Turkish-Pakistan Ties: The Destiny Ahead
The Nation
October 29, 2000
Turkey’s relationship with Pakistan looks like a tale of two brothers divided by geography. A relationship that seems to be above and beyond the state-to-state ties generally characterizing the nature and dynamics of international system. Marked by successive success stories on both bilateral and multi-lateral fronts, the historic relations between the two traditionally friendly Muslim countries have indeed come of age.

The Republic of Turkey celebrates the 77th anniversary of its foundation as a power to reckon with, both regionally and internationally. Led by President Ahmet Necdet Cezer and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, Turkey is fast realizing the ideals set by its Founding Father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an important pillar of which has always been the consolidation of the country’s relationship with brotherly Pakistan. A strong Muslim nation with a secular creed and a European destiny, Turkey is worth-emulating a country for Pakistan. Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf himself, on more than one occasion, has expressed his deep appreciation for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s vision for Turkey and the world.

In fact, one consistent theme of the Turkish-Pakistan relationship is that it has mostly survived periodic political changes occurring in each country. Despite constitutionally being two different political entities, the two countries’ governments and people have shown the necessary political will to strengthen their historical bonds and foster mutual ties at almost all levels. Recent realistic trends in Turkish-Pakistan relationship augur well for the future, as these have already led to a significant growth in Turkish investment in Pakistan and are helping the two nations raise the dismally low volume of their bilateral trade.

Signs of Hope

Since the start of the 1990s, Pakistan has seen increasing commercial investment from Turkey, involving three of its leading construction companies, M/s Bayinder, STFA and Tekser, which are engaged in building Pakistan’s infrastructure and communication network, including the construction of a motorway, major roads, harbor and canal projects. The total volume of private Turkish investment currently stands at around $1.5 billion. The highlight of this investment the M/s Bayinder’s four-lane 154 km long Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway Project, which is scheduled to complete by the end of 2002. STFA (Sezai-Turkes-Fevzi Akkaya) has already completed five projects, including the Jinnah Naval Complex, Lahore Bypass Project, Indus Highway Project, Ormara Water Supply Project, and Ormara Submarine Rebuild Project. The company expects to start work on two other projects, including the Karachi Light Weight Mass Transit Project (as part of a consortium of construction companies) and the Pehur High Level Canal Tunnels Project. Tekser is working on the Chashma Right Bank Canal Project.

Although bilateral trade between Turkey and Pakistan has increased in recent times to a yearly average of $150 million, it is still no match to historically close political ties and strong cultural bonds between the two nations. Rather than showing any consistent growth, the bilateral trade volume has fluctuated on a yearly basis, despite some recent initiatives to enhance bilateral trade between the two countries. In 1995, a Joint Business Council was created between the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industries and the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey to bring the two countries’ businessmen together. Then, in the 1998 session of the Pakistan-Turkish Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC), a Joint Marketing Company was established to undertake joint business and investment ventures in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.

Bilateral collaboration on defense matters is another area where Turkey and Pakistan have shown mutual willingness to foster their ties. The successive sessions of Defense Consultative Group (DCG) have particularly stressed to explore collaboration in defense production. For the purpose, in 1996, a joint defense workshop, participated by private and public defense manufacturers of the two countries, short-listed areas of cooperation. The DCG sessions have also helped increase participation of the military forces of the two countries in professional training programs. In addition, the exchange of visits by top military officials of the two countries remains a routine affair.

As for the cultural level ties between Turkey and Pakistan, they have experienced a sustained growth, partly due to the various measures adopted by successive governments in the two countries and partly as an outcome of the mutual urge by their people to get together and share the respective experiences. However, it is a fact that despite the existence of a number of agreements on educational and tourism cooperation between Turkey and Pakistan, the cultural ties have yet to flourish to the extent of facilitating other crucial areas of cooperation between the two countries, particularly trade and commerce.

