Pakistan has delivered the first of 20 training jets to Saudi Arabia, the first fruit of a 2003 defense cooperation pact between the Islamic nations.
Signed early last year, the accord paved the way for the Royal Saudi Air Force’s purchase of 20 Super Mushhak aircraft, built by Pakistani Aeronautical Complex and slated for delivery by year’s end, a Pakistan official said.
The pact also covers a major land forces modernization package, defense industrial technology, troop training and possibly naval vessels, an industry source said. Next year, Pakistan will start delivering Al-Khalid tanks to the Saudi Army, according to press reports quoting Pakistani Maj. Gen. Ali Baz.
Neither Baz nor Saudi officials would give the value or size of the deals. Manufactured by Pakistan’s Heavy Industries Taxila, the Al-Khalid is based on the T-90 2M, a Chinese version of the Russian T-90, and uses Ukrainian engines and a Chinese-designed 125mm gun. Pakistan’s Army began taking delivery of Al-Khalids in September, accepting the first 42 of a 300-tank order.
An analyst in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, who follows Pakistani defense issues, said the land forces deal was worth about $1.2 billion, and included 65 tanks, up to 400 M113 Al Hamza armored infantry fighting vehicles and a number of SAKB armored command carriers and support vehicles. About 250 of the Al Hamzas will be armed with Baktar Shikan wire-guided anti-armor missile launchers and up to 5,000 missiles, both built by Kahuta Research Laboratory, the analyst said.
The analyst said most of this equipment would be used by a Pakistan Army armored brigade slated to be deployed in Saudi Arabia from 2005 through 2009.
A Western industry official said the two nations also had been talking for more than a year about a potential Saudi purchase of diesel-powered Agosta 90B submarines built by Pakistan’s Naval Dockyard in Karachi.
Pakistani and Saudi defense officials declined to comment about any submarine discussions, but acknowledged that talks are under way on several programs.
Islamabad is trying to make oil-rich Saudi Arabia dependent on all manner of Pakistani arms and equipment, said Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based defense analyst and a retired Pakistani Army lieutenant general.
Pakistan could put the revenues toward developing new weapons and gear, and could cooperate with Saudi industry on joint projects to build aircraft and tanks, said Masood.
“Pakistan is the No. 1 Muslim strategic ally to Saudi Arabia,” said Anwar Eshki, chief executive of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “Saudi Arabia has always provided financial and political backing to Pakistan and is now seeking to improve military cooperation and exchange of defense technology.”
Pakistan also depends on Saudi Arabia for energy, said Shireen Mazari, director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
An Oct. 12 ceremony in Pakistan to mark the delivery of the first Super Mushhaks was attended by a Saudi military delegation led by Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the assistant defense and aviation minister for military affairs. During the delegation’s three-day visit, the prince met with President Pervez Musharraf and toured defense industrial facilities. The visit coincided with the Oct. 12 test-firing of Pakistan’s Hatf V, or Ghauri, nuclear-capable intermediate ballistic missile.
Pakistani-Saudi defense ties are improving as Islamabad’s archenemy, India, strengthens its relationship with Israel.
Some Israeli and U.S. newspapers reported earlier this year that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have agreed to cooperate on nuclear weapons. Saudi and Pakistani diplomats in the United States denied the reports, and U.S. officials said they had seen no evidence to support the “bald assertions.”
Middle East analysts dismissed the allegations.
“Reports of Pakistani-Saudi nuclear collaboration are false and baseless simply because Saudi Arabia does not even have the technological infrastructure to support a nuclear cooperation program,” Masood said.
Added Eshki, a retired Saudi Army major general: “Riyadh cannot be seeking nuclear weapons at a time it is urging their removal from the region.”