Published On: Sat, Jan 12th, 2013

Pakistan and Turkey are Key Actors for a True Solution in Afghanistan

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By Emre Tunç Sakaoğlu

International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) hosted at the USAK Workshop Hall Pakistan’s Ambassador to Ankara, H.E. Muhammad Haroon Shaukat, on January 10th, 2013. Within the framework of the conference series entitled “Asia-Pacific in the 21st Century and Diplomacy”, our keynote speaker Mr. Shaukat was ready at the fifth event of the abovementioned conference series to introduce for one and a half hour the foreign affairs of Pakistan and Turkey-Pakistan relations to a distinguished audience.

Mr. Shaukat also elaborated deeply on his country’s prospects for international peace and stability, economic development and further democratization. He explained his country’s attitude and recent practices with respect to its foreign relations with India, Russia, Central Asia, Iran, China and the Middle East. Nevertheless, the main focus of his to-the-point speech and relevant discussions revolved around Pakistani foreign policy perspective, with special emphasis on security and economy, towards Turkey, Afghanistan and the U.S.

An esteemed delegation consisting of high-level diplomats from the Embassy of Pakistan accompanied Mr. Ambassador during the conference. Among the high-level participants of the conference were top diplomats, scholars, media members and experts from related government agencies. The conference was formally organized by Assoc. Prof. Selçuk Çolakoğlu, Director of USAK Center for Asia-Pacific Studies.

Below is a brief summary of the points raised by Mr. Ambassador in accordance with the official political stance of his country throughout the conference regarding the backbone subjects assertively pronounced.

An overview: Pakistan’s foreign policy

Pakistan’s policy priority is to create a democratic Pakistan that is stable, peaceful, progressive, moderate, forward looking and prosperous. Foreign policy is considered by Pakistani authorities rightfully as an instrument to achieve these aspirations and as a natural prolongation of domestic endeavors aimed at growth and development.

Pakistan’s foremost foreign policy perspective compasses its own region and neighbors. In that vein; Afghanistan, India, China, Iran, Central Asian countries and Russia constitute the priority domain of contemporary Pakistani foreign affairs.

Pakistan is placed in the center of a geo-political energy crescent consisted of the Middle East, Iran, Caspian Basin and Central Asia. The country is also rich with strategic mineral resources. It is surrounded by three emerging economies; namely India, China and Russia.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s foreign policy elbow-room is narrowed by various disadvantages, such as religious extremism and terrorism spreading throughout its territory and neighborhood. The country is located within a complex regional security environment which was subjected to militarism and conflict over three decades. Hence, the historical experiences of the country have unfortunately caused it to become familiar with militancy and an extremist mind-set.

The war in Afghanistan

Pakistan believes that the NATO/ISAF decade in Afghanistan had mixed results over regional stability and with respect to the national interests of Pakistan, as well as over the Afghan population. In addition, the on-going race between powerful international actors for influence in Central Asia bears signs of actualization of the “New Great Game” scenario. These two factors had unprecedented influence over Pakistani society, in terms of radicalization and alienation. Also, the human and economic cost of the war in Afghanistan on Pakistan was leaden.

Since 2008, there has been a “climate change” in Pak-Afghan relations. Today, the most important capital for Pakistan is Kabul. Pakistan is well-convinced that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan constitutes a pre-requisite for stability and peace in Pakistan. Therefore Islamabad favors an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” process regarding the shaping of social and political dynamics in the post-NATO period in Afghanistan. Pakistan supports grounds for reconciliation in its neighborhood including Afghanistan, but believes that the essential solution to the problems of Afghanistan can only emerge domestically in the latter.

Today, there is a national consensus across political parties and opinion-leaders in Pakistan: Afghanistan is a key neighbor and the promotion of mutual respect and dignity in bilateral relations with this sensitive neighbor is vital. Afghan President Karzai and Pakistani President Zardari has close contacts, and Pakistan firmly believes that it needs to bear the responsibility to outreach Afghanistan’s material and political fabric deeply in order to sustain stability and progress in its neighbor. In that vein, Pakistan’s contribution to Afghan reconstruction and development have reached a level over 320 million dollars in total.

Regarding the humanitarian aspect of the Afghanistan issue, the ambassador stated that there are over 50,000 daily crossings across the Pak-Afghan border. Over half a million Afghan students have benefitted from the education system in Pakistan, including Afghan refugees whose total number has surpassed 3 million so far. Furthermore, the government of Pakistan is currently offering 2000 fully-funded graduate and post-graduate scholarships for Afghan students. Hence, current Afghan enrollment corresponds to a number over 7000 students in Pakistan.

APTTA (Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement) also contributed positively to the people-to-people interaction between the two countries as well as to the limited income of Afghan merchants involved. In the future, Pakistani authorities hope to see their efforts bear fruits in actualizing energy connectivity projects such as TAPI and CASA 1000 which will, as projected, increase regional countries’ profits, interdependency, industrial opportunities and stability as a whole.

Pakistan-Turkey relations

The relationship between the two countries is a special one marked by immense reservoir of goodwill at both sides. Special affinity at people-to-people level still stands robust thanks to shared instances in history, as well as a diverse set of shared values, faith, culture and traditions. Regular exchange of high level visits has never been a rare instance for the leaders of the two countries either.

The establishment of High Level Cooperation Council (HLCC) in 2009 gave a strategic dimension to contemporary bilateral relations. In the multilateral fora as well, the support provided by both sides to the other is clearly visible. Extraordinary financial and material support to each other, during natural disasters (for instance the 2005 earthquake and the recent flood disasters), was also provided by both societies sincerely.

Over 90 agreements or memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with reference to political, economic, commercial, defense, media, health, cultural and educational issues were signed until now between the two brotherly nations. An effective follow-up mechanism has been established to carry out a review of the status and implementation of all the bilateral agreements thanks to the encouragement of both peoples and the endeavors of Turkish as well as Pakistani leaders. There exists a robust relationship between parliaments and armed forces, as well as several security institutions of both countries.

Recent years have witnessed a rapid growth in cooperation throughout the fields of education, student exchange and cultural interactions. 2013 was declared in Pakistan as the year for Turkish culture, which paved the way for an enormous potential in print and electronic media exchanges. On the other side, economic relations in the bilateral realm are flourishing as well. Bilateral trade has increased ten-fold in the last decade or so, from $132 million in 2001 to $1.1 billion in 2011.

However, Turkey’s safeguard measures on textiles and certain chemicals have adversely affected Pakistan’s exports. The negotiations are still on-going for remedial measures as there looms an enormous scope for bilateral trade and investments in the horizon. Currently, key sectors of commercial relations between Turkey and Pakistan are energy, infrastructure construction (yielding successful dam and highway projects), transport and communications, consumer industry, agriculture and agricultural industry. Still, there is an urgent need to enhance banking relations to finance such projects in coordination. Although connectivity issues also constitute an impediment to the development of bilateral economic relations as well, two countries’ economies are complementary in their nature. Nevertheless, an FTA has still not been signed by the two parties.

By and large, Turkey has unique relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan as well, due to historical ties and the on-going trilateral process in practice. Seven trilateral summits took place within this framework until now, and three policy tracks were commonly adopted: political dialogue, security dialogue and development track (İstanbul Forum). Pragmatic trilateral training programs and capacity building in diverse areas through joint exercises are all