Areas of Conccern

Despite the creation of a Joint Business Council and a Joint Marketing Company, Pakistani and Turkish businessmen have not been forthcoming in starting the joint business and investment ventures in the regional markets. In fact, if such a course is realized, Pakistan can achieve its long-desired aim of reaching the Muslim Central Asia via Turkey, an ambition not materialized so far due to the continued war in Afghanistan. Turkey’s capital and Pakistan’s skilled manpower make an excellent combination for joint business and investment ventures in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.

As far as mutual trade is concerned, the perception of officials in each country is that its current volume is too less. For instance, Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, during his April 1998 visit to Islamabad, remarked, “The total trade volume of the two countries with the rest of the world is some $100 billion, Unfortunately, the annual trade volume between them is just $150 million, which is very small as compared to their total world trade figure and the very close political ties that the two countries enjoy.”

One reason for the low level of mutual trade is the existence of parallel economies in the two countries. Both countries trade in products such as cotton, rice, leather and textiles. That their target markets are the same, however, does not mean they should not look for other layers of cooperation in trade and commerce. Among other goods, Pakistan imports wheat from Turkey, and the latter imports rice and textiles from it. For its part, Pakistan can import dairy products, durable items such as refrigerators, washing machines, other electronic goods, and automobiles from Turkey—which are said to be qualitatively better and far cheaper than Western, Japanese or South Korean products. Turkey can import dry fruit and handicrafts from Pakistan, in addition to rice, cotton and textiles. The economists from Pakistan and Turkey can identify more of such products which the trading communities of the two countries can find profitable as exports.

Despite various bilateral and regional efforts to achieve a direct maritime shipping link between Turkey and Pakistan, the handicap of transportation remains intact to a great extent. Air transport is costly and limited. An encouraging development in this context reportedly is the recent growth in trade among member-countries of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) through the ECO Shipping Company. If Pakistan and Turkey find it hard to increase the sea-borne trade through bilateral means, the ECO shipping Company is the best alternative to expand mutual trade. As for investment, the private Turkish investors in Pakistan can diversify their endeavors by investing in sectors other than construction, such as those of energy and agro-based industries. For the private business interests in Turkey, there exist tremendous opportunities to introduce their products in big consumer markets such as that of Pakistan with a population of over 140 million.

Mutual Benefit

As for joint ventures in defense production, various areas have already been identified by successive sessions of the DCG and the 1994 Joint Defense Workshop. Pakistan’s Wah Ordnance Factories specializes in the production of quality light weaponry. Turkey is far ahead of Pakistan in the field of defense production, Yet it is possible for the two countries to pool their resources and technical skill and export arms to third countries.

Tourism is another unexplored area in which Pakistan, with the scenic beauty and grandeur of its northern areas, having some of the highest peaks of the world, including the second highest K-2, can learn valid lessons from Turkey’s tremendous success in the tourism industry. An agreement and a protocol on tourism cooperation already exist. What is needed is to actually implement the measures specified by them. For instance, the two countries’ national airlines can offer special airfare packages for the respective tourists. This step will go a long way in complementing the existing cultural ties between the two brotherly nations. Enhanced cultural links are always a key to the promotion of economic and commercial cooperation.

The urgent need for undertaking such crucial bilateral measures aside, Pakistan and Turkey should continue to strive for building a community of common regional interests, as this will positively impact their own mutual ties. The ECO is the best forum for the purpose. As for their cooperation in mutually beneficial areas like trade, business, investment, defense, and tourism, a wide array of institutional arrangements and agreed frameworks is available for the purpose. What is needed is a sustained effort, supported by the necessary political will, to make best use of the already en vogue measures and processes.

For Muslims of the subcontinent, Turkey has always been a symbol of Muslim world unity and strength. And the Turks have always looked at Pakistan as the custodian of aspirations of subcontinent Muslims, and an important pillar of the Muslim world. It is about time the two countries and their able leaderships and capable peoples stood up firmly and worked together closely to face the multiple challenges of the new century. Endowed with the benefits of brotherhood, the people of Turkey and Pakistan are best suited to jointly share their knowledge and expertise in fully benefiting from the manifold opportunities available to them in an era of globalization.