While the Pakistani head of government is the Prime Minister, the Republic’s ceremonial presidential head of state traditionally occupies the role of the country’s foremost ambassador to the wider world. As such, when sitting President Arif Alvi travelled to Istanbul for discussions with high level Turkish officials, he elaborated on the official position of Pakistan’s new government towards its traditional Turkish partner.
Arif Alvi explained to Turkish journalists at the Daily Sabah that Pakistan seeks to reinvigorate its long standing friendship with Turkey in order to expand economic and security relations in an ever more interconnected world. The Pakistani President explained that his country had always stood side by side with Turkey in helping to stop the spread of terrorism by the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO). He also offered Pakistan’s full support to Turkey’s anti-terror operations directed against the PKK. Comparing Turkey’s fight against terror and extremism with Pakistan’s President said,
“Pakistan today has more experience in handling terrorism. We have sacrificed more than 70,000 lives, including military officers, and more than a hundred billion dollars that affected our economy. Therefore, Turkey and Pakistan have similar experiences. I think that we know more than any other country as Pakistan is tackling, Turkey is tackling terrorism. I think we would both manage it”.
While Turkey is a NATO member and Pakistan has had a long standing relationship with the US, at the present time, both countries seek to develop independent security initiatives rather than to merely execute the wishes of other powers. As Turkey’s President Erdogan has blazed a path for neo-nonalignment with modern Islamic characteristics, Pakistan’s new government led by Imran Khan automatically shares many of the same views on the need to develop a more robustly independent geopolitical stance.
Turning to business cooperation, Arif Alvi invited Turkish businesses as well as elements of the public sector to invest in the many arising opportunities in Pakistan, specifically where the rapid development of Gwadar port and other China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) related projects are concerned. Regarding this the Pakistani President stated,
Pakistan is opening up for international investments with stable policies. It may provide good returns for Turkish businessmen. Communication between the governments may be increased to establish roads such as the intellectual road or China-Pakistan Economic Corridor”.
In respect of Turkey’s historic role as a unifying power among Islamic majority nations, Arif Alvi said,
“Turkey has supported Pakistan’s position in Kashmir and Pakistan has supported the Cyprus issue. Pakistan also stood by Turkey’s democracy in 2016….
….We hosted 3.5 million refugees from Afghanistan in the peak days of the Sovie-Afghan war. Turkey is hosting the same number of people from Syria today. I think there is a commonality in our situations, direction and causes. I think the entire Muslim Ummah looks at Turkey and its historical role in the world as well as the Muslim world, as [those] who have spread democracy in the world like Turkey and Pakistan to get out of these crises because we are going to a tremendous crisis [point]. There is so much of killing, so much of economic downturn and refugees”.
The content of President Arif Alvi’s statements helps to remind observers in both nations that on the main issues of grave concern to each state, the governments of Pakistan and Turkey have a sustained history of supporting one another weather over Kashmir and the fight against foreign sponsored terrorism in Pakistan to Islamabad’s support for Turkey’s own war against terror groups including FETO and the PKK. Moreover, as Pakistan has also had a history of a close partnership with Saudi Arabia, a nation whose relations with Turkey are very much in a difficult position, it was important for the Pakistani President to travel to Istanbul shortly after Riyadh inked a major loan deal with Islamabad.
As Turkey’s President Erdogan is a mature politician, it is clear that he realises that Pakistan’s relations with both Saudi Arabia and Turkey are based on long standing historical realities rather than an attempt to meddle in the intense discussions currently transpiring between Saudi and Turkish officials in the wake of the murder of Saudi born journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. When specifically asked by Turkish journalists what Pakistan’s position on the Khashoggi murder is, Arif Alvi offered the following positive statement wishing for there to be full cooperation between Ankara and Riyadh on the matter:
“I think developments have taken place where the Turkish government and Saudi government are cooperating in the investigation”.
As Pakistan also has warm relations with Turkish partner and Saudi foe Qatar, it is helpful to remember that as a south Asian rather than western Eurasian nation, Pakistan sees its role in western Eurasia/the Middle East as one that holds a neutral position and in fact is willing to act as a mediator in ongoing disputes. This is also the case in the Yemen conflict as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan recently stated that Islamabad is ready to try and mediate in a peace deal should the appropriate sides wish to engage in such discussions.
