Turkey-Pakistan nexus: a concern for Greece

In the post-cold war period, many ethnic disputes remain unresolved and revival of nationalist aspiration and interest of external powers in these disputes make it difficult for the resolution of these disputes. One such ethnic dispute is the Cyprus issue. Since the cold-war period the conflict between the two ethnic community-Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are an important part of international politics. Cyprus dispute is not only between Greek Cypriot community and Turkish Cypriot community but it is also between Turkey and Greece.

Though all the European Union states back Greece’s stand on Cyprus, there are only a few countries that support Turkey’s claim on Cyprus. Pakistan tops the list of such countries. Pakistan and Turkey enjoy close cultural, historical, and military ties which are now expanding into deepening economic relations too. Pakistan considers Turkey to be a reliable defence partner. This is depicted by their placing all the three military (army, naval and air) attachés at the Pakistan embassy in Ankara, which is a very rare practice in Pakistani diplomacy. Turkey’s Islamist internationalism under its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also inevitably led to its deeper alliance with Pakistan.

Pakistan’s strategy

In 2018, Pakistan’s interference in Cyprus was revealed by Pakistan’s Army ex-Lt. Gen. Karamat Ahmed. He had then claimed that Turkey and Pakistan were 2 countries but 1 nation. Retired Lt. Gen. Karamat Ahmed had helped Turkish military in 1974 Cyprus Peace Operation. He was a member of a medical team who was sent to Turkey during the operation to help Turkish military personnel and civilians who got injured. He claimed that the operation took place in 1974, when Turkish soldiers interceded under Ankara’s guarantor status to protect the Turkish community in Cyprus. On July 17, 1974, a Pakistani team, consisting of 30 doctors, nurses and paramedical staff, left for Turkey aboard a special Pakistani military C-130 aircraft. Karamat and his team served in Turkey till September 1974 and returned to Pakistan after completing their duty. Recently, there were unconfirmed reports that Islamabad was considering appointment of a military attaché in the Office of the Representative of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

During 2016, Pakistan came to the rescue of Turkey to fill in the void created by sacking of Turkish fighter jet pilots who were considered to be the main conspirators behind the failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Nearly 300 Turkish pilots were purged. The purge served a devastating blow to Turkey’s Air Force and severely undermined the country’s military capabilities. Turkish Air Force in its own internal report (January 2016) revealed that the military needed over 500 new pilots including 190 combat pilots to reach its normal level. By January 2017, the country had a shortage of 1,154 military pilots. Realizing the crisis could put Ankara in a serious national security predicament the country then turned to its ally Pakistan to train new pilots in a fast-track program and asked the Pakistani government to send trainers to fly F-16s.

A dangerous axis

It seems Pakistani pilots sent to Turkey have not returned since then as there have been reports of Pakistani pilots flying Turkish jets and violating Greek airspace on numerous occasions. Suspicion about Pakistani pilots flying Turkish fighter jets was reinforced after the November 2019 joint military exercises between Turkey and Pakistan. In November 2019, Greece lashed out at Pakistan for breaching its airspace, during the Dogu Akdeniz-19 (Eastern Mediterranean-2019) joint international naval exercise. On November 13, 2019, without filing a flight plan with Greek authorities, a Pakistani P-3 Orion Naval Co-operation and Information Collection Aircraft was flown into Greek airspace. This was the first time that Pakistan had violated Greek airspace, as this is usually something done only by the Turkish military. Greek military analysts realized that the exercise meant the beginning of a deepening new military alliance between Pakistan and Turkey.

Pakistan’s defence cooperation with Turkey is not limited to capabilities and products alone. During the past decade, Pakistan and Turkey have exchanged a high number of military officers under their bilateral military education exchange program. Around 1500 Pakistani military officers have completed a training course in Turkey during the past decade. Similarly, more than 130 Turkish military officers participated at war colleges throughout Pakistan as well as at their National Defence University.

What should worry Greece more now is the emergence of a China-Pakistan-Turkey nexus on nuclear proliferation. Pakistan, coordinating on capacity building of the three countries has already been flagged by watchdogs and media. Erdoğan has already expressed his desperation on developing the ‘Caliphate atom bomb’ to fulfil his neo-Ottoman aspirations, and China and Pakistan have been facing charges of illegal sale of missiles and creating a clandestine proliferation market. The growing relationship between Pakistan and Turkey could be a cause of concern for Greece. Cyprus issue has been the main conflict between Turkey and Greece for many years. No doubt, Pakistan will go all out to support Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in pursuit of his jihadist ambitions of conquest and revival of the Ottoman Empire that would include Cyprus as well.