An interesting byplay took place during a virtual webinar organized by Karachi Council on Foreign Relations (KCFR), a Karachi-based think-tank, to discuss “Pakistan-Turkey Relationship”. KCFR chairman Ikram Sehgal chaired the seminar which was moderated by its vice chairperson Dr. Huma Baqai. Ihsan Mustafa Yurdakul, Ambassador of Turkey to Pakistan, was the chief guest.
Ambassador Yurdakul dilated upon the close relations between Turkey and Pakistan. He explained in detail how Pakistan and Turkey have developed over the years. He said Turkey’s political relations with Pakistan have always been great. It’s still the same regardless of who is in power in Turkey or Pakistan. He said the number of visitors from Pakistan to Turkey has been going up. He said despite COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey remained one of the top destinations for Pakistanis. He answered several questions from the audience related to commercial and political relations and the changing geopolitical situation in the Middle East and South Asia.
The Turkish ambassador encouraged Pakistani entrepreneurs to work on so many opportunities for business that existed between the two countries. He also referred to the growing cultural relations between the two countries and referred to the immense popularity of Ertugul, a Turkish historical fiction and adventure television series, that has been translated into Urdu and being broadcast by state-run Pakistan Television.
Dwelling upon the commonalities and similarities between Turkey and Pakistan, former Senator of Pakistan People’s Party Farhatullah Babar raised the subject of military interference in politics in Turkey and Pakistan.
“Turkey and Pakistan have witnessed the hanging of their elected prime ministers by the military and both have seen the military’s growing influence in politics, which Turkey has been able to almost eliminate. He asked the ambassador a very leading question, “Would you, Excellency, share experiences of Turkey stopping the military from interfering in politics?”
Realizing that this was a deliberately loaded political question, Ambassador Yurdakul addressed it diplomatically, replying that the journey to democracy was not easy for Turkey. It was only because of the will of the Turkish people who were eager to show their trust in the ballot boxes and share opinions about their rulers, being very sensitive about the exercise of this right.
“During the rule of Mr. Erdogan’s party, emphasis on rule of law and will of people was in the forefront and it was only with peoples’ efforts we were able to uphold the principle of civilian rule. As long as you have the structure in civilian hands, we can rule out the intervention of any sort. This is what happens in nature, if there is a vacuum in the earth, different elements/chemicals will fill up that vacuum. The best way is not to leave a vacuum.”
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Ikram Sehgal, Chairman KCFR, stated that during the 2016 Turkish coup d’état, Mr. Erdogan was on a holiday. He flew straight into the eye of the storm in Istanbul without wasting time and met the challenge head-on. Since the coup was led by elements in the Air Force, his jet was ordered to be shot down. His pilot used different civilian airline codes to escape recognition. The coup failed because Mr. Erdogan was not corrupt and people in vast numbers flooded the streets, not only in Istanbul but in other cities. With the full support of the Turkish Armed Forces, the coup was put down but not without bloodshed.
Ikram Sehgal asked when have the people in Pakistan ever come out to support their overthrown political leaders. The coups have always been bloodless because the people knew the leaders were corrupt to the core and had made their lives miserable. Why should they risk their lives for them? Despite anger and disappointment in the face of dismal service delivery, the governnment carries on if the leaders are perceived to be honest. He said that army interventions will never take place or be successful anywhere if the political leaders are not corrupt.
A Growing Alliance
The two countries are running a successful military-to-military training exchange program. Since the program began in 2000, approximately 1,500 Pakistani military officers have been trained in Turkey. Turkey also helps maintain Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 aircraft.
Bilateral defense and security cooperation was boosted with significant defense deals in 2018. In October 2018, the Pakistan Navy commissioned a 17,000-tonne fleet tanker, built in collaboration with Turkish defense company STM in the southern port city of Karachi. It was the largest warship ever constructed in the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works. Turkey is also upgrading three Pakistani submarines.
In July 2018, Turkey won a multibillion-dollar tender to supply four corvettes to the Pakistan Navy – which then-defense minister Nurettin Canikli said was the largest contract ever granted to the Turkish defense industry. In 2016, Turkey gave 34 T-37 aircraft (with spares) to Pakistan. Turkey also agreed to purchase MFI-17 Super Mushshak trainer aircraft from Pakistan.
Turkey is also an ardent supporter of Pakistan on the world stage, especially over Kashmir. President Erdogan has been most vocal in raising his voice for the people of jammu and Kashmir to the displeasure of India.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Turkey Syrus Sajjad Qazi told a webinar in October that bilateral trade, despite deep political and cultural relations, hovers between $600- $800 million, which is not “very impressive.”
“During President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Pakistan this February, the two sides decided to take a fresh and out of the box approach toward trade issues,” he said, adding that 100 Turkish companies are operating in Pakistan in fields such as construction, consumer goods, services, and infrastructure development.
A report published in Pakistan Today also contributed to this article.