Following is an Exclusive Interview with the Editor-In-Chief of the Azerbaijani News Agency Vzglyad.Az Seymur Mamedov by the former Pakistan Army Major General Ijaz Hussain Awan:
– How do you assess the Azerbaijan – Pakistan relations today, and how do you see the development of bilateral relations under the new government of Pakistan?
-Azerbaijan–Pakistan enjoy good brotherly relations based on geographical realities, cultural and religious commonalities. Pakistan recognized Azerbaijan – on December 12, 1991 and since then both established their embassies in Islamabad and Baku. The state of Pakistan, under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, is cultivating new regional partnerships and reinvigorating the existing ones, striking fresh economic deals and rearranging the country’s trade partnerships .Azerbaijan is one of the top listed regional trade partners. Azerbaijan and Pakistan are taking strides to improve bilateral trade and strategic relations. Different visits including visit of Pakistani Legislature to participate in celebrations of the Azerbaijani Parliament’s 100th anniversary and other senior level visits between both the countries have made the relations stronger. Azerbaijan and Pakistan have agreed to sign commercial agreement for the supply of a number of oil and gas products, including heating oil, gasoline, diesel fuel and liquefied natural gas. In order to strengthen ties in this direction, Pakistan and Azerbaijan will create a joint working group .This cooperation in the field of energy will bring bilateral trade to a new level. Azerbaijan is also taking concrete steps to deepen trade as well as economic, military and technical cooperation with Pakistan including cooperation in the field of transport. Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev suggested that Islamabad join the International North-South Transport Corridor. Pakistan can use the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway line to transport various goods. Bilateral trade ties in almost all areas, including military cooperation, communications, transport, aviation, cultural ties, financial affairs and education are growing. Stability and peace in Afghanistan shall boost the relations further when the potential of deep sea port of Gwadar is optimized and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) shall open new vistas for Azerbaijan and other countries
– As you know, Azerbaijan and Pakistan closely cooperate in the military sphere. The Azerbaijani army buys modern weapons from Pakistan, and sends specialists there for training. How is the bilateral military cooperation developing today? And what modern types of weapons can Pakistan offer Azerbaijan?
-Pakistan and Azerbaijan are sharing experience and cooperation in the field of security including military-technology, military-education and related spheres especially in the past few years. Different visits by defense and military officials of both the countries bear testimony to the growing interest in this regard. In October 2018, a delegation of Pakistani Armed Forces visited Azerbaijan to discuss bilateral military cooperation – in the area of public relations and moral-psychological training of both armies. This growing military cooperation between the two states is premised on a protocol on bi-lateral military cooperation signed on March 31st, 2015, which subsequently led to signing of the “Book of Honour” on November 24th, 2017. Azerbaijan is interested in the growing expansion of military ties with Pakistan. Pakistan can offer Azerbaijan, Anza-II anti-aircraft missile, anti-tank missile, JF-17 fighter jets, Mushak aircraft and related hardware
-Pakistan always supports the fair position of Azerbaijan on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and does not recognize Armenia as a state. Official Baku is very grateful to Islamabad for this support. A few months ago, I read an article at the Pakistani press about the need to normalize Armenian-Pakistani relations. How in general Pakistani society treats Armenia? Is Pakistan interested in normalizing relations with Armenia?
-Pakistan was the second country to recognize Azerbaijan (first being Turkey). Pakistan, Turkey, and Azerbaijan are important regional countries with unanimity of views on regional and international issues including Nagorno-Karabakh, Khojaly Massacre and Kashmir disputes. Taking an issue based political position and recognizing a country are two separate issues and shouldn’t be mixed. For instance, Pakistan has a festering old conflict and history of having fought four war with India, but both states recognize each other’s independence and sovereignty and this is also true in case of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. However, Pakistan doesn’t recognize Armenia as a sovereign state despite having no direct conflict .Yet, a few Pakistanis have visited Armenia, including Syeda Ghulam Fatima, who was invited to the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, as a finalist of Aurora Prize. Recognition of Armenia is not a much debated issue in Pakistani society to say. The Government may be considering it at diplomatic levels based on merit and the principal highlighted earlier
– Recently, the President of Pakistan Arif Alvi met with the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan Zakir Hasanov in the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad. In your opinion, what were goals visit of the Azerbaijani minister to Pakistan? Should we expect the signing of new military contracts this year?
