Pakistan and Turkey: the first signs of trouble
Pakistan and Turkey are two nations which have had a historic friendship which seems to have bloomed in the past decades. On 2nd April 1954 the countries signed a treaty of friendship, a little after the formation of Pakistan in 1947. A friendship based on mutual values and on the fact that both are prominent non-Arab members in an Islamic world order that includes mainly Arab countries.
Turkey’s cultural affinity for politicized Islam has through the years resonated deeply with Pakistan’s evolving cultural identity. One needs to look no further than the cultural popularity of Turkish television series in Pakistan or the fan base that Pakistani poets and writers have enjoyed in turkey for decades to realise that this is much more than just a passing romance.
These shared bonds have, over the years, transmuted into a strong and strategic relationship leading to synergies in various sectors, mainly defence.
They support each other across international fora (eg. Turkish support for Pakistan at the FATF) and there is talk of Pakistan and Turkey developing flight technology together.
Surprisingly they also share a common view of the contentious issue of Kashmir which is close to Pakistan’s heart but geopolitically not so relevant to Turkey. Turkish politicians, media and civil society have over the years vocally supported Pakistan’s stance and condemned the Indian forces for human rights violations in Kashmir. In 2019 when the government of India abolished Art. 370 (A law that guaranteed special autonomous stature to Jammu and Kashmir), Turkish President Erdogan and his foreign affairs ministry vociferously criticised this move. Erdogan referred to the Kashmir issue in his last three speeches at the UN General Assembly on three separate consecutive occasions indicating that perhaps the issue is important to him.
But despite the show of solidarity and goodwill there are questions whether all is indeed well in between the two countries. In Pakistan’s corridors of power there seems to be dissent and displeasure over Turkey’s lack of enthusiasm on Kashmir and uneasiness over Erdogan’s declining fervour. His euphemisms seem to be softening and he went as far as to club Kashmir with the Uighur’s and the Rohingya’s as one of the myriad problems that affect the Islamic world.
Kashmir is an existentialist problem for Pakistan. They are watching closely to determine if Turkey’s fervour has indeed diminished. There are small signs in the landscape like Erdogan’s failure to, mention Kashmir at a state Function hosting the Pakistani president or the absence of a condolence message on the death of Pakistani separatist, and Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Geelani’s granddaughter Ruwa Shah is a popular figure in Turkish media.
There is a section in the Pakistani establishment that is cautious and reluctant to overreact to Turkey’s recent toning down on Kashmir taking into consideration Turkey’s other recent attempts to improve relations with almost every country it had earlier antagonised, including Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Amidst a failing economy and dwindling political support it looks like Erdogan needs all the international help and investment he can muster. No matter what Pakistan’s grouse with India is, India is an important country and a major economic player in the world. Turkey cannot afford to ignore it in such a situation. Turkey’s newfound moderation on Kashmir should be perhaps strictly taken in the larger context of its attempts to repair ties with other countries.
Whatever the reason, interestingly there appears to be a near-unanimous opinion within the Pakistani establishment that Turkey’s tone has indeed softened on Kashmir. While some have advised caution, others have expressed disappointment over a core concern of Islamabad being handled so callously by a country they considered a “true friend”. In the complicated, ever-changing world of international relations, perhaps the only thing that remains unchanged is the adage – “there are no permanent friends or enemies, only national interest.”