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Murthy Karanam asked: What is the reason behind Turkey's unequivocal support to Pakistan on multiple issues? What is the history of relations between the two countries?

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  • Md. Muddassir Quamar replies: Turkey and Pakistan share a strong bond of friendship encompassing political, cultural, economic and defence relations. Besides being Muslim-majority republican countries, their geopolitical interests converge in Afghanistan and Central Asia and they look towards each other as economic partners and for political and security cooperation.

    Historically, both were part of the United States (US)-led Western bloc during the Cold War that brought them closer. While Turkey became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1952, Pakistan began receiving US military support in 1954. The two signed a treaty of eternal friendship in 1951 and another treaty of friendship and cooperation in 1954. Ever since they have cooperated on various fronts. In 1955, for example, Turkey and Pakistan along with the United Kingdom, Iran and Iraq signed the Baghdad Pact aiming to emulate NATO in West Asia (or the Middle East), though they failed due to lack of US support.

    In 1965, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran established the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD). The cooperation among these three regional countries continued in the 1970s despite the ups and downs in their relations with the US. Regional developments in the 1980s, especially in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, led to rekindling of Turkey’s and Pakistan’s ties with the US. It helped them to invigorate economic growth and to build military capabilities. In the 1990s, due to the changing global and regional politics, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, Turkey-Pakistan relations became somewhat muted.

    The new millennium brought newer dynamics. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003 and worked towards giving a new direction to the Turkish foreign policy focussing on Asia. The mutual interest in managing the conflict in Afghanistan and economic prospects reignited the bilateral ties between Turkey and Pakistan. Their trade and business relations improved significantly in the 2000s, reaching nearly US $700 million in 2014. Similarly, Turkish investments in the struggling Pakistani economy reached US$ 1 billion in 2017. Pakistan’s strong political support to Turkey during the failed military coup in July 2016 brought the two sides even closer. After coming to power in 2018, Imran Khan expressed a strong desire to improve ties with Turkey and has in the past referred to Erdogan as one of the global leaders he looks up to. The two have since exchanged visits, with Khan visiting Turkey in January 2019 and Erdogan paying a return visit in February 2020.

    In recent years, Turkey and Pakistan have revitalised their historical ties to develop greater political understanding, improve trade and commercial relations, and build strong defence and military ties. Turkey has helped Pakistan improve military capabilities by supplying weapons especially for its navy and air force. The two have also cooperated closely in Afghanistan. Resultantly, Ankara has emerged as one of the staunchest supporters of Islamabad, perhaps second only to Beijing.

    Posted on March 23, 2020

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.