One of the great misnomers about the Belt and Road initiative is that it is strictly a Chinese endeavour. While Belt and Road’s first chapters were authored by China and shaped by Xi Jinping Thought, the global initiative should be thought of as a collective multilateral body of nations in which all stakeholders play a vital role of mutual importance. As Pakistan is the site of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which serves as the main artery linking China’s coastal industrial zones to the wider Afro-Indian Ocean region, Pakistan’s leaders are in a strong position to promote Belt and Road to multiple partners on the basis of securing a win-win advantage for Pakistan and its existing as well as new partners. While previous Pakistani leaders had proved inept in respect of accurately describing, assessing and promoting Belt and Road to other partners, Imran Khan has excelled in these areas. Imran Khan has proved that Pakistan is more than capable of taking ownership of its crucial position in Belt and Road while helping to draw new partners into the global initiative. This will be good for Pakistan, China and also for Turkey – potentially one of the most important Belt and Road partners.
This week, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has been in Turkey for meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkish business leaders. During a public meeting in Ankara, Imran Khan explained that Pakistan is open for international business as never before. Discussing how Turkish companies and the Turkish people can benefit from deeper foreign direct investments into Pakistan, the Prime Minister further elaborated on how CPEC related projects can boost Turkey’s own drive to become an ever more integral part of Belt and Road.
Speaking directly to potential investors, Imran said:
“I want to assure you that this government’s aim is to make it easy for investors. Make a lot of people make money and make profits”.
He further stated that Belt and Road will be able to generate accelerated trade between Turkey and Pakistan which at the moment is not at the high levels that it ought to be, given the fraternal feelings shared by the Turkish and Pakistani people. Borrowing a page from President Erdoğan’s policies which sought to combine a pro-growth market economy with Islamic values, Imran said:
“To take people out of poverty, we have to allow people to make money. The more money is made, the more wealth is created, the more we have the ability to raise taxes… We can use that money on bottom tier of our society”.
On his second day in Turkey, Imran Khan visited the Atatürk Mausoleum in Ankara. Writing in the Golden Book, Imran delivered the following message on behalf of the Pakistani people:
“It is a matter of great honour for me to be present here to pay homage to one of the greatest statesman and visionary leaders of the 20th century—Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Leading the Turkish nation at one of the most challenging times, he changed the course of Turkish and indeed the world history, becoming an inspiration for all those resisting the tide of colonialism across the world.
He was epitome of courage, strength, resilience, forbearance and wisdom. Quiad-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan, described Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as ‘one of the greatest men that ever lived.’ On behalf of the Government and people of Pakistan, I would like to convey my deepest admiration and respect for Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. His glorious struggle and leadership for the independence and unity of the Turkish nation will forever remain a golden chapter in the annals of history”.
Later the Pakistani Prime Minister held a meeting with President Erdoğan where both sides agreed to boost bilateral trade, setting a target figure of $10 billion in per annum in turnover. The two leaders also vowed to cooperate in ever more meaningful ways on issues of educational exchange, infrastructural development and mutual security concerns. This intensified security cooperation has already born fruit as Pakistan recently banned all operations of the Gülen Terror Organisation (FETÖ) from Pakistani soil. This week, all properties formerly run by FETÖ were transferred to Turkey’s Maarif Foundation. As a good will gesture to the children of Pakistan, the Maarif Foundation cut all tuition fees at their learning institutions.
Imran Khan further stated that he seeks to learn from Turkey’s modern welfare model that has succeeded in building millions of modern houses while Turkey’s health care system covers the majority of the population, including the country’s poor. Beyond this, Imran Khan stated that he spoke with the President about the injustices that have continued to increase in Indian Occupied Kashmir, thus demonstrating a clear desire on Imran Khan’s part to further internationalise this literal matter of life and death.
But looking to the future, it is in ever more inter-connected Belt and Road cooperation where Turkey and Pakistan can stand to benefit the most from their long standing sustainable partnership.
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 while enjoying a soon to be finalised free trading agreement with Pakistan, there exists every 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 has come to be emblematic of the right time and place 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.
In taking further steps to expand Belt and Road on a mutilateral basis, Pakistan will be able not only to enrich its people and those of its multilateral partners, but will help to fight the western derived propaganda war against China from a clear position as a leading power in the Ummah (global Islamic community). The message of Naya Pakistan and Belt and Road is similar in that both seek to achieve social harmony and profoundly inter-connected positive relations between cultures, states and peoples based on the economic renewal that will guarantee peace through prosperity. Together, Pakistan and Turkey along with their mutual Chinese partner can help to realise the dream of an unbroken set of belts and roads which will link the Pacific with the Mediterranean, thus unleashing the economic and creative potential of those living in every state between.
This is why it is of vital importance that Imran Khan has the ability to forcefully articulate this long term sustainable strategy that CPEC has brought to Pakistan. Furthermore, by welcoming partners like Turkey into the equation from a position of optimism and confidence, there stands a chance to reap the supreme benefits of a golden win-win opportunity that will re-energise the very nature of trade between multiple partners on a fraternal win-win model.