-In a meeting between President of Pakistan Arif Alvi and Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan Zakir Hasanov in March, Dr. Arif Alvi stated that Pakistan is a peaceful and country, desirous of having good relations with all its neighbors. Pakistan believes in the conflict resolution through dialogue with all countries including India but it also values and believes in the countries right to guard their territorial integrity. Pakistan highly values its brotherly relations with Azerbaijan. He highlighted the existing bilateral goodwill and appreciated the participation of H.E. President Ilham Aliyev’s in the 13th ECO Summit held on 1st March 2017 in Islamabad. He also appreciated Azerbaijan’s support to Pakistan’s candidature for the membership of OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commissioner (IPHRC). Furthermore, he appreciated Azerbaijan’s continued support on Jammu and Kashmir. He emphasized that the two brotherly countries have always stood by each other. Need was felt to enhance bilateral economic and military cooperation and the volume of bilateral trade to include cooperation and trade in the agriculture, manufacturing, services sector, ready-made garments, cotton products, engineering goods, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, rice, textile, fabrics, sports goods, surgical instruments and tents. The liberalization of visa regime by Pakistan was also discussed in details which will increase the number of tourists and businessmen between the two brotherly states, enhancing the people to people contact and understanding
-Azerbaijan is going to buy JF-17 Thunder fighter jets from Pakistan. How effective are they in combat operations?
– In October 2018, a delegation of Pakistani Armed Forces visited Azerbaijan to discuss bilateral military cooperation. But no agreement for the purchase of JF-17 was concluded. The JF-17 is a Chinese-Pakistani joint project, belonging to the BLOCK2+ configuration. This fighter aircraft is equipped with (KLJ7A) radar and is capable of performing different combat functions. The aircraft is fitted with modern Stores Management System incorporating accurate weapon delivery modes and solutions involving minimum pilot workload. It possesses excellent air-to-air and air-to-surface combat capabilities. The state-of-the art avionics, optimally integrated sub-systems, computerized flight controls and capability to employ latest weapons provides decisive advantage to JF-17 over adversaries of same class. This, all weather, multi-role light combat fighter has remarkable high combat maneuverability at medium and low altitudes. With effective firepower, agility and combat survivability, the aircraft is likely to emerge as a potent platform for any air force.
The aircraft is capable of carrying some of the most modern as well as conventional weapons, including:
- 70-100 Km range beyond visual range active missiles
- Highly agile Imaging infrared short range missiles
- Air to Sea missiles
- Anti-radiation missiles
- Laser guided weapons
- Runway penetration bombs
- General purpose bombs
- Training bombs
- 23 mm double barrel gun
Azerbaijan’s acquisition of a fleet of 24 advanced fighter jets will give her superior airpower advantage over its neighbors and archrival Armenia. The deal has yet not been finalized but being evaluated as I learned.
– How do you see the development of the trilateral format of Turkey-Pakistan-Azerbaijan cooperation? What could you suggest to strengthen this format of cooperation?
-Turkey is one of the most important political and economic players in the Region and is a fraternal country for Azerbaijan. Turkey and Azerbaijan cooperate in almost all spheres. As for Pakistan, which is a nuclear power of the Islamic world, it has close economic, political and military ties with Turkey. Pakistan provided political support to Azerbaijan since country’s independence. Pakistan is one of the two countries that do not recognize Armenia as a state, the reason for which is the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia. Thus, Azerbaijan’s support for Turkey and Pakistan can be considered as an example of Islamic solidarity against the Armenian aggression. There are a number of trilateral cooperation formats in the region, such as Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey, Azerbaijan-Turkey-Iran and Turkey-Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan and Turkey are the key states in all those formats. The first trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan laid foundation for a new trilateral cooperation format among the countries. The three countries held their first trilateral talks in Baku.
The three countries have all had defense related agreements in the past with each other, but are now looking towards creating a trilateral format of defense cooperation, which could prove vital given the strategic location each country has in its own region. Already, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has encouraged Pakistan to use the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which was built on the basis of the Azerbaijani-Georgian-Turkish interstate agreement. It is also worth noting that while Turkey is already an ardent ally of Azerbaijan, given their history and involvement with Armenia, Pakistan’s addition to the mix has also aided Baku in it’s struggle. This could also mean Turkey and Azerbaijan reciprocating with increased support to Pakistan over the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan are brotherly countries having strategic partnership on a bilateral level. Traditional friendly relations between the three countries are based on confidence, trust and respect which gave the three countries confidence to take this to a trilateral level. Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey needs to make more extensive use of the trilateral format. There is a requirement of improvement in many fields like direct airline between Pakistan and Azerbaijan, Political enhancement between the three countries, developing economic and commercial relations, tourism, talks on the conflicts in the region posing a threat to stability and security.
Ijaz Hussain Awan is a retired Major General from Pakistan Army, a graduate of Command and Staff College Quetta, National Defence University Islamabad and Armed Forces Academy Istanbul, Turkey. He commanded a U.N. Mission Pakistan, in Sierra Leone and an Infantry Division in anti-terrorism operations in Pakistan. He holds Master’s Degree in War Studies from NDU Islamabad, is an analyst on defense matters and regional affairs.