THE visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that wrapped up on Friday was marked by warmth and consensus on a number of key issues with Pakistan, as this country’s top brass heard the Turkish leader address a joint session of parliament for the fourth time. Indeed, in the international arena Ankara is one of Islamabad’s closest allies, and the AKP-led dispensation that leads Turkey has consistently supported strong ties with this country. Mr Erdogan raised his voice for the oppressed people of India-held Kashmir, noting that New Delhi’s brutal approach to the region “aggravates the situation” and “does not bring any benefit to anyone”. Apparently the Turkish leader’s frank comments stung those calling the shots in New Delhi, as the Indian external affairs ministry called upon “the Turkish leadership not to interfere in India’s internal affairs”. Far from interfering, Mr Erdogan was actually calling India out for its brutality in occupied Kashmir, something that many others in the international community have failed to do. The Turkish president also hailed Pakistan’s efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, along with supporting this country’s stance on the FATF issue.
It is a fact that the people of the subcontinent have had emotional, cultural and religious ties to Turkey for centuries. In the modern era, both in the pre-Partition years and after independence, the Muslims of the subcontinent, and later the people of Pakistan have felt a sense of kinship with the Turks. In the Cold War era, both states were bound together under the American umbrella, though ties have matured further over the decades. Like Pakistan, Turkey too has seen long patches of military rule, as the generals overthrew one elected government after another in Ankara on the flimsiest of pretexts. However, under the AKP, civilian supremacy has been largely established, though there has been valid criticism that Turkey has been moving in a more authoritarian direction, especially in the aftermath of the aborted 2016 coup.
Both Pakistan and Turkey should work to enrich their relationship bilaterally as well as at multilateral forums. Mr Erdogan raised valid concerns about the plight of Palestinians during his speech, and Pakistan’s other Muslim friends should not feel threatened by the efforts of Ankara, Islamabad and others to strengthen the ummah. The Turkish leader also thanked Pakistan for its support for Ankara’s operation against the Syrian Kurds last year, while Prime Minister Imran Khan has been quoted as saying that this country stands with Turkey regarding recent hostilities in Syria. If the prime minister was referring to clashes between Turkish forces that have entered Syria and troops loyal to Damascus in the province of Idlib, then there is a need to proceed with caution. Pakistan values its cordial relationship with Turkey, but must not become a party to any bilateral dispute involving Damascus and Ankara.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2020