The current visit by Pakistan’s President to Turkey therefore looks to re-affirm Islamabad’s traditional friendship with Ankara while also aiming to open up new avenues of cooperation with the mutual support that both country’s have for the Belt and Road initiative being a clear point of commonality in respect of working to foment new agreements in respect of trade, innovation and connectivity.
Below is Eurasia Future’s full report on what Pakistan’s new government can learn from a Turkey led by political veteran Recep Tayyip Erdogan:
Turkey and Pakistan have always had a strong relationship and while culturally and politically, both countries have very different backgrounds apart from both being Muslim majority nations, politically speaking, recent decades have experienced similarities and divergences that both bear a closer examination.
Parliamentary and Presidential
Throughout the 20th century, political changes resulted in both Turkey and Pakistan ping-ponging between strong presidential and parliamentary systems. While both modern states were founded by strong presidential figures, in Turkey’s case Ataturk and in Pakistan’s case Muhammad Ali Jinnah – both countries eventually adopted a parliamentary system. In Pakistan’s case, a strong parliamentary system was adopted in 1973 under the leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. However, by 1977, a de-facto strong Presidential system came back when General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq became President after overthrowing Bhutto’s government. Then in 1988 upon Zia’s death, a parliamentary system returned only to be supplanted by another strong Presidential system in 1999 when like Zia before him, General Pervez Musharraf led a coup against the parliamentary government.
In Turkey, multiple coups throughout the 20th century often shifted the balance of power between parliament and president although most of Turkey’s coups were generally less chaotic than those in Pakistan owing in part to the rigid discipline that Ataturk installed in the Army. Nevertheless, in both countries, the armed forces have been seen as guardians of the constitutional order (often along with high court judges) against the whims of politicians. This has proved controversial in both nations with mainstream opinion often being divided between a pro-establishment and pro-political class mindset.
Today, Turkey returns to a strong executive Presidency after incumbent President Erdogan was elected with a mandate to shape the country according to the results of the 2017 Constitutional Referendum which gave the President expanded powers.
But while Pakistan’s current political system is parliamentary and Turkey’s is now a strong presidential system – similarities in this month’s elections in Turkey and next month’s elections in Pakistan are still strong.
Secularism vs. Religion
In both Turkey and Pakistan, politics has tended to be divided between secular parties and parties which seek to promote Islamic values in society. In recent decades this has pitted the secular Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) versus the more religious conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML) (under its various competing factions) while in Turkey, Erdogan’s religiously conservative AK Party has competed with the secular CH Party.
In this year’s Pakistani elections, the country’s third party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which was formed in 1996 now poses a serious challenge to both the PPP and PML-N. PTI was founded by former cricketing legend Imran Khan only two years after Erdogan was first elected mayor of Istanbul.
Both Khan and Erdogan emphasise a need to invest in civic infrastructure, a more modern and efficient economy, educational reforms, better management of public health, a non-aligned foreign policy despite historical trends and an aim to combine Islamic values with modern democracy.
Personal and economic track records
While Erdogan has never lost an election, PTI has yet to achieve its goal of winning at a national level, although during Pakistan’s last general elections held in 2013, Imran Khan’s PTI managed to come within striking distance of the PPP, while that same year PTI assumed leadership of the Provincial Assembly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Economically, Turkey has tended to be more stable and in recent years far stronger than Pakistan, as even many of Erdogan’s opponents admit that his overall economic record has been positive. That being said, Pakistan’s new geopolitical alignments and its key position along China’s One Belt–One Road has opened up new economic avenues whose potential to elevate the material condition of the Pakistani people will only be realised after the election.
Turkey too plays an important part in One Belt–One Road and in this sense, future years will also see Turkey benefiting from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a maritime belt from the Pakistani port at Gwadar to the eastern Mediterranean remains a key component in global trade whose importance will be accelerated as the many belts and roads of China’s global initiative become solidified. Furthermore, the prospects for a land route from Pakistan to Turkey via Iran is also a much needed development that could lead to the development of a new South Asia to Mediterranean economic corridor.
