has been training Saudi soldiers and pilots. Contrary to common belief, Saudi Arabia's relationship with Pakistan goes beyond religious ideologies. Despite the ups and downs in their ties, Riyadh considers Islamabad to be a key defense partner. Regarding the security of the Gulf and Southwest Asia, both nations largely hold a shared perspective. This alignment extends to significant global issues, including Afghanistan.

In this aspect, Turkiye also becomes a part of the equation. Ankara has remained resolute in support of Pakistan vis-a-vis Afghanistan, considering Islamabad’s sensitivities. Pakistan, for its part, has always supported Turkiye’s position on the Cyprus issue. They also shared a common vision during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, siding with Azerbaijan.

These three countries also share a common vision regarding the Palestinian cause, utilizing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as a significant instrument in regional issues. Also, Turkiye and Saudi Arabia view the Kashmir issue as one of the most pressing challenges facing the security and stability of the region. As part of the OIC contact group, Ankara and Riyadh boycotted a G20 meeting held by India in Kashmir last year, although both countries also try to maintain cordial relations with New Delhi.

As the US pivots toward Asia-Pacific, it is likely that these three nations will progress the different domains of their relations

Sinem Cengiz

In sum, there are several regional dossiers that bring Turkiye, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan onto the same page.

Engagement between the three nations within the defense sector has been substantial and their militaries remain well acquainted with one another. As the US pivots toward Asia-Pacific and reduces its role as a direct security provider in the region, it is likely that these three nations will, as a result of the significant powers they hold, progress the different domains of their relations, either bilaterally or trilaterally.

Despite the ongoing deepening of the robust triangular defense collaboration among these countries, it has so far not advanced into a formal trilateral security partnership. It would be misleading to anticipate the prompt evolution of the trilateral relationship into a comprehensive defense alliance.

While there is substantial alignment in the defense perspectives of these three countries, there could be instances where their strategic interests might deviate. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkiye each have unique geopolitical positions and interests. It is crucial to address these subtle differences to maintain a harmonious defense relationship.

One of the ways to boost this collaboration would be to have a candid understanding on mutual threat perceptions. This would allow them to devise strategies that are cognizant of each other’s concerns and priorities. Additionally, navigating the intricate geopolitical landscape may be necessary to move forward in terms of defense collaboration.

Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkiye’s relations with the Middle East. X: @SinemCngz



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