Pakistan’s seventh defence exhibition showcasing its military goods starts from Wednesday at the Karachi Expo Centre, with officials stating that the event is more about Islamabad’s determination to reassert its presence in the global arms and ammunition market, rather than sealing immediate deals.
To be held under a tight security cordon, the International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) 2012 has drawn delegates from around the world, including 130 foreign firms, Commodore Siddiq Akbar, spokesperson for the Defence Export Promotion Organisation, said on the eve of the event.
“We are satisfied with the response so far, despite the fact that this is taking place after a gap of four years,” he said. “This event gives our own companies the opportunity to exhibit their products – something that is not easy when we go to similar exhibitions elsewhere.”
The organisers shied away from saying anything about the size of trade deals expected to be signed during the five-day event, but insisted that this is because of the peculiar nature of the business.
“Our job is to facilitate talks between exhibitors and delegates,” Commodore Akbar said. “So it is very hard to speculate on the figures of the business the buyers and firms do.”
Pakistan has put its prized Al-Khalid tank up for sale as well, just like it has been doing for quite some time now. The country has still not been able to export it though.
Director Coordination Brigadier Mazhar Mumtaz says it is not easy to sell tanks and aircraft. “The bigger the equipment is, the bigger the competition. But we are sure to get a breakthrough soon.”
Countries in Africa, Middle East and Central Asia are a potential market for Pakistani military goods, he said. “We are already exporting arms to many of the countries in these regions. It is important to realise that state-level communication and diplomatic linkages matter a lot in this trade.”
Military and civilian officials involved in international defence trade say Pakistan is continuously being sidelined because of its geopolitical situation.
“Saudi Arabia was about to buy Al-Khalid tanks from us. Everything was done; even the contract was ready, but the deal was called off at the last moment,” said a senior official who requested anonymity because he is not authorised to talk on the subject.
“Our technology is not as good as the Europeans and the US, but how many countries can make tanks, aircraft and air defence systems? The market is huge. It’s just that penetration into the buyers’ market needs strong political will.”
The Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS) – an umbrella organisation that owns seven companies – makes everything from unmanned aircraft and command and control radar systems, to Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation Systems.
Sitting at the GIDS pavilion where missiles and high-tech surveillance cameras have been put on display, CEO Zubair Iqbal Malik says the organisation employs around 60,000 engineers, scientists and workers.
“Our aim is to become a completely self-sustained organization in the next few years,” he said, referring to the entity’s dependence on guaranteed business it receives from Pakistan’s armed forces. “GIDS was established in 2007 only, but we have been able to make our presence felt.”
GIDS’ annual revenue from exports stands at $3 million, according to Malik, without including sales made to Pakistan’s military. “It is improving. We used to receive four to five inquiries in a year: now we get 12 inquiries in a month. That’s an achievement.”
China and Turkey have also set up their own pavilions. Light and heavy machine guns made at the Pakistan Ordnance Factory are also up for grabs.
The roads around the Expo Centre have been closed for traffic for the event, and the blockage created bottlenecks in many other parts of the city as alternative routes choked within hours.
Despite police claims that elaborate arrangements have been made, people complained that traffic wardens were overwhelmed with the high flow of traffic following the multiple diversions.