By Baqir Sajjad –
Contrary to the hype, Erdogan’s visit to Pakistan was not centred around local mediation but economics and clout
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s three-day visit to Pakistan in the midst of a brewing domestic political crisis over former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s eligibility to remain in office after his conviction in contempt case, led to speculations that he (Erdogan) was here to defuse tensions.
Regardless, events since then have overtaken the endeavour. What led us into believing that Erdogan was here on a firefighting mission was our proclivity to seek easy answers. And yes, we were further encouraged by some of his comments at the joint sitting of the parliament and the news conference along with Gilani, where he spoke about “peaceful co-existence” between the opposition and government.
But on close scrutiny, it is evident he was here to consolidate Turkey’s economic influence. Remember, he was here for High-Level Cooperation Council meeting alongside his economic team comprising Finance Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar, Energy and Natural Sources Minister Taner Yıldız and Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım. Erdoğan.
The nine bilateral agreements signed between the two sides on investments, energy and communications; and the joint declaration issued at the end of his visit leave no doubt that the focus of the much politically hyped trip was to strengthen economic ties.
The two countries agreed to double the bilateral trade to $2 billion. More important from Turkish perspective was Pakistan’s offer of opening up to Turkish companies in the field of communications and housing – the two thriving sectors here.
Beyond economic cooperation, both agreed on issues of security and defence and closer political consultation. The latter aspect of the trip falls under the reorientation of Turkish foreign policy.
Turkey has always envisioned itself as a regional power, but economic successes and increased prosperity at home has enabled it to aspire for a bigger role in global politics.
“At a brain storming session in a major military institution, it wasn’t surprising to hear a General tell someone making a case for greater involvement of Riyadh that we have had enough of Saudi Arabia”
For that Turkey needs just not to be a Muslim country, but one that has strong links with all players. It has to be one that can, at the same time, speak in Nato, sit with the US and Europeans and talk to alienated countries like Pakistan – at least in the present context.
Pakistan and Turkey have always enjoyed warm relations. However, Arab Spring and some of other regional developments in Syria and Iran necessitated a sort of reaffirmation of those strong bonds and more importantly, because Turkey’s assertiveness has annoyed the Iranians, who now presumably, have improved terms with the civilian leadership in Islamabad.
The other objective of pro-active Turkish foreign policy is to make it even more attractive for other global players to associate. Proximity with Islamabad, a strategically important capital that has had difficulties with West because of differences on Afghan conflict, may give it the right value addition as a prospective go-between.
Turkey’s acceptance by Shanghai Cooperation Organization during the Beijing summit earlier this month as dialogue partner has already reinforced Turkey’s credentials as a key player in this part of the world.
Going back to some of the political messaging Erdogan did in Islamabad, it was something, which everyone anticipated because of the Turkish leader’s “good terms” with all major Pakistani political actors including PML-N and PTI.
Hence, when he said: “The real role of the opposition is not to criticize the government merely for the sake of criticism but to point out the ills that need to be corrected,” he was bound to be respectfully, heard by both treasury and opposition benches.
This political messaging, which was implied as mediation between the opposition and the government, was also driven by Turkey’s foreign policy objective of consolidating its influence overseas.
The use of soft power through fine tuned diplomacy has been skillfully used by Turkey to make a systematic and sustained impact in capitals abroad.
For Gilani, who was then struggling to survive in office, these words could not have come at a more appropriate time. The media took this and his meetings with opposition leaders as a sign of successful mediation. But what everyone missed was that all his public pronouncements were fairly balanced and didn’t take any sides.
Like an elder brother, he even warned: “Nobody will invest in an unstable country. No entrepreneur in the world will come to a country where he will fear losing his money. If a country wants economic growth and prosperity, it has to provide favourable conditions to investors.”
His words were clearly directed at Supreme Court, whose ruling on rental power projects had affected Turkish firm Karkey Karadeniz Elektrik Uretim (KKEU).
Slight lowering of temperature following his visit, as we look back now, was in effect a lull before the storm and not as deference to the Turkish prime minister’s advice. The relevant players were reorganizing from the game that started after PM’s disqualification through a judicial coup.
As a parting note while Turkey is looking for more influence in strategically important, but unstable Pakistan, the Pakistani strategists, too, want greater Turkish involvement as a counter to Saudi Arabia that has long dominated internal matters. After talking to some of the strategists in Rawalpindi one can easily make out that the view Turkey with a non-religious democratic political system and a functioning liberal economy, makes a good role model for our country where extremism is a serious menace.
At a brain storming session in a major military institution, it wasn’t surprising for this scribe to hear a General tell someone making a case for greater involvement of Riyadh that we have had enough of Saudi Arabia.
The writer is Dawn’s diplomatic correspondent