The time-tested, iconic friendship between Pakistan and Turkey is beyond time and borders. This cordial relationship is the true embodiment of the motto “Two Countries, One Nation”. The strong bond between the peoples of Pakistan and Turkey predates even the creation of the former. Pakistan too attaches great significance to its fraternal and multifaceted ties with Turkey and desires to strengthen this relationship even more. The affinity amongst the peoples of the two countries has been nurtured by decades-old cultural, religious and geo-political links. This, probably, is an unparalleled phenomenon in the history of bilateral relations between states in the modern world.
Turkey is among Pakistan’s most consistent allies and the nature of Pak-Turk relations has been emotional-cum-ideological, to say the least. People-to-people contacts and bilateral state relations remain as strong as ever, with the two countries now seriously exploring ways and means to further cement ties. Importantly, both sides also wish to boost their strategic relations by increasing the level of cooperation. To date, almost every prime minister and president who has ever held office in either Turkey or Pakistan has paid the other a visit before the end of their term in office.
Currently, political relations and high-level contacts at the bilateral level are intensive as well. Turkey perceives Pakistan as a state that came into being on the basis of the aspirations of the Muslims of the Subcontinent and believes that the development and progress of Pakistan is the success of the Muslim world. Turkey has supported Pakistan in its fight against terrorism by extending every possible help.
Nature of Relationship
Pakistan-Turkey relations have always been maintained friendly and cordial. Turkey is an important country of the region and a worthy military and economic power. It has been taking keen interest in promoting peace in the Af-Pak region and bringing the two neighbours closer with a view to resolve the Afghan conundrum and building mutual trust between them. In Pak-Turk relationship, there have been three primary spheres of cooperation that characterize the relations between these two countries.
Both Turkish and Pakistani societies have a common cultural heritage whose roots are ingrained in history. There is no other way than this to describe the mutual sympathy that both nations have towards one another. In the past, each nation offered assistance to the other when it was in need of help. For instance, Indian Muslims in the area that makes today’s Pakistan helped the Turkish people during the Turkish War of Independence after WWI. To give another example, Pakistan was one of the countries that offered the most assistance to Turkey after the 1999 Marmara Earthquake. Alternately, the Turkish people have also afforded the Pakistani people significant assistance after the disastrous earthquakes and floods that hit the country in the 2000s. There is no doubt that this solid friendship between the peoples of these two countries constitutes the most powerful aspect of Turkish-Pakistani relations.
B. Foreign Policy
Turkey wants Pakistan to be a more stable country with a robust foreign policy towards other neighbouring countries. Turkey has urged Pakistan to focus on normalising relations with India and take steps for bringing an end to border skirmishes. Unless relations with India are normalised, durable peace in the region would remain a dream.
Ankara and Islamabad also have a history of cooperation in the realms of foreign policy and security, having supported each other in order to defend their respective interests in the international arena. Since the Cold War period, Turkey and Pakistan have sided with the other’s approaches to the Cyprus and Kashmir issues. Turkey also launched a trilateral summit process between Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan in February 2007 to pursue the objective of bringing Pakistan and Afghanistan closer and it was as a result of continued Turkish endeavours that some visible progress was made at the eighth trilateral Summit in Ankara in 2014.
Additionally, strong relations have also been established between the Turkish and Pakistani armies in terms of defense cooperation. The third important sphere that characterizes Turkish-Pakistani relations concerns economic and commercial matters.
The Turkish government’s technical and financial help enabled the Punjab government to launch various infrastructural development projects in the province besides the Metro Bus Service in Lahore. Recently, during his maiden visit to Pakistan, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu signed a number of agreements on economic, diplomatic, strategic and military cooperation with PM Nawaz Sharif.
Building the Future
The relationship between Pakistan and Turkey has a huge potential to turn into economic bonanza for both the countries. Following areas need special attention of the respective governments:
1. Institutional Cooperation
Currently, political relations and high-level contacts at the bilateral level are intensive as well. However, the two countries couldn’t build a comprehensive institutional framework that could coincide with the positive trajectory of their bilateral relations. To remedy this, relations between the two countries gained a structural form in 2009 with the establishment of the High Level Cooperation Council (HLCC) mechanism. With this Council Turkey and Pakistan have gained the opportunity to develop common stances in international and regional affairs as well as to cultivate coordinated approaches in their bilateral relations. Facilitated by this platform, relevant officials from both sides can meet and propose potential areas of cooperation. In the near future, Turkey and Pakistan will need to consolidate their political cooperation regarding two issues.
A. First, a stable Afghanistan that is integrated into both the regional and global systems serves the interests of both Turkey and Pakistan. With respect to this aim, the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey Trilateral Summits provide a meaningful framework. By maintaining these trilateral summits, all sides can develop a system of regional cooperation that observes the interests of each Ankara, Islamabad and Kabul.
B. Second, Turkey and Pakistan have been among the countries most negatively affected by terrorism in recent times. These two countries should undertake close cooperation in preventing and halting the activities of terrorist organizations with motives based on ethnic, sectarian and religious ideologies. The already existent relations between the Turkish and Pakistani armies and police can enable cooperation in this field to be expeditiously executed.
2. Enhancing Economic Cooperation
The extremely favourable atmosphere surrounding bilateral contacts on the political level is not mirrored in the two countries’ bilateral trade and economic relations. The fact that the economies of Turkey and Pakistan are not complementary in essence plays a large part in this reality. As a result, both the volume of bilateral trade and the flow of mutual FDI remain rather low. However, it is heartening to note that during Turkish premier’s recent visit, the two countries agreed to work towards a free trade agreement to enhance bilateral trade to $ 3 billion in two years and $ 5-10 billion in the next few years besides signing 11 agreements and MOUs for cooperation in various fields.
3. Promoting People-to-People Contacts
There is a need to increase interaction between the peoples of Turkey and Pakistan as their inter-societal connection remains rather weak. The total number of visitors between the two countries does not exceed 50,000 annually. By promoting cooperation in tourism and education, the two countries can enhance the connection between their societies. Similarly, cooperation agreements between universities could accelerate the exchange of academics and students. It will not be easy to extend the capacity of the relations between these two countries without increasing the exchange of human capital.
4. Reinvigorating ECO
The shortest and fastest way to transport goods between Turkey and Pakistan is the route across Iran. While Turkey, Pakistan and Iran constantly underscore their trilateral economic cooperation in the Baghdad Pact, the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), this trilateral economic cooperation and the logistical infrastructure have so far remained underdeveloped. At this point, the fundamental source of the problem is the substantial set of obstacles that Iran puts before the Turkish cargo vehicles carrying goods in transit to Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, railroads connecting Turkey, Iran and Pakistan cannot be efficiently used for the transport of goods. An institutional solution to this problem within the framework of ECO should be developed. If ECO cannot foster a liberalization policy on the free movement of goods among its members as has been done in the EU, it will end up turning into a vacuous organization.
Turkey is boosting its longstanding ties with Pakistan and its stature as one of the few industrialized countries in the Muslim world. It has immutable bonds of common faith and shared history with Pakistan and reposes great trust in Islamabad. Pakistan must grab this opportunity and never let down its close ally. Islamabad needs to further build these ties and take full benefit of the offers extended by the Turkish PM. It should seek Turkish help in resolving the energy crisis as well as in other areas like agriculture, defence, tourism and infrastructural development. The past track record of relations between both countries shows that Turkey always stood by Pakistan in times of need. Pakistan should also reciprocate these sentiments positively.