COMMENTARY
 
Pakistan’s Bid to End Turkish Cypriot Isolation
Weekly Pulse
September 8-14, 2006
In what can be described as a practical step to end Turkish Cypriot international isolation, Pakistan hosted President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talat earlier this week. During the two-day state visit, President Talat met President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shautak Aziz—with both leaders reiterating Pakistan’s solidarity with the just and fair cause of the Turlish Cypriot people.

Apart from Turkey, the only state that officially recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Pakistan has been a steadfast supporter of the Turkish Cypriot cause. After being thrown out of the partnership republic of Cyprus way back in 1963, the northern side of Cyprus inhabited by over 200,000 of Turkish Cypriots has been struggling for its freedom. In 1974, Turkey intervened militarily to preserve their freedom. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus declared its independence.

In 2004, its people voted overwhelmingly for a Federal solution to the island, an option that was rejected again overwhelmingly by the Greek Cypriots. Despite that, the latter were admitted into the European Union. The fact that only the Greek side of Cyprus has received global recognition under a controversial 1964 UN resolution and that only this side has become a full member of the EU since 2004 have complicated the political settlement of the Cyprus issue and increased political and economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots.

Right Decision

In retrospect, the Pakistani leadership has taken the right decision in welcoming the President Talat and assuring him an “unconditional” support for the Turkish Cypriot people. During their meeting, which lasted for about an hour, President Musharraf and the Turkish Cypriot leader also discussed possible joint ventures mainly in the fields of tourism, education and industry.

President Musharraf said Pakistan was supportive of the policy of lifting the isolation of Turkish Cypriots, and that it was ready to help efforts to find a permanent solution to the Cyprus problem. Besides the President and the Prime Minister, Mr Talat met National Assembly Speaker Speaker Chaudry Amir Hussain.

A dynamic personality in the politics of North Cyprus, President Talat was my graduate student at the Department of International Relations, Eastern Mediterranean University in North Cyprus, where I taught for several years. Soon after graduating, he became Prime Minister and, last year, took over as President of his country.

I remember that prior to the 2003 parliamentary elections, he was very much optimistic about the political settlement of Cyprus. Over time, however, his optimism has turned into relative pessimism. For obvious reasons! He and his Democratic Nationalist Party had campaigned hard for a “yes” vote for the Peace Plan proposed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Despite the Turkish “yes” and Greek “no” in a Spring 2004 referendum, the Greek Cypriot side was admitted into the EU as full member. Since then, the Annan Plan on Cyprus has been effectively dead. The Greek side since then has enjoyed this additional political leverage of dithering on an over all political resolution of the Cyprus question.

During his two-day state visit to Pakistan, I had the occasion of speaking to the Turkish Cypriot President on a number of issues regarding the Cyprus question and also as to how he feels being in Pakistan. This is for the first time he visited this country, and, experiencing the warmth of people and leaders here, he told me this “won’t be my last visit” to Pakistan.

Solidarity with Kashmiris

As for Kashmir, especially how the Turks look at this issue, President Talat told me that like Kashmiris, the Turkish Cypriot people were also “a victim of Western hypocrisy on regional conflicts where Muslims happen to be on the receiving end.” The Turkish Cypriot leader sees enormous parallels between the two disputes, with the only difference being that “Turkish Cypriots were a victim of an unfair UN resolution which granted only Greek Cypriots the right to represent the whole of Cyprus; while, in Kashmir’s case, the whole issue was the non-implementation of UN resolutions passed ages ago.”

In President Talat’s words, “Kashmir has been a bleeding case for so many years. In all fairness, the Kashmiris should be given their right to live as free people, the right to self-determination in accordance with UN resolutions. As in the case of Cyprus, the world’s big powers practice double standards on Kashmir. And Kashmiris are paying for this”

He added: “For decades now, the Greek Cypriots have been preventing Cyprus settlement, because they have this illegal title of the government of Cyprus. This is the biggest injustice to us, and the biggest hurdle in the way of Cyprus settlement. The day this hurdle is removed, the issue of Cyprus will be settled.”

According to him, the Turkish Cypriot people have reiterated, in every election and referendum over the last few years, that justice cannot be served if people are constrained to live in isolation. “We have reached a point where words and promises can no longer suffice: the international community has a responsibility to respond now, and with deeds and actions, to the demonstrated willingness of the Turkish Cypriot people to integrate with the world in peace, democracy, and friendship.”

Mr Talat said, “We repeat, and shall keep repeating our call to the guarantor powers of Cyprus – Turkey, Greece, and Britain – that they continue to support efforts for a solution under the good offices of the U.N. Secretary-General. We shall continue to meet our responsibilities and show our good intentions towards establishing a unified Cyprus whose membership in the European Union will also include the northern part of the island, and protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriots. We see it as a necessity that the Greek Cypriot side comply with the requests of the U.N. Secretary-General to begin negotiations; and as imperative that the international community, the European Union and the countries of the world play a more active role in this process, and bring to an end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots.”

European Unfairness

The European Union had earmarked $300 million in aid to the north as a reward for its citizens’ acceptance of a U.N. plan for reunification of the island in the 2004 referendum But in well over two years since the referendums, the Europeans “haven’t moved an inch,” President Talat told me.

The sense of isolation is becoming more acute among the Turkish Cypriots with the passage of time. There are no direct flights to north Cyprus, phone calls and postal services are administered by Turkey, and most countries are forbidden from trading with the republic.

While Europe has done little to end that isolation, the United States has twice invited President Talat to Washington, DC for meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her predecessor, Colin L. Powell. More recently, a delegation of U.S. congressmen visited the north to look at ways of ending its quarantine, and the Bush administration has extended the length of visas for Turkish Cypriots and allocated funds to help the ailing economy.

“We want both direct flights and direct trade [with the world] and equality in the new Cyprus state to be established. If the isolation on the Turkish Cypriots is lifted, that could motivate the Greek Cypriots to find a solution. Otherwise, it won’t happen because they are in an advantageous position,” the Turkish Cypriot leader told me.

Warming of an alternative settlement in Cyprus, he said, “Eventually, either the Greek Cypriots will sit at the negotiating table or alternatives to this will emerge. I mean, either there will be a solution to the Cyprus problem under the roof of the U.N., or there will be alternatives that could replace a solution.”

“I cannot give you a certain time, but this will definitely happen. What we need to do is highlight the unwillingness of the Greek Cypriot side,” he added. Pointing out the Greek Cypriots’ advantageous position as EU member, President Talat repeated a call for the international community to lift the economic embargo on North Cyprus to push them to the negotiating table. He thanked Pakistani leadership for taking an “important step” towards this objective and assuring to undertake “practical steps” for ending Turkish Cypriot isolation.