On the 3rd of January, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan will take a two-day official visit to Turkey where he will meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other key Turkish officials. While Pakistan and Turkey have long shared deeply fraternal bilateral relations, Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan) can learn much from recent political developments in Turkey.
Disciplined party politics
While Imran Khan founded his PTI party in 1996, it was only in 2018 that the party was able to form a government at a national level. Thus, while Imran and PTI have been in politics for over 20 years, except for the last several months, all of these years were spent in opposition at a national level while it was in 2013 when PTI formed a regional government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
By contrast, Erdoğan’s AK Party has been the governing force in Turkey since 2002. Throughout the 21st century, the AK Party has proved to be a highly disciplined political operator, leaving most other parties including the legacy CH Party largely in the electoral dust. In terms of gathering expert ministers of state, rallying voters, mobilising popular opinion and shaping the overall intellectual debates in Turkey’s politics, the AK Party is viewed as a model of political success even by its opponents who wish to emulate AK’s success at the polls.
PTI’s rise in Pakistan in many ways mirrors the rise of the AK Party in Turkey insofar as both promised substantial reforms, social renewal and a new foreign policy and economic model for their respective nations. And yet, because of Pakistani politics being generally less stable than that of contemporary Turkey, there are still clear growing pains present in PTI in respect of establishing the kind of party political discipline that many AK supporters in Turkey take for granted. Therefore, during their private conversations, Imran Khan should speak with Erdoğan about how he was able to take AK from the fringes of Turkish politics and mould it into the electoral monolith it has been throughout the 21st century.
Turkey’s role in CPEC
Late last year, Pakistan’s National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser met with Turkey’s Ambassador to Pakistan Ihsan Mustafa Yurdakul where the former offered a formal invitation to Turkey, asking Ankara to become an official party to CPEC. According to Qaiser,
“Pakistan highly values its relations with Turkey, and the new government desires to further strengthen relations between Islamabad and Ankara”.
In response, the Turkish Ambassador stated,
“The Turkish people always consider Pakistan as their second home, and we wish to see this country always strong and prosperous”.
As Turkey forms a vital part of the Belt and Road initiative which links the Asia-Pacific region with the wider Afro-European Mediterranean space, there is every reason for Turkey to participate in projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which forms one of the most important arteries of Belt and Road.
As Turkey is currently enjoying excellent relations with Iran, there exists the possibility for Turkey to spearhead further Belt and Road connectivity initiatives which will help to harmonise trading links between Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. Such new connectivity initiatives can help to form the core of a wider China-Pacific to Turkey-Mediterranean trading space. This would help Pakistan and Turkey gain clear economic benefits from an already warm relationship, while helping both countries to expand on ever growing trading relations with China. Finally, a China-Pakistan-Iran-Turkey trading corridor could help lessen Iran’s dependence on Indian investment in respect of its Chabahar Port.
With previous statements setting the stage for what can be labelled CPEC+ cooperation between Ankara and Islamabad, Imran Khan’s visit to Ankara holds the potential to be the perfect time to set such long term aspirations into motion by proposing concrete actions steps that both fraternal partners can take in order to better integrate mutual long term economic goals.
A common approach to fighting terror
Throughout the early 21st century, terrorism in Pakistan stemming from the instability that the US unleashed in Afghanistan threatened the peace and social cohesion of the Pakistani state. Yet after years of supreme sacrifice by the Army, ISI and local political leaders, terrorism has been largely brought to heel through a combination of military neutralisation of terrorists and the building of a new political consensus that puts local people in areas like KP province back in control of their future within a framework of peace through prosperity that is anathema to extremism. PTI’s election as the party leader of KP province assembly in 2013 has helped the duel track military and political approach to anti-extremism to succeed beyond the expectations of many.
In Turkey, an attempted coup in 2016 by the Gülenist Terror Organisation (FETO) threatened the country’s stability and internal peace. As FETO had infiltrated elements of the military, intelligence services, police, civil service, mass media and academia, Ankara had to take critical steps in order to cleanse the country of the FETO plague. But after a two year state of emergency, Turkey largely culled FETO from its soil and today, the group’s operations are more prominent outside of Turkey than within Turkey.
As Pakistan’s Supreme Court just officially banned FETO from Pakistani soil, both nations can share experiences in combating terrorism with one another. Likewise, both countries have faced terror threats from a combination of religious extremists (TTP in Pakistan for example and FETO in Turkey) as well as secular terrorist groups (including the BLA in Pakistan and the PKK in Turkey). Because of this, both Ankara and Islamabad will be well aware that terror comes in a wide variety of poisonous ideologies. Working together, Pakistan and Turkey can make the wider world aware of the fact that there are multiple forms of terrorism that can only be expunged from the earth if the international community genuinely acknowledges the evil of all such extremist groups and subsequently works with countries like Pakistan and Turkey in order to eradicate such terrorist groups across the world.
Foreign policy independence
Turkey’s President Erdoğan has consistently shown a unique ability to hold non-aligned geopolitical positions in spite of pressure from all directions to “choose a side”. Yet Erdoğan’s steadfastness has managed to create an atmosphere where Turkey can vocally stand up for the rights of its Iranian partner and neighbour while still receiving a second-party Iran sanctions waiver from Washington. Likewise, 2018 saw the Turkey-Russia partnership reach new heights whilst simultaneously Turkey and the United States were able to re-start relations on the basis of mutual respect and pragmatism. At the same time, Turkey continues to receive ever more foreign direct investment from both China and the European Union while Turkey is rapidly accelerating its diplomatic and economic partnerships throughout Africa, south east Asia and much of the Arab world.
For decades, Pakistan’s leaders chose to align themselves with the United States and as a result had little to show for it in respect of economic growth, let alone in terms of enhanced security. As Erdoğan blamed the Obama administration for encouraging FETO elements in Turkey, while the US has also formed a battle field alliance with the PKK’s Syrian branch YPG, Turkey’s President is well aware of the dangers of a one-sided friendship with a superpower.
As Imran Khan campaigned on a policy of geopolitical non-alignment that stresses friendship with all, hostility towards none and respect based relations even in the most difficult of bilateral relations, President Erdoğan can share valuable lessons regarding global non-alignment with the new Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Clearly Imran Khan and Erdoğan have much to discuss during their forthcoming meeting. In so far as this is the case, two days might scarcely be enough to get through all of the details of the issues that ought to be covered. However, by establishing intensified relations between two long time partners, both Turkey and Pakistan can benefit from the unique style of leadership that Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan bring to their respective nations.