After a decade of stagnant relations, Pakistan-Turkey relations seem to be improving in the right direction. Both countries have traditionally enjoyed close and cordial relations. The manifold commonalties between the two countries have been reinforced by the firm resolve of their leadership to further deepen mutual cooperation in all fields. For over half century, Turkey and Pakistan remained close friends. Their multidimensional relationship showed the same spirit of brotherhood as prevailed during centuries old ties between Indian Muslims and the Ottoman Empire, later the Republic of Turkey. Ideologically, however, they were poles apart – Turkey, when it became a Republic, pursued secularism while Pakistan adhered to the Islamic ideology as the centre piece of its nationhood. But these differences of ideology, with their corresponding reflections on their respective external outlook, never hampered the course of friendly bilateral ties. In the last few years, the perceptions and interests of Turkey and Pakistan have started to converge on a number of important issues.
In the past, bilateral relations received a significant boost in October 1999 when the heads of both states started exchanging high-level visits very frequently. The President of Pakistan visited Turkey in November 1999. The visit was aimed at briefing the Turkish leadership about the political changes in Pakistan and enhancement of bilateral relations. Since then a number of high-level bilateral visits have taken place. It is important to note that unanimity of views on various regional and international issues have prevailed in all of these meetings.
The two sides signed MoUs on road transport, drug trafficking and environment. Several Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) covering cooperation in combating international terrorism and organised crime as well as in the health and banking sectors were signed. Specifically, according to the agreement on anti-terrorism, Ankara and Islamabad exchanged experts and intelligence on terrorism and pursue a joint strategy, which evidently helped formalise a new level of political alignment.This sought to revive relations that had gone somewhat sour during Pakistan’s support to extremist Taliban government in Afghanistan.
The current visit of the Turkish Premier is also a sign of further enhancement of bilateral ties between both countries. The Pakistani Prime Minister and the Army chief met with him in order to discuss issues of mutual significance. This trip is being termed significant as a total of eleven MoU’s have been signed between both countries.
Now the total number of agreements signed between both countries is 51. Strategies are in the coordination phase in terms of regional matters. Matters of regional stability are important as they have a grave effect upon both Pakistan and Turkey. For this purpose, a peaceful Afghanistan is the pre-requisite. The Turkish Prime Minister also extended his support towards Pakistan’s initiative to have good relations with neighborly India. While discussing matters related to regional security and defence cooperation between the two countries he appreciated the success achieved by Pakistan in its fight against terrorism. That the positive role played by Pakistan is no secret and is being acknowledged by other countries is heartening for Pakistan.
Issues of key importance were foregrounded during the discussion. Issues of security, defence and counter-terrorism cooperation remain robust between the two countries as their armies are on one page. Exchange of expertise has been going on for a long time that has enhanced their capabilities. Earlier, the Pakistan-Turkey Military Consultative Group worked on extending cooperation and exchange experiences in the fields of military training and defence production between the two countries and to review geo-political environment of the region. Historically, both countries were bound in the defence field dealing with co-operation in defence. This had covered exchange of information on technical experience and progress, production of arms and ammunition and co-operation. Defence relations have encouraged cooperation in defence and training including developing joint defence industrial projects, as well as providing training for each other’s armed forces personnel.
Islamophobia as a fast developing concept was also discussed keeping in view the Paris attack. This too is being considered as a variant of terrorism originating from the west that is now fast engulfing the Muslims as is proving fatal. A dire need has been felt to counter this growing menace and for that a joint strategy needs to be developed by the Muslim nations.
Turkish Premier Davutoglu has also announced $20 million aid for the internally displaced persons owing to the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The Turks have always regarded and appreciated Pakistan’s efforts in cooperating with Turkey. Despite the fact that both countries are divided by geography yet the distance between the hearts is very less and it needs to be decreased further by working in close contact. For this purpose PIA and the Turkish airlines will now be flying between both countries more frequently and the railway networks will also be enhanced for better communication. This will not only boost the friendly relations but also be beneficial for the people and tourism industry.
Trade, business, investment, defence production, tourism, educational and cultural cooperation are all areas where the perceptions and interests of Turkey and Pakistan converge. However, over the years, the two countries have not exploited the full potential. And this visit is a remedy for it. It was realized that there were several opportunities for the Turkish private sector in Pakistan, especially in energy, infrastructure and agriculture. There is a wealth of opportunity that needs to be tapped. Pakistan is working on the project, CASA-1000 to bring electricity from Central Asia into South Asia, and were also constructing a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. This corridor will have special economic zones attached throughout the route, which will house a large number of factories providing employment to our citizens. Through all these measures the Pakistani government is finally going to turn the dream of regional connectivity into a reality.
The Turkish PM has expressed his heartfelt emotions as he states that “We have no doubt, Pakistan and Turkey’s relations will continue to grow from strength to strength,”. Turkey shares a special bond with the people of Pakistan and that every measure is being taken to decrease all sorts of distances between them for better understanding and long term brotherly ties.