A Unique Relationship
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

As a Pakistani visiting Turkey, it is easy to forget that in inter-state relations there are no permanent friends or enemies. There continues to be an inexplicable outpouring of affection from ordinary Turks when they hear you are from Pakistan – and this seems to have filtered to the younger generation also. Even more astonishing, any number of people who can comfortably break out into the chorus of “Jeevay Pakistan” – a song they have become familiar with through Turkish television.
Clearly, the Turkish nation continues to have a tremendous sense of history, which we seem to be increasingly devoid of, but there really is something beyond Realpolitik and history that sustains the goodwill for Pakistan in Turkey that exists within the Turkish government and nation.
At the same time, in an exchange of views, it is evident that Pakistan has done little to sustain and develop this continuing goodwill – much to India’s continuing chagrin as they seek desperately to increase, not very successfully so far, economic cooperation in sensitive areas such as avionics. Our trade and overall economic relationship with Turkey remains poor despite the odd effort to bolster it – a pattern similar to our relationship with China in the economic field.
Of course, both Turkey and Pakistan have some interesting features in common which can be a source of strength for them as well as weakness, depending on how they utilize these factors. For instance, both countries straddle two major geopolitical regions – Turkey in terms of Europe and Asia, Pakistan in terms of South Asia and West-Central Asia and the Gulf region. Both have yet to realize the potential of active involvement in all these neighborhoods.
Turkey has tended to focus so exclusively on Europe and the membership of the EU, that it has failed to play a substantive role in its Asian neighborhood despite its historical importance within the Muslim World. Also, as a longstanding ally of the US, it has limited its own options in Asia. Incidentally, the Turks paid for their NATO membership with their blood, literally, because they had to fight in the Korean War before they were granted this membership. Pakistan was compelled by history to focus primarily on South Asia, although its commitment to the Ummah did move it in other directions within its region also. But the full regional potential has yet to be realized by Pakistan.
Both Pakistan and Turkey have some important common issues including Afghanistan where Turkey is part of the ISAF/NATO force. Only recently, the Turkish leadership once again gave support to Pakistan’s position on Kashmir and the principle of self-determination. Turkey has also been a pillar of support in other sensitive areas, especially when we were the most sanctioned-against state. Pakistan has been equally supportive of Turkey, although we did blunder on the OIC secretary general’s election where we chose to go our own way and embarrassed two important allies in the process. Let us hope we do not commit the same mistake in the case of the UN Secretary General’s forthcoming elections, which focus on an Asian candidate.
A particularly critical issue for Turkey presently is the issue of breaking the isolation of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC). With the Greek Cypriots rejection, of unification it is high time the TRNC was brought into the international mainstream since they went the extra mile towards compromise. Had the EU not shown such a bias as to admit Greek Cyprus into the EU while the Cyprus conflict was on, perhaps the Greek Cypriots would have been more amenable to compromise and conflict resolution. As it is, the EU once again showed its underlying Christian ethos in the way it dealt with the Cyprus issue and many in Turkey now concede that their chances of getting EU membership are nil, but they are not ready to give in on this count.
Turkey’s EU membership rejection will define for the rest of the Muslim World the Christian identity of Europe – no matter what may be put out as the official explanation. After all, if Turkey is seen as a Muslim state despite its constitutionally guaranteed secular character, then we should have no doubts about the mindset of the EU – which seems to have no objections to the Christian character of some of its major member states.
Coming back to the issue of the TRNC, it is high time countries like Pakistan took the lead in breaking its isolation. Even if we do not give formal diplomatic recognition, we can make a beginning by establishing direct trade ties and flights into the TRNC. At the moment we seem to be overcome by an inexplicable sense of timidity. At a time when American delegations have flown directly into the TRNC, we are not prepared to have our ambassador in Turkey visit the TRNC officially – at the request of the many Pakistani students studying there. After all, if the Greek Cypriots are not prepared to adopt the Kofi Annan plan for reunification, should the rest of the international community pretend that the TRNC does not exist?
Given the EU’s biased role on this issue, they also have a moral obligation now to accept the TRNC. As for the OIC, it did move a little on this count at its last foreign ministers moot, but not enough. We are prepared to have Russia as an observer within the OIC but not the TRNC in our OIC fold! But then this also shows the need for non-Arab members of the OIC to play a more active role in giving life to this organization. The TRNC has survived over the years despite being ignored by the international community. It is time for us to make amends and Pakistan should stand up and be counted as one of Turkey’s major allies.
For too long we have relied on history to continue our special relationships – be it with Turkey or China. But history is not enough. It is through Turkish intent that India still has not made inroads into that country but there are major student exchanges and India’s economic lures are on offer. The TRNC issue is one that will revitalize historic links between Pakistan and the Turkish nation. On both moral and political grounds the case for Pakistan taking a lead in breaking the TRNC’s isolation is strong – especially in the aftermath of the Cypriot referendum results.
Beyond that, Pakistan should also play a more active role in a reconciliation of the Turkish and Arab nations. Turkey has always been a bulwark in the defense of the Muslim World and it can continue to add strength to it, but the wounds of history need to be healed. Pakistan can also play a critical role here, if the will is there. It is time for Pakistan to come out of its psychological reticence and recognize its regional power potential.
(The writer is Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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