Erdogan in Pakistan (La Presse)

The Purpose of Turkish President Erdogan’s Pakistan Visit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has consistently sought to increase Turkey’s role in the regional affairs. From landing forces in Egypt to publicly accusing Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of involvement in the Jamal Khashoggi murder, Erdogan has voiced Turkey’s stance on regional issues in an increasingly forthright manner. Similarly, Erdogan has also deepened his alliances with his allies and even created new ones such as Pakistan. To that end, Erdogan was in Pakistan last week where he addressed the country’s parliament and openly sided with Islamabad on the Kashmir issue.

Short Summary of Turkey-Pakistan Relations

Turkey and Pakistan go way back. Their relationship started during the 1920s, before Pakistan was even conceived once India’s Muslims launched a movement for the restoration of the Ottoman caliphate. At the time, the allied powers were dismembering the Ottoman Sultanate. South Asian Muslims, however, launched a campaign against the British colonists through a civil disobedience movement, asking Britain to preserve the sanctity of the caliphate. Pakistan’s independence movement was conceived during this movement. 

The people-to-people relations began there and then. But as Turkey embarked on a secular path under Kemal Ataturk and Pakistan became independent, the two sides put the relations on the back burner. Both Ankara and Islamabad have been part of several regional blocs during the cold war. But their relations rekindled after Erdogan was invited to address the Pakistani parliament back in 2009. 

Erdogan’s Recent Visit Attests to the Two Nations’ Friendship

Erdogan’s recent visit comes at a testing time and speaks volumes for the long-lasting nature of the relationship between Pakistan and Turkey as both sides share similar problems. Turkey and Pakistan host the highest number of refugees in the world, a direct result of the instability in their respective neighborhoods. But the similarities do not end here, the political leadership of the countries have also had to grapple with the questions surrounding their Muslim identity and role within the ummah.

Pakistani PM Imran Khan invited Erdogan to visit Pakistan earlier in January. Political analysts saw the invitation as Khan’s attempt at damage control following his decision to cancel his attendance at the Kuala Lumpur (KL) summit at the last minute on the behest of Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman. The prince saw the KL Summit as a direct challenge to Saudi’s leadership within the Islamic world. The Summit had forced Pakistan to choose sides among the evolving multi-polarity within the Islamic nations: Pakistan chose Saudi-UAE side. 

Turkey Stands by Pakistan Through Thick and Thin

Khan received a lot of flak for his absence at KL Summit especially from Erdogan who lambasted the Saudi prince for using threats such as sending back Pakistani workers to their home country and stopping aid to dissuade Khan from attending the gathering. The debacle showed how closely Pakistan’s foreign policy decisions are tied to its economic interests. But even as Pakistan pays the price for aid and loans through adjustments in foreign policies in line with Saudi interests, Turkey continues to side with Pakistan without any conditions. 

Erdogan: We Must Speak Up About the Suffering of Kashmiri People

On the one hand, as Saudi Arabia refused Pakistan’s request for an emergency meeting on the Kashmir issue, Turkey has remained steadfast in his support of Islamabad’s stance on India’s belligerent behavior. Supporting Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir issue, Erdogan, while addressing the country’s parliament remarked that, “Our Kashmiri brothers and sisters have suffered from inconveniences for decades and these sufferings have become graver due to unilateral steps taken in recent times” while referring to India’s decision to revoke special status of Jammu and Kashmir last month. 

“Today, the issue of Kashmir is as close to us as it is to you (Pakistanis),” Erdogan said, adding that “Such a solution (on the basis of justice and fairness) will serve the interests of all parties concerned. Turkey will continue to stand by justice, peace and dialogue in the resolution of the Kashmir issue.”

The remarks were not received well in India, which abruptly summoned the Turkish envoy and lodged a diplomatic protests over Erdogan’s remarks. But Erdogan’s deepening of ties with Islamabad by siding with Khan on the Kashmir issue hints at Turkey’s willingness to prioritize ties with its South Asian ally. It also gives a peek into Turkey’s evolving foreign policy outlook which is much more loud and assertive in its stance on issues impacting the Asian subcontinent.