On February 5, Pakistan’s navy chief completed a scheduled introductory visit to Brunei in his current capacity. The trip highlighted the defense aspect of the relationship between the two Asian countries that is otherwise not often in the headlines.
As I have observed previously, Pakistan and Brunei have long enjoyed close bilateral ties, with their status as Muslim-majority nations playing a role in the forging of the relationship and contemporary relations extending into the security realm as well. Defense ties were first codified with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defense cooperation back in 2004, and ties include components such as visits, exchanges, and training, even though some of this often happens quite quietly and challenges have at times slowed the pace of ongoing collaboration.
Over the past few days, the defense aspect of the relationship between the two countries was in the headlines again with the visit of Pakistan’s navy chief to Brunei. Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, Pakistan’s chief of naval staff, was on his first visit to the Southeast Asian state since being appointed chief of staff of the Pakistan Navy back in October 2017.
Abbasi’s visit, which lasted from February 2 to February 5, consisted of a series of interactions between the two sides. In terms of meetings, he met with a range of top defense officials from Brunei, including the commander of the Royal Brunei Army (RBN), the commander of the Royal Brunei Land Force (RBLF), and the acting commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF).
Per Brunei’s defense ministry (MINDEF), the discussion between the two navy commanders focused on affirming the cooperation between the two services as well as discussing “prospective areas of engagement to mutually bolster friendly ties” to advance naval and defense ties more generally in the coming years. No further details were publicly disclosed regarding the private deliberations, including specific issues discussed in the past such as maritime security or progress regarding areas previously in the headlines in wider security-related interactions such as on exchanges, military equipment, and potential defense transfers.
Abbasi’s trip also included other interactions as well. Per MINDEF, Abbasi has given a ship tour on board the KDB Darussalam, one of the RBN’s Darussalam-class patrol vessels, which spotlighted some of Brunei’s capabilities in this respect. There was also an official dinner hosted by Brunei’s navy commander attended by senior officers that also served to spotlight the significance accorded to the bilateral relationship more generally.