Ankara and Islamabad share extensive geopolitical links and have a rich history of close cultural, historical and military relations in both democratic and military regimes being a Muslim-majority states.
Three devastating earthquakes struck Turkey’s South-eastern region bordering Syria in the early hours of 06 February 23. The widespread destruction and ensuing loss of life have, as expected in any major disaster of this magnitude, overwhelmed the country. The World community responded swiftly and immediate for HADR operations, given the intensity of envisaged damage, both to property and life. Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif’s too responded to the request by Turkey soon after.
In order to show his personal solidarity and closeness, Pakistan PM declared his visit to Turkey the very next day on 07 February 23. However, this ill-timed visit announced in haste gathered a huge negative response from various community within the country and Internationally, citing Turkey’s singular focus on saving life at the moment. Subsequently, various articles have been published by think tank group, analysing the event leading to decline of the visit by Turkey. Many experts have commented this as a paradigm shift in deemed strategic relations between Turkey and Pakistan.
It is well known that Ankara and Islamabad share extensive geopolitical links and have a rich history of close cultural, historical and military relations in both democratic and military regimes being a Muslim-majority states. Historically, for Turkey, support to Pakistan is also a subset of Ankara’s rivalry between the Middle Eastern countries. For a long time, Turkey has been competing with the Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for a leadership position the Muslim world. The growing proximity between Turkey and Pakistan has only increased as a result of India’s strengthening and diversifying ties with the Arab countries in the past decade. Pertinently, Pakistan has a history of close ties with the Arab countries, but with India gaining prominence in the Arab world, Pakistan continued to get closer to Turkey.
The official statement on bilateral relations between the two countries have emphasized the importance of historical and cultural ties, strengthening parliamentary dialogue and cooperation, establishment of peace, stability and development in these regions. The citizens of these countries enjoy dual citizenship under the citizenship initiative. Here, it needs to be mentioned that Turkey has been very open in its stated policy on Pakistan’s Kashmir issue and has openly supported Pakistan's stance on the Kashmir conflict and maintained political and military support during its conflict with India. Turkey also supports Pakistan's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Pakistan has reciprocated by expressing support for Turkey's policy in Northern Cyprus. Both nations are members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Pakistan has also supported Turkey on the issues such as gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Armenia-Azerbaijan war.
The relationship did have its share of ups and downs off late. There has been a number of cases reported in Turkey inimical to Pakistan’s action in Turkey. Some of the incidents leading to the mistrust are an incident in 2022 where Pakistani men were found to be making inappropriate videos of Turkish women and children, which was in the news for a while and did result in public outrage on Social Media including trend with twitter hashtag; ‘Pakistani Perverts' and 'Pakistan Get Out' trending. One must also recall how an actor and VJ Anoushey Ashraf had voiced her opinion on the hypocrisy of Pakistani men and how all women feel unsafe around Pakistani men. Also, in April 2022, four Nepali’s nationals were abducted for ransom by a group of six Pakistani men from Taksim Square in Istanbul at gunpoint which tightened its visa policy and stopped issuing temporary residence permits to Pakistani nationals. Prior to the incident, some Pakistani nationals were also detained by the Turkish authorities for protesting the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan from power and released after personal involvement of Pakistani diplomats in Turkey.
Whilst, it’s probably premature to say that there is a muted thaw in the relationship based on the decline of Pakistan PM visit., the question that has been doing rounds is ‘Why at the last moment, Turkey refused to host Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Ankara. Aren’t these visits planned in much detail and after due consultations? Was it eagerness of the Pakistan PM or is a subtle message to Pakistan to look after their own affairs which continues to spiral on a daily basis? Is it because of Pakistan’s inability at present to support Ankara given their constant lookout for financial aid? Well, certainly there isn’t much for Turkey to gain from Pakistan at present given the volatile domestic issues and economy on the verge of bankruptcy. Whatever the reason, it definitely was not the bad weather, as stated to the public at large. In the same breath, it’s worth mentioning that Pakistan has been facing the worst-ever economic crisis, political instability and terrorism, with inflation reaching a record high and the country witnessing major inflation, lack of basic resources and major terrorist activities in the past six months.
The stalemate in India-Turkey relations primarily stems from Turkey’s inability to decouple itself from Pakistan and conduct relations with India independently. Notwithstanding, there has been multiple high-level engagements between India and Turkey in the last few years including personal one to one engagement at Samarkand between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with an aim to strengthen bilateral relations, in particular giving a thrust to economic cooperation. Whilst some think tanks insists that Turkey is looking for avenues to strengthen its dwindling economy which improved ties with India would facilitate at least to some extent. Also, Turkey, as a part of addressing economic concerns, has sought to mend ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This implies that Turkey may seriously be inclined to mend ties with India
A summary of the relationship between Pakistan and Turkey and also India and Turkey brings to fore that Turkey is undergoing a quiet diplomatic revolution in the recent past and Ankara has weighed in firmly on one side of the various conflicts and disputes in its Middle Eastern neighbourhood and probably these positions has contributed to a sharp decline in Turkey’s relations with other major players, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel. But a deep insight on these position indicates that Turkey is in a very different position today than it was in the 2000s when its economy was booming, and much of its "zero problems" policy was aimed at finding new markets for the flourishing manufacturing and construction sector. Improved ties with Syria, for example, allowed the flow of Turkish goods overland to entice Gulf markets, while closer ties with northern Iraq saw Turkish companies benefit from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s oil-driven prosperity along with Erdogan personal popularity. The Turkey of today is in a much weaker position today. Its economy is struggling after years of poor fiscal decisions by Erdogan and his government, with inflation hitting an all-time high. Also Erdogan’s democratic credentials have been damaged after cracking down heavily on dissent, opposition groups and freedom of speech in the last decade.
As countries have scrambled to assist Turkey, India has been among the first to rush to assistance post the earthquake on 6th February. Prime Minister Modi has personally stated that India stands in solidarity with the people of Turkey and is ready to offer all possible assistance to cope with this tragedy, which is seen in the ground and much appreciated locally. The Turkish Ambassador to India Firat Sunel has also thanked PM Narendra Modi, adding, ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’. Turkey has called India a "dost" for its generosity for providing funds to the country after the earthquake caused massive destruction. India seeks a strong tie with Turkey and advocates a resilient India-Turkey relation could very well fill the thaw in its relationship with neighbouring countries of interest given the clout that a resurgent India holds. On the same breath, no country at present has anything to gain from the self-imposed crisis, Pakistan is going through.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are of the author, and are not associated with DNA English.