Why did Erdogan visit Pakistan amid tensions in Middle East?

By Nijat İsmayilov

Nijat İsmayilov is a political expert and journalist from Baku. He earned a degree in Politology from Sumqayit State University, Azerbaijan.

On February 13, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid an official visit to Pakistan to attend the 6th meeting of the Turkey-Pakistan High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council. During his visit, Erdogan met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi and various MPs and businesspersons.

The main purpose of Erdogan’s visit to Pakistan…

Nowadays, Turkey is experiencing very difficult moments, where President Erdogan has been fighting Feto, Daesh, PKK inside the country as well as facing crises abroad in Syria, Libya, Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean. Obviously, the visit of the Turkish President to Pakistan relates to the current critical situation in the life of Turkey.

As mentioned above, Turkey faces serious problems both internally and externally or both politically and economically. Syria is the country in which Turkey used most of its effort. Turkey, which claimed 13 martyrs in the past two weeks, failed to reconcile with Russia in the Idlib problem, and in the current situation, there are still small-scale clashes between the Turkish army and the Russian backed Bashar al-Assad army.

Being unable to agree with the Russians in Idlib, and the Americans in the Manbij problem, Turkey was hit by both sides in the Middle East policy, despite trying to maintain a balance between the two parties. Obviously, neither the United States nor Russia will ignore Turkey’s escalation in the region.

Today, Turkey is the only state loved by governments and the population in Central Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, and the South Caucasus. The great powers are concerned about Turkey’s reputation and respect. In other words, great powers are pushing Turkey towards its borders. However, Erdogan’s visit to Islamabad is also a message of resistance to those who push Turkey to its borders.

Another target of Erdogan’s visit to Pakistan was to extend the Turkish investment into the Pakistani market. Thus, the Chinese and Saudi capital in the Pakistani market is growing day by day. China has invested $47 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. At the same time, Saudi investments exceeded $20 billion. Turkey, which is competing in regional leadership with Saudi, does not want to “lose” Pakistani economy to its rival. The problem is not just the economy. Erdogan is a leader known for his Islamic ideology. In his speech at the Pakistani Parliament, it is clear that Erdogan is trying to create solidarity of Muslim countries to solve the problems of Jerusalem, Kashmir, Idlib, and other Muslim nations’ problems. Truly, Erdogan has dreamed for years about this new Muslim alliance. Therefore for Erdogan, Pakistan is the “main artery” of this alliance.

Erdogan’s visit gives impetus to Turkey-Pakistan economic relations

Pakistan and Turkey have no strong economic relations while being brotherly and allied countries. Thus, the volume of trade turnover between the two countries does not even reach one billion dollars. Speaking at the Turkey-Pakistan Business Forum, Erdogan said he was not happy with the level of Turkey-Pakistan economic relations:

“The population of Turkey and Pakistan reaches together 300 million people. However, the trade turnover between Turkey and Pakistan indicates only $800 million. To be honest, I do not match this figure to our countries. We need to take this issue seriously and raise the trade turnover by one billion in a short period of time and then reach a $5 billion trade turnover by expanding our ties.”

The development of economic relations between Turkey and Pakistan has been on the agenda of political leaders several times. During the presidency of Suleyman Demirel, Turkish engineering companies invested and implemented infrastructure projects in Pakistan, but the work was unfinished due to the difficult economic and political instability in Pakistan. The “Bayindir Holding”, invited by Demirel to Pakistan, went bankrupt in 2009 because of the failure of its projects here.

In 2010, the Turkish Black Sea Energy Group (KARKEY) sent four power ships to Pakistan as part of the Friendship Project. However, in 2012, the Pakistani Constitutional Court seized four ships after Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was accused of corruption in the energy sector. In this case, the company complained about Pakistan to ICSID and ICSID fined Pakistan $845 million.

In 2019, Pakistan’s debt, which was close to $1.2 billion, was paid by Erdogan’s state intervention. The event was described in the Turkish media as Erdogan helping Pakistan to get rid of a $1.2 billion penalty…

All this shows that Pakistan has not been so successful in the recent history of economic relations with Turkey. Nevertheless, Erdogan is determined to break this syndrome of failure. Erdogan, who also brings Turkish businesspersons to Pakistan, plans to increase mutual investment. Ahmet Chalik, who heads Turkey’s famous Chalik Holding, was among those who arrived in Islamabad with Erdogan. This businessman, who closely cooperates with Erdogan, is the only Turkish investor in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-TAP (TAP) electricity transmission project. In the near future, we will be witnessing new business projects of Chalik Holding in Pakistan.

Erdogan’s Canakkale message in Pakistan

As we have mentioned, Erdogan held talks in the Pakistani parliament and gave a speech that contained important political messages.

Referring to the abolition of Kashmir’s supreme autonomy by India in August 2019, “the recent decisions have made the situation of our Kashmiri brothers more difficult,” Erdogan said, adding that the Kashmir problem could be solved not just by military conflicts, but also by reinforcing justice in the region and by a peaceful solution. He once again urged Pakistan and India to seek dialogue.

Erdogan also touched on the Canakkale battle twice in his parliamentary speech, where for the first time, he said, “Kashmir is Canakkale for us”.

“In 1915, when the brave Turkish army was defending the Motherland in Canakkale, the rallies carried out by our Muslim brothers in these lands have entered the glorious pages of our history. The crowded Canakkale rally in Lahore demonstrates the fraternal relationship between the two peoples of the states. During the Battle of Canakkale, Pakistani Muslims sold their belongings and sent money to help the Turkish soldiers.”

Erdogan’s remark of the Canakkale in his speech is not in vain. Today, Turkey faces the second Canakkale situation. On the one hand, considering the US-led YPG and the Manbij problem, the problem of Idlib intensified with Russia, the Libyan problem, the problems with the islands with Greece, the Middle East issue, the tense relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, etc. Turkey again is as lonely as in Canakkale battle and fights simultaneously on several fronts. At such time, Erdogan’s visit to Islamabad cannot be considered as worthless. While Turkey is experiencing the helplessness today as in Canakkale, it needs its staunch brother, like Pakistan, to stand by it. In its turn, months ago, Pakistan announced that it would support its brother on November 19, 2019, sending its warship to the Turkish Mediterranean Shield, no matter where and under what circumstances.

Accordingly, the result of Erdogan’s visit is that Turkey wants to apply its historical and political ties with Pakistan in the military and economic spheres as well as further strengthening it.