Upsurge in Pakistani-Turkish Ties
By Dr Ahmad Faruqui
Danville, CA


Speaking at an iftar organized by the Turkish business community for the earthquake victims in Pakistan, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan noted, “Pakistan has a very special place for us since the days of the Dardanelles Wars (World War I). They did not abandon us and we cannot leave them at such times as these either.”
He was expected to travel to Pakistan on October 20 and deliver a check for more than $50 million that were raised at the dinner. Turkey’s rapid response to the earthquake underscores the close ties between the two countries. Within a day, Turkey had rushed nine planes loaded with tents and blankets to Islamabad. Subsequently, Turkish rescue and health teams arrived to assist in search and rescue efforts.
This will be Erdogan’s second visit to Pakistan, the first one having taken place shortly after he was sworn into office in 2003. There is much that is common between the two countries. Both trace their evolution over the last millennium to Turkic people who migrated from Central Asia to Persia and set up empires that lasted for centuries, giving them a rich imperial legacy. While their languages are not alike, there are several Turkish words in Urdu, which itself is a Turkish word meaning army. Urdu was a means of communication between the multi-ethnic Muslim armies that ventured into India several hundred years ago.
Pakistan has strong Turkic influence in its culture. The shared history goes back to the time when the Seljuks, a Turkic people from Central Asia, poured southward into Persia in 1037 and established the Empire of the Great Seljuks. One branch of the Seljuks ruled from Ghazni in Afghanistan, headed by Sultan Mahmud who reigned from 997-1030. Mahmud’s grandfather was a Turkic general from Turkestan who had crossed the Hindu Kush mountains to seize Ghazni, located strategically on the road between Kabul and Kandahar. At its peak, his empire included all of Afghanistan, most of modern Iran and parts of Pakistan and northern India. During his time, Ferdausi wrote the Shahnamah and Al Beruni wrote his classic treatise on India.
In 1071, another branch of the Seljuk family moved west from Persia. It engaged the armies of the Byzantine emperor in what is now eastern Turkey and defeated them decisively. After that, the Seljuk Turks flooded into Anatolia, taking control of most of eastern and central Anatolia. They established their capital at Konya around 1150 and created the western (Rum) Seljuk sultanate. During their reign, Maulana Rumi penned his Masnavi and established a Sufi order that has a large following globally and especially in Pakistan.
Over time, the Seljuks in Turkey were succeeded by the Ottomans who went on to establish an empire that lasted for six centuries, from 1299 to 1922. During the same time, Mahmud Ghazni had been succeeded by other Muslim rulers in the subcontinent, culminating in the rule of the Mughals. The movement to revive the Khilafat after the defeat of the Ottomans in the First World War received a boost from the Muslims of the subcontinent. Even though the movement failed in its political objectives, it did underscore the desire of the two peoples to work together, as was noted by Erdogan.
The two countries were established as modern republics in the aftermath of world wars in the last century, Turkey after the first one and Pakistan after the second one. The military has played a crucial role in the political evolution of both and to this day regards itself as the guarantor of national security. Both countries have had a difficult time dealing with their minorities and have often used military force to suppress their rights to prevent secession. Both partnered with the US in the Cold War against the Soviet Union and are active in the current fight against terrorists. And most recently, Turkey’s foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, helped broker the first official contact between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Israel.
But they also have their differences. Pakistan’s founder, an attorney turned politician, passed away within a year of its birth but Turkey’s founder, a war hero turned politician, lived on for 15 years after its birth. Thus, Turkey experienced more stability and continuity than did Pakistan in its early years. And while Turkey’s military has been playing an increasingly invisible one, reflecting the maturation of its polity, Pakistan’s military continues to be very visible, reflecting the weakness of its political institutions. A final difference is that while Pakistan’s military has a history of associating with radical Muslim groups, Turkey’s military does not.
Today, Turkey has a population that is half as large as Pakistan’s but an economy that is three times larger. So, even though the average Turk earns a third of his European counterpart, he still makes seven times more than the average Pakistani. Seeking to improve the standard of living of both countries, Erdogan expressed a desire at the 8th ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) summit to increase bilateral trade with Pakistan from its current level of $200 million to $1 billion.
Between 1964-1979, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey formed an economic bloc called Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD). It became dysfunctional with the fall of the Shah of Iran. However, RCD was reborn as the ECO in 1985. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was expanded to include several Central Asian states. It now includes Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. ECO is aimed at boosting economic cooperation, trade and communication links in three important regions of the Asian continent—Central, West and South Asia. Six summits of the heads of member states have been held but the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan-Iran differences have prevented the ECO from reaching its full potential.
Turkey, an increasingly confident democracy and a stable Muslim country, is being upheld by the US as a role model for the Muslim world. But General Musharraf’s attempts to import the Kemalist model soon after he seized power six years ago backfired. To his credit, the general has changed his position and feels that the Turkish model would have to be modified before it can be applied to Pakistan.
To understand what changes may need to be made in this model, one has to first understand Turkey’s strategic culture. This requires one to examine the historical evolution of Turkey, explore the fault lines that permeate its body politic and assess its future prospects. These topics will be discussed in future columns.

 


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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