Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Pakistan were established in 1947, soon after Pakistan gained independence as the then-largest Muslim country on the world map. Turkey was among a few countries that quickly recognized Pakistan after its creation and supported its successful bid to become a member of the United Nations. However, the history of relations between the two brotherly nations goes back to much earlier.
The support extended by the Muslims of the sub-continent to the Turkish War of Independence has a special place in the minds of the Turkish people. Turkey’s success in establishing a modern state after the war has been a source of inspiration for the Pakistani people.
Following the establishment of Pakistan, reciprocal high-level visits developed friendly relations further, while the two countries’ support for each other in getting through the most difficult challenges, such as times of natural disasters, led to the deepening of close relations between the peoples. The relations between the two countries have been institutionalized with the establishment of the High-Level Cooperation Council in 2009, which was later upgraded to the level of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council (HLSCC).
The Pak-Turkey Strategic Economic Framework aims to enhance bilateral economic cooperation with a particular focus on trade and investment. Turkey and Pakistan agreed on a strategic economic framework and an action plan, Turkish Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said in his recent address to the Turkey-Pakistan Business Forum held in Islamabad. Pekcan said that a high-level council with the attendance of the two countries’ leaders addressed trade and economic cooperation. Bilateral trade volume is aimed to exceed $1 billion in the short-term, up from its current level of $850 million. “I believe that bilateral investments will continue accelerating, thanks to the [Turkish] president’s visit to Pakistan”, she noted. She stressed the importance of Turkish contractors participating in Pakistan’s infrastructure and superstructure investments, stating, “We will utilize the sources of Turk Eximbank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to finance those projects”. The forum was organized by Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board and the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
With the revival of the ancient silk route initiating from China, connecting with Europe through Central, Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East, and the launch of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, Turkey and Pakistan have come even closer.
The BRI, reminiscent of the Silk Road, is a massive infrastructure project that would stretch from Asia to Europe. With this, Central Asia will become the epicenter of globalization by connecting eastern and western markets. This route peaked during the Roman and Byzantine empires but the Crusades and Mongols dampened the trade routes, leaving the Central Asian countries economically isolated and dependent, today, on Russian remittances.
President Xi Jinping launched the BRI in 2013, intending to introduce a vast collection of development and investment initiatives from East Asia to Europe. This project streamlined border crossings both westwards through the mountainous former Soviet Republics and Southward to Pakistan, India and the rest of Southeast Asia. The aim is to set a new trend toward a multipolar world; achieve economic globalization, cultural diversity and greater IT application; as well as to pursue a global free trade regime and an open world economy in the spirit of open regional cooperation. President Xi’s vision is the establishment of a network of railways, energy pipelines, highways, the IT industry, Special Economic Zones, international airports, maritime ports, etc.
The aim and vision seem to be an excellent opportunity for all the regional states to achieve their larger economic and security interests. So far 146 countries (as of March 2022) with roughly 2/3 of the world population, over 40% of world GDP, and three-fourths of global energy reserves have joined the BRI.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the BRI worth $62 billion, is not just a bilateral initiative but also has a regional perspective. It has the potential to become a truly regional initiative where CPEC can be extended to the Central Asian States, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Oman. It is aimed at promoting an orderly and free flow of economic factors; highly efficient allocation of resources and deep integration of markets; encouraging the countries along the Belt and Road to achieve economic policy coordination and carry out broader and more in-depth regional cooperation of higher standards; and jointly creating an open, inclusive and balanced regional economic cooperation architecture that benefits all. The project aims to enhance/establish energy, roads, ports, special economic zones, and international airport infrastructure.
CPEC, as a symbol of cooperation between China and Pakistan, envisages the establishment of 2700 kilometers of road, railway, fiber connection, energy pipelines, industrial zones, and exclusive economic zones. Starting from China’s Xinjiang region and reaching the Gwadar coastal city of Pakistan’s Arabian Gulf exit, the line is one of the most important steps for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. With its strategic partnership, CPEC has a cooperation mode, “1+4”, with the following four pillars: development and operation of Gwadar Port under modern conditions, construction of infrastructure, the establishment of trade and power lines from China to Pakistan, and exclusive economic zones in China’s investment in Pakistan.
The corridor has a leading position in the growth of the Pakistani economy as well as providing access to the Hormuz and Bab al Mandab straits, which play an important role in the energy import from China and Gwadar Port.
Based on traditional relations and brotherhood, CPEC can be extended to Turkey. Availing of the opportunities under BRI, both nations can strengthen their ties even more deeply. All three states (China-Pakistan-Turkey) can work towards achieving common trade, and investment and improving major imports and exports on both sides.
Throughout history, the South Asia region has been the apple of the world’s eye with its ancient culture and wealth. By joining BRI-CPEC both countries can further improve their defense arrangements; maximize their regional connectivity and increase trade; can further enhance their economic partnership; improve their cultural ties; further build on mutual political and diplomatic relationships, and work towards public welfare and better tourism facilities. It is a win-win situation. The true potential is huge and a strong will is also there. It is believed that it is the time to accept the emerging world order and set our priorities based on our national and regional interests, rather than abiding by the rotten world order that revolves around the benefits of a few at the cost of the majority. The future of Pakistan and Turkey is bright, and only needs the realignment of our strategies and establishing priorities.