Pak-Turk relationship: How new avenues can be explored

IRFAN ASHRAF
Published 31.01.2020 02:14

For decades, Pakistan and Turkey have been enjoying phenomenal relations in all spheres, as both countries share a common vision on the world economy. The two states see themselves as global economic hubs achieving the goals of the world's developed economies.

This shared vision allows them to prosper significantly in the global realm. In hard times, both states have had each other's backs. Even in recent years, they stood up for each other on various occasions. For example, Turkey did not follow suit with the U.S decision to put Pakistan on the gray list.

On Feb. 23, 2018, Pakistan's Former Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal tweeted: "Thank you Turkey for standing with Pakistan against all odds and proving that we are one. We are proud to have a brother like you." The Turkish ambassador to Pakistan replied, "Most Welcome." These gestures strengthen the relations between both states and open doors to new avenues of cooperation on a much bigger and better spectrum.

Defense alliance

The defense industry trade relations between Pakistan and Turkey have always maintained an equilibrium. Since 2015, many important developments have been made to boost the defense industry commerce between both states, including signing an agreement to upgrade Pakistan's PAK-F16 jets.

Turkey also showed its willingness to provide the Pakistan military 34 fighter aircraft in 2015. The core purpose of such cooperation is to build trust in the defense alliance. This trust will certainly mature the mechanisms of communication for sharing secret intelligence to counter various terrorist threats, especially those from the region of Syria and Afghanistan.

The year 2018 brought several more developments, including an eye-catching deal with the sale of 30 ATAK helicopters. A historic event was also witnessed that year as Turkey and Pakistan's naval forces participated in a bilateral exercise for the first time. This not only deepened the strong alliance between Turkey and Pakistan but also helped to broaden their defense cooperation.

Another deal worth $1.5 million was signed in 2018 by Pakistan for the accretion of four MILGEM-class ships (Milgem Project) from Turkey. In September 2019, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Pakistan Navy commander Adm. Zafar Mehmood Abassi cut the first Metal Plate of the four MILGEM-class corvettes in Turkey.

To strengthen the naval position of Pakistan and Turkey, a balanced defense trade relations will provide a venue for further cooperative agreements. Pakistan and Turkey's navies engaged in joint exercises held in the Arabian and Mediterranean seas in November 2019. The main aim of this exercise was to equip both militaries to function properly in a multi-threat environment with all the expertise to counter these threats.

Economic relations

The 21st century is known as the era of potential economic development for states. The term "power" is now largely related to economic power. In a multipolar world, Pakistan and Turkey are willing to utilize their resources to extract maximum output. Both states have great potential due to their strategic location on the world map, especially with the addition of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Through this mega project that connects all of the central Asian states and paves the way for Pakistan to shrink the strategic distance from its eastern provinces to China's western landlocked province Xinjiang to 2,106 km, Turkey aims to open the gate for China to enter into Europe.

Pakistan and Turkey hold a superior standing in this project. Both states perceive the BRI and also the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as important economic pillars for enhancing economic integration. These huge projects will eventually invite both states to further collaboration in all fields. They will provide a platform for viable lasting trade and profit-oriented targets.

Pakistan is interested in inviting the Muslim nations to join hands in the CPEC project. Pakistan is inclined toward Turkey to join this $64 billion project. Being known as an emerging economic giant, China holds a maximum share in this project.

'Project of the Century'

Chinese President Xi Jinping has the vision to improve connectivity by shrinking the distance between various Asian countries. Jinping's actions show that he values the economic power China enjoys which also inspired him to initiate the world's biggest project known as the "Project of the Century."

With the rapid development and keen interest being shown by China, this huge project is expected to be a great success. The project will improve connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe, and this will be an amazing opportunity in this century for all states to cash in on.

This mega project will also offer opportunities for commercial integration for Central Asian, Middle Eastern and South Asian states to raise their economic status. Turkey has shown its interest in joining the mega-project BRI, as it will help the country to overcome the issue of trade deficit with various states. The project will also help attract potential Chinese investment into the country.

The inclusion of Turkey will be of great importance for the project due to the country's strategic location. Another reason for its success in Turkey is that the citizens of Turkey have an optimistic view of it. President Erdoğan told Chinese-run news agency Xinhua: "We are on the same page regarding President Xi's approach to the initiative, which is not only to improve transport and communication networks, to construct trade corridors and to harmonize trade policies and development strategies but also to boost cultural and human ties in this framework ... There is a natural harmony between our Middle Corridor Initiative and China's Belt and Road Initiative ... This harmony allows us to cooperate with China in large geographies such as Central Asia and Africa."

Erdoğan's statement clears all doubts and shows his willingness to cooperate in this economic junction. China, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the key actors in this project.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Turkey will have the 13th largest gross domestic product (GDP) by purchasing power parity by 2026. Therefore, having trade relations with Turkey will definitely Turkey's trade partners as well.

The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Pakistan and Turkey will generate a bilateral trade volume of $900 million to $10 billion within this year. One of the crucial developments of this agreement is that it allows freedom of movement between both states. This will increase people to people connection on a larger scale.

The main objective of this FTA for Ankara is to expand Turkey's automobile industry and electric appliances exports in Pakistan's market. For Pakistan, on the other hand, the foremost goal is to eradicate the anti-dumping duties which Turkey has imposed on its exports. This FTA has a special article in which Turkey and Pakistan will use the Tukish lira and the Pakistani rupee for trade transactions.

This swapping of currency will lower the cost of services benefiting both states. Pakistan invited Turkey's investors in special economic zones (SEZ) with the clause of tax exclusion and other incentives. An idea has been proposed to build a railway route connecting both states with fast, easy access and much cheaper logistics. These projects and agreements will not only create economic ties but also bridge the cultural links between the Pakistani and Turkish people.

Educational issues

The educational sector is one of the crucial areas on which the country's future depends. The educational ties between Turkey and Pakistan are significant for the advancement of both societies. Pakistan's Educational Minister Shafqat Mehmood and his five-member delegation met Turkish Minister for National Education Ziya Selçuk in the Turkish capital Ankara.

Pakistan's decision to shut down the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ)-linked Pak-Turk schools and hand the properties over to Turkey's Maarif Foundation was appreciated by Ankara. Selçuk expressed strong admiration for this gesture. Many Pakistani students have completed degrees in various fields at Turkish educational institutes. Some are even pursuing their educational careers at Turkey's prestigious universities.

These partnerships will build strong relationships between the students of both countries. In the future, they will be the one holding the reins of their respective states. Some will be the leaders of their state and others will influence the economy.

These joint collaborations between Pakistan and Turkey in the educational sector will impact the countries' bilateral relations. Therefore, both states need to decide the future of their countries by creating more and more avenues for students' cooperation to develop understanding and respect for each other's cultures. This will blur the boundaries and allow citizens of both countries to interact freely.

* Analyst in international relations based in Islamabad, Pakistan

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