Unlike Erdogan, Imran Khan will not be able to rely on the benefits of incumbency, but even so he could learn a great deal from Erdogan’s campaigning technique. While Pakistan’s formal election season only just begun, for the last year if not more, politicians have been in electioneering mode. This reality has both benefits and drawbacks. While it allows candidates more exposure than in short campaign cycles, it also opens them up to the kind of scandal hungry atmosphere that is pervasive throughout south Asian media.
Even before attaining national power, Erdogan was skilful at using mass media to his advantage. Rather than engage with wilfully confrontational reporters, Erdogan took his message directly to the people in the form of mass rallies (something Imran Khan has also excelled at), social media and carefully crafted messages that clearly impart that Erdogan has a strong personal and political identity. Erdogan’s campaigns are something of a unique industry where his message is delivered far and wide in a highly direct manner that most Pakistani politicians could only dream of. Direct campaigning that circumvents traditional media avenues is an area where US President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also excelled.
For Imran Khan, it would be instructive to learn from Erdogan how to avoid the often de-humanising media confrontations that can make otherwise strong politicians appear needlessly vulnerable. While a strong politician aims to rule a nation, hostile media outlets controlling the cameras often go out of their way to make an outspoken leader appear weak.
Because of this, Imran Kahn, a man whose message is not dissimilar from that of Erdogan in many respects, could learn from the Turkish President how to use media to his constant advantage while skilfully avoiding potentially detrimental situations.
Populism, Multipolarity and Islam
These are the three areas where both men have the most in common. Domestically, both Erdogan and Imran Khan are opposed by ultra-secularists and religious extremists which is not a bad thing if one seeks to occupy a genuine centre ground. Both men are adamant that religion and modern democratic systems based on human and factional equality can and must coexist. Likewise, both have stated that the old economic order is broken and must be urgently reformed to be made more efficient, less corrupt and more self-reliant. In Erdogan’s case, economic reform is an ongoing process while for Khan, his methods have not yet been tested.
In terms of foreign policy, Erdogan has succeeded at using his eastern partnerships with the Chinese and Russian superpowers to leverage against the hegemonic desires of the US and EU. As a result, Erdogan has thus far been able to conduct agreements with both ‘east and west’ to the benefit of his nation. If Imran Khan seeks to be a successful Prime Minister, he will need to more effectively articulate this ethos in a manner that is simple and clear while also leaving room for manoeuvring both in terms of rhetoric and specific policy making.
Finally, while Erdogan has proved that he has not abolished Turkey’s secular characteristics but has merely allowed for the freedom of religious elements to be incorporated into society, Iman Khan must also make it clear that his leadership won’t result in shocking social change but nor will he cave to asymmetrical pressures from religious extremists nor from urban elites.
This is one area where the PTI could learn the most from the AK Party. The AK Party runs like a well oiled machine from the group up. This is true of AK activists who can be easily and peacefully mobilised to high level officials who clearly understand their role, their purposes and their individual strengths and weaknesses. PTI must work to become far more disciplined in this sense, as scenes of rival PTI activists insulting each other and occasionally fighting one another in public do not inspire confidence in the party’s ability to unite the nation. Here, it would benefit Imran Khan to directly reach out to AK officials for consultations on stabilising party political mechanisms.
Erdogan has a great deal of experience in government while Imran Khan has yet to attain high national office. During Imran Khan’s quest to form a government, his country has experienced great deals of political turbulence while beginning the 21st century, Turkey has remained generally stable despite a failed coup attempt in 2016 and the constant threat of terrorism (albeit of a different nature) that impacts both countries, as it does to much of the world.
For Imran Khan and PTI to ready themselves for the government they seek to form; with one month to go before Pakistanis head to the polls, it would behove Imran Khan to personally reach out to the closest thing he has to an intentional counterpart in the form of Erdogan and the AK Party. However one might analyse his record, no one can deny that Erdogan and the AK party know how to win elections without fail.