Pakistan is a young nation and Turkey is ancient, but the two brotherly nations have many parallels. They are both medium sized Sunni-Muslim majority nations who embrace their Islamic identity, and both are democracies with a history of military’s dominance of politics. Both these countries have traditionally been allies of the United States during the Cold War and after, and still have good working relations with the Western bloc.
Perhaps most important, both Turkey and Pakistan are pivoting away from the US-led Western bloc and are trying to find alternatives. Recent events have shown that while Islamabad and Ankara move away from Washington, they are drawing closer to Beijing.
Under the circumstances, it is only natural that Islamabad and Ankara are growing closer together with each passing day. This mutual warming up is reflected in the bourgeoning military ties. In 2020, joint naval exercises were conducted in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. What is more, Turkey is now the fourth largest exporter of arms to Pakistan, with China being the major source of military equipment.
At the moment, Pakistan is purchasing of MILGEM corvette ships from ASFAT, a state-owned Turkish contractor. Alongside that, Pakistan is also planning on buying 30 T-129 ATAK helicopters from Turkey.
The military hardware Pakistan is purchasing from Turkey is worth more than USD 3 billion. A major factor for this billion-dollar trade is that both the counties are seeking to reduce their dependence on the West and are hence exploring other pathways.
The cosying up is also reflected in the diplomatic arena as well. For example, Pakistan has extended wholehearted support for Turkey in its disputes with Eastern Mediterranean countries over the exploration of gas. Turkey in turn supports Pakistan’s claim over Kashmir vis-à-vis India. In February 2020, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a statement saying that the Kashmir issue is as important to Turkey as it is to Pakistan, as he referred to the events of the Turkish War of Independence.
Moreover, a strategic relationship is also being developed between Islamabad and Ankara and is increasing concerns in the nuclear sphere. Pakistan is an announced nuclear country. On the contrary, Turkey is not. The country, however, is rich in uranium, and is in possession of two nuclear reactors: Tr-1 and Tr-2.
As recent events in the Arab world like the Syrian War, the Egyptian revolution etc., clearly demonstrate, the landscape of the world has changed. New alliances are now developing. Looking from this perspective, the convergence between Islamabad and Ankara, both working towards the revision of balance of power in their respective regions, seems nothing but logical.
Another commonality is that both Turkey and Pakistan both are looking to strengthen their ties with China. Beijing has made some major investments in Turkey because of its proximity to Europe and Mediterranean, which makes it an important player. Turkey is also an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Similarly, Pakistan and China also have deep rooted relations, which is also related to their mutual rival in the region i.e., India. China has made heavy investments in Pakistan (worth USD 11 billion) and plays a major role in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the BRI aims to modernize the infrastructure, energy, and communication sector of Pakistan, and has laid a network of projects all over the country.
Moreover, Ankara, Tehran, Islamabad (ITI) Pipeline project is also being refurbished. The project, if completed, would connect China via Pakistan and Iran to Turkey via direct railway. Nikkei Asia reported the project to become operational by the year 2026.
In January 2021, a declaration was signed in Islamabad by the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. The declaration discussed the Kashmir issue, the Cyprus issue, the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, and the Aegean clash.
There is no doubt that a strong partnership between Pakistan and Turkey can be significant for both countries and their respective regions.