May 6, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3813

Iran Warns Pakistan Against Recruitment of Mercenaries for Bahrain; Pakistani Daily: 'Islamabad... has Become the Frontline State for Protecting the Supremacy of Sunni Islam'

May 6, 2011
Pakistan, Iran | Special Dispatch No. 3813

Protesters in Bahrain are largely Shia Muslims

The Iranian government has warned Pakistan over the "continuing recruitment of retired Pakistani military officials" to bolster the strength of the security forces of Bahrain, according to a Pakistani daily. The Iranian warnings come after reports that the Sunni regime in Bahrain is using mercenaries from Pakistan to suppress the Shia protesters.[1] "The Fauji Security Services (Private) Limited, which is run by the Fauji Foundation, a subsidiary of the Pakistan Army, is currently recruiting - on a war footing basis - thousands of retired military personnel from the Pakistan Army, Navy, and the Air Force," a report in The News daily noted.

The report, titled "Hiring of Pak fighters for Bahrain Angers Iran," also quoted unidentified sources in the Fauji Foundation as saying that "over 90% of the fresh recruits, which started in the backdrop of the recent political upheaval in the Arab world, are being sent to Bahrain to perform services in the Bahrain National Guard (BNG)..."

According to the report, "Thousands of ex-servicemen of Pakistani origin are already serving in Bahrain, and the fresh recruitments are aimed at boosting the strength of the BNG to deal with the country's majority Shia population, which is calling for replacement of the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain's ruling elite is Sunni, although about 70% of the population is Shia."

Following are excerpts from the report:[2]

"It Seems that the Decision-Makers in Islamabad have Ignored the Iranian Warning, as the Recruitment Process Continues"

"While taking serious notice of the ongoing recruitment process for Bahrain, the Iranian foreign minister has reportedly warned Pakistan that if the recruitment was not stopped by Islamabad, it would have serious ramifications for diplomatic ties between Pakistan and Iran.

"According to well-informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, Pakistan's charge d'affaires in Tehran Dr. Aman Rashid was recently summoned to Iran's foreign ministry by deputy foreign minister Behrouz Kamalvandi to convey his country's serious reservations over the recruitment of thousands of Pakistanis for Bahrain's armed forces and police.

"However, it seems that the decision-makers in Islamabad have ignored the Iranian warning, as the recruitment process continues. Approached for comments, a senior official of the Fauji Foundation said while requesting anonymity that the foundation has been making such recruitments for almost 50 years and nothing unusual has happened now."

"Iran is Annoyed with the Recruitment of Mainly Sunni Muslims [from Pakistan] for the Bahraini Security Forces"

"The recruits are being promised around 100,000 Pakistani rupees a month, besides other perks and privileges including free medical facilities and accommodation. According to available figures, over 1,000 Pakistanis have so far been recruited in March 2011 alone, while 1,500 more would be hired in the next few weeks. Advertisements appearing in several Pakistani newspapers stated that the Bahrain National Guard immediately requires experienced people with required qualifications as anti-riot instructors and security guards. In fact, Bahrain has long been a happy hunting ground for ex-Pakistani army personnel – an estimated 10,000 Pakistanis are already serving in various security services of Bahrain.

"But what is being clearly seen as Sunni and Shia rivalries, Iran is annoyed with the recruitment of mainly Sunni Muslims for the Bahraini security forces because it blames them for crushing a mainly Shia uprising against the rule of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Tehran believes that all these recruitments were being made at the behest of Saudi Arabia.

"For a long time, Riyadh has been one of the two foreign hands – the other being the U.S. – rocking the cradle of Pakistani politics, brokering truces among warring leaders, providing asylum to those being exiled, and generously lavishing funds on a state strapped for cash. But the explosion of democratic upsurge is gradually bringing about a role reversal – it is Pakistan's assistance that the Arab royal families have now sought to quell rebellion in West Asia, rekindling memories of 1969 when the personnel of the Pakistani Air Force flew the Saudi fighter planes to ward off an invasion from South Yemen."

"According to Diplomatic Circles in Islamabad, Pakistan Seems Eager to Become the Bulwark of the Royal Families Against the Popular Arab Rage"

"In the backdrop of the current political uprisings in the Middle East and the Arab world which has led to the ouster of several autocratic rulers of the Muslim world, it seems that Pakistan has decided to play a key role in the region by supporting Saudi Arabia to pre-empt a possible revolt against the Saudi Kingdom, with whom Pakistan has had a longstanding cosy relationship for almost half a century now.

"According to diplomatic circles in Islamabad, Pakistan seems eager to become the bulwark of the royal families against the popular Arab rage. They further say Islamabad has kept at standby two divisions of the Pakistan Army for deployment in Saudi Arabia should the simmering discontent there bubble over.

"Pakistan in fact turned its gaze towards West Asia following the visits of, first, Saudi prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and then, Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa, in March. Though pro-democracy sentiments haven't gathered a critical mass in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is worried that the popular upsurge in Bahrain, a mainly Shia country over which Sunni kings rule, could well, with time, permeate across the border. The Americans seem to have endorsed Riyadh's decision to seek Islamabad's assistance.

"In return, the Saudi prince has offered support to resuscitate the Pakistan economy and meet its energy demands. But the khaki [military' circles] in Rawalpindi [the town of the headquarters of Pakistan Army] believe that Pakistan won't commit its regular forces to a country other than Saudi Arabia."

"Pakistan Could Become Embroiled in the Sunni-Shia Rivalry for Supremacy in West Asia"

"Already, the presence of Pakistanis in Bahrain's security forces prompted pro-democracy forces to target the expatriate community. The Pakistani Embassy in Bahrain recently reported that two Pakistani-born policemen and three other Pakistanis were killed and another 40 injured in the clashes between the security forces and protesters, some of whom told the media that they were set upon by uniformed men speaking Urdu.

"Analysts, therefore, feel that Pakistan could become embroiled in the Sunni-Shia rivalry for supremacy in West Asia [i.e. Middle East]. Iranian media have already predicted a prominent role for Pakistan in West Asia, accusing Islamabad of 'collaborating with the Sunni rulers of Bahrain to crush a pro-democracy movement.' As Tehran is supporting the Shia protesters and Saudi Arabia is siding with Bahrain's king, the recruitments from Pakistan give an impression as if Pakistan is on the anti-Iran side.

"In other words, as things stand, Islamabad, wittingly or unwittingly, has become the frontline state for protecting the supremacy of Sunni Islam which would not be taken lightly by Iran that has the ability to create problems in Balochistan province, neighbouring Iran. Although protests against Islamabad's growing role in the Gulf region have been largely non-existent in Pakistan, dozens of activists belonging to small groups who protested outside the Islamabad Press Club recently, decried the hiring of mercenaries from Pakistan to curb pro-democracy forces in Bahrain. With the uprising in Bahrain decidedly having a popular base, some feel it would turn the people of Bahrain against Pakistan, which is perceived as the stooge of its imperialist masters."


[1] Also see: Pakistan's Blackwater – Recruitment of 'Mercenaries' for Deployment in Bahrain, MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 682, April 6, 2011, Pakistan's Blackwater – Recruitment of 'Mercenaries' for Deployment in Bahrain

[2] The News (Pakistan) April 15, 2011. The text of the report has been lightly edited for clarity.

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