Turkey, World, Analysis, Asia - Pacific

An alliance forged in steel

In the coming years, Turkey and Pakistan are more likely to experience greater cooperation in all areas as they both continue to enhance their positions in an ever-changing world

An alliance forged in steel

By Ravale Mohydin


Paving the ground for the upcoming meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in early January 2019, the Pakistani Supreme Court declared FETO a terrorist organization on December 28, 2018, and banned its affiliated schools in the country. The Turkish government welcomed this move and called it a “precedent for all countries to follow”.

Prime Minister Khan’s visit to Turkey on the invitation of President Erdogan is indeed an opportunity for both Turkey and Pakistan to expand their relationship and take it to new levels.

Mutual support

Support between Turkey and Pakistan has been consistent and mutual. Such support is deeply rooted in history when the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent expressed their support to the Ottoman Empire. Fast forward a century later, Turkey and Pakistan have preserved a warm relationship, supporting each other’s positions on many key issues, including, but not limited to, Northern Cyprus, Kashmir, and most recently, Pakistan’s debacle with Financial Action Task Force (FATF), when Turkey was the only country standing by Pakistan. Having suffered the same struggles for democracy for much of its existence, Pakistan was also, as noted by President Erdogan, the “first country to stand by Turkey after the July 15 coup attempt”.

That said, one of Turkey’s foreign policy objectives is to establish productive international relations through economic development and trade. Thus, there has been a recent resurgence of South-South cooperation as a crucial organizing concept, conveying the hope that progress can be attained via the enhancement of ties among developing countries themselves through economic exchange. Consequently, there is, even now, much greater scope for growth and learning in the areas of economic, security and diplomatic cooperation between Turkey and Pakistan, as well as popular diplomacy and cultural exchanges.

Bilateral trade

The opportunity to finally sign the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is a crucial milestone in this context. If operationalized well, it can potentially increase bilateral trade between Pakistan and Turkey in the near term to almost 5 billion USD. Pakistan’s top 20 high-potential exports can go up from 391 million USD in 2014 to 2.4 billion USD, while Turkey’s top 20 high-potential exports to Pakistan can rise from 193 million USD in 2014 to 2.5 billion USD. Trade liberalization may also lower prices of exported products for consumers in Turkey and Pakistan.

Additionally, given Turkey and Pakistan’s export similarity index of 0.39 in 2012, almost 40 per cent of export industries between the two countries are similar. That would ordinarily imply that Pakistan and Turkey are competitors in similar markets, but given the strong foundation enjoyed by the two countries, there is a massive potential for synergies as well as horizontal or vertical integration and joint ventures between Turkish and Pakistani export firms in similar industries. This would potentially enable both countries to increase efficiency and value-added exports, advancing a step further than the healthcare cooperation agreement signed in 2016, focusing on sharing knowledge, expertise as well as personnel to develop healthcare industries in both countries.

Security concerns

Furthermore, Turkey shares similar security concerns with Pakistan. Both countries were frontline states in America’s war on terror. Historically, both were members of the CENTO and SEATO regional alliances as part of a Western grand strategy against Communism during the Cold War. In the past few decades, both nations faced the scourge of local and foreign terrorism. As another instance of South-South cooperation between the two allies, Pakistan sent no less than the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif himself to reiterate support and provide advice on counterterrorism operations after the terrorist attacks in Turkey in 2015. Among other counterterrorism exercises and joint training, Pakistan also became a key customer for the emerging Turkish defense industry by signing a 1.5-billion-USD deal for Turkish-made helicopters in 2018 and awarded a tender to Turkey to supply four Corvettes to the Pakistan Navy in the largest ever military export deal for Turkey the same year. Such a relationship between the two military institutions is likely to lead to more orders by other countries. Potential diplomatic and security cooperation lies in joint efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, where Pakistan is a critical regional stakeholder and Turkey has often been cited as the most successful NATO army in this conflict.

People-to-people contact must increase

For countries with such strong inter-governmental ties, people-to-people contact must also increase to consolidate gains. Turkey and Pakistan both pledged to increase university scholarships for Pakistani and Turkish students respectively in 2017. Visa liberalization for both countries’ nationals may be explored as well, with growing tourism benefitting both countries. Pakistan plans on introducing visa on arrival for Turkish citizens for both tourism and business. Turkey could opt for the same for Pakistani nationals.

In the coming years, Turkey and Pakistan are more likely to experience greater cooperation in all areas as they both continue to enhance their positions in an ever-changing world. When it comes to the Turkish-Pakistani alliance, the age-old adage by Aristotle comes to mind: “The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.”

[Ravale Mohydin is a Researcher at TRT World Research Centre. Previously, she was a Program Manager at the Centre for Economic Research in Pakistan. She has an Ed.M. from Harvard University and an M.S. from the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in research strategy, implementation and dissemination.]

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