Senior General Min Aung Hlaing meets Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain at his office in Islamabad in 2015. / GNLM

By THE IRRAWADDY 8 September 2021

A high-level delegation from the Pakistani Defense Ministry visited Myanmar in the first week of this month. The visit was not announced by either side.

According to well-informed sources in Naypyitaw, the delegation arrived there on Sept. 1 and left on Sept. 5. It is believed that during their stay, the Pakistani delegation and Myanmar military leaders held talks on advanced ordnance technology, aircraft repair and maintenance, and naval munitions.

Separately, a group of about eight officers from the Myanmar Police Force is scheduled to visit Karachi on Sept. 10-30 for training in explosives and mine-disposal techniques, the sources said.

Myanmar has in the past purchased JF-17 multi-role combat aircraft from Pakistan, and is currently in “advanced negotiations” to build third-generation models under license.

The JF-17 is co-developed by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation. The jet fighters can engage in air-to-air battles but also have ground-attack capabilities allowing them to deliver both dumb bombs and precision-guided munitions. They are suitable for Myanmar, where armed conflict with ethnic rebels is frequent.

Relations between Islamabad and Naypyitaw have been strained since the Rohingya crisis of 2017, which saw more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims flee Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh after security forces launched clearance operations in northern Rakhine State in response to a series of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police outposts.

In March, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhry expressed grief over the deaths of more than a dozen Rohingya refugees after a massive fire swept through a camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, saying the incident was a “sad reminder of continued sufferings of Rohingya Muslims.”

In 2018, The Irrawaddy reported that the Myanmar Embassy in Pakistan had spent hundreds of millions of kyats on tightened security measures amid reports that the site had been targeted by terrorists due to the Rakhine issue.

At the time, rallies protesting against the Myanmar government’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims were held in several places in Pakistan after the Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned the Myanmar ambassador to protest alleged human rights abuses against the group.

“The National Counter Terrorism Authority of Pakistan told us that there could be terror attacks on our embassy,” a Myanmar official said at the time.

However, reports have also emerged that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency allegedly arranged arms training for 40 Rohingya people in Cox’s Bazar.

ARSA, a terrorist group based along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, allegedly has links with Bangladesh-based terror groups, criminal gangs and militant outfits.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing visits the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra in 2015. / GNLM

Analysts believe that in light of the changing political landscape in Myanmar, Islamabad officials have decided to reach out to military leaders in Myanmar to revive relations.

China sent its Special Envoy Sun Guoxiang to Myanmar recently. He held talks with top-ranking military junta officials including regime leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Like China, Pakistan is making assessments of developments in Myanmar and anticipates that the Myanmar military will continue to hold on to power indefinitely. Analysts said it is likely that Myanmar and Pakistan will increase defense cooperation.

As Pakistan has a long and strong relationship with China it is likely that Islamabad plans to propose sub-conventional warfare training and equipment; maintenance and overhaul of Chinese-origin equipment; and defense sales through Pakistan Defense Industries, as potential areas of bilateral engagement.

Faced with strong anti-China sentiment in Myanmar, China can use Pakistan as a proxy to continue its assistance to the Myanmar military, Yangon-based analysts concluded.

After Sun’s visit to Myanmar, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said, “We will work together with the international community to play a constructive role in Myanmar’s efforts to restore social stability and resume democratic transformation at an early date.”

(Source: Irrawaddy News)

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