Islamabad has sent thousands of soldiers to provide security at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, which is set to host around 1.2 million fans from November 20 to December 18.
Police forces and security companies from 13 countries, including France, Jordan, Turkey, Britain and the US, are assisting Qatar to keep the competitions safe. But Pakistan is the only country to send soldiers to Doha, with more than 4,500 infantry troops arriving in Qatar in October.
“The deployment is made on the special request of the Qatar government and the number of troops was demanded by the Qatari authorities keeping in view the Pakistan army’s relations with Qatar,” a senior Pakistani security official told DW on condition of anonymity.
After Pakistan, Turkey has deployed the largest number of foreign security staff to the World Cup. Three thousand Turkish riot police are going to be present at the event, interior minister Suleyman Soylu told the Daily Sabah newspaper in September, adding that Ankara has also trained Qatari security personnel ahead of the competition.
“Countries usually recruit security contractors to assist them in carrying out specific missions,” Ali Bakir, assistant professor at Qatar University and Middle East security researcher at the Atlantic Council, told DW. “The fact that Qatar has a small population makes this process more vital and necessary.”
Gulf’s dependency on migrant workforce
Like every other Arab nation in the Gulf region, Qatar relies heavily on foreign workers, even for vital security functions.
Between 20 to 30 million foreign workers live in member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, comprising nearly one-third of the region’s population. The situation is extreme in Qatar, where about 2 million migrant workers outnumber the island’s 400,000 Qatari citizens.
Migrant workers have been routinely exposed to exploitation and abuse in all GCC member states, with rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) describing their condition as “near-slavery.”
Like its neighbors, Qatar has sought to reduce expatriate employment and bring more citizens into the workplace, but it remains dependent on foreigners to do 95% of the jobs and faces an increasing shortage of workers.
Maintaining security during two weeks of World Cup games is way beyond the local capacity, Bakir said. “It would be like if Germany hosted an event with 220 million visitors at once.”
Qatar calls up citizens for military service
Winning the World Cup bid in 2010, the tiny Gulf nation has been working to procure the logistical resources needed for hosting the competition for the past 12 years.
In 2014, Qatar introduced mandatory military service, calling up men between 18 and 35 to serve in the armed forces for four months.
In the past months, the government has summoned its diplomats and called up hundreds of civilians for military service over the World Cup, Reuters news agency reported in September.
Still, “It would be unrealistic to expect that the Qatar conscription force alone would be able to provide security during the event,” Talat Masood Retired Pakistan general and commentator on security issues, told DW. “The security challenge is far greater than for the Qatar army to manage it single-handedly.”
According to the tournament’s security committee, 32,000 government security personnel and 17,000 from the private security sector are in charge of keeping the peace.
Pakistan a reliable ally for Arab states of the Gulf
“Some friendly countries were more qualified to achieve this mission than others,” Bakir said, adding Pakistan has always assisted the Gulf countries with their security requirements as well as providing them with manpower.
Islamabad has repeatedly sent troops to the Arab Gulf countries, playing a pivotal role in key events and conflicts.
During the 1990–1991 Gulf war, for example, Pakistani officers served in technical and advisory roles in the Kuwaiti Army. In 1979, Pakistan’s special forces helped the Saudi government to put down unrest in Mecca, where armed rioters tried to dismantle the ruling family and seized the Grand Mosque, the holiest site in Islam.
Doha and Islamabad increased their cooperation in 2021 after the rest of the GCC states lifted a blockade they had imposed on Qatar in 2017. In August, the Pakistani army announced it would send troops to help Qatar during the tournament shortly after Doha invested $2 billion in the country.
However, Pakistani officials have shared few details about the deployment with the public. “Most of the Pakistani public probably doesn’t know much about this deployment as this is not something that has been discussed in local media in any great deal,” Osama Malik, a football enthusiast in Islamabad told DW, adding that there is no clarity as to what Pakistan is getting in return.
Pakistan is the only member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) that has never qualified for the World Cup. So Malik will be watching the games, supporting his favorite national team, France, as always. The only thing different about this round of competition will be that he is able to “watch most of the matches as the time difference is only one hour.”
“It will be interesting to be watching the World Cup matches in winter curled up in a blanket or while drinking hot chocolate with friends at a café,” He said.
This article first appeared on DW. Read the original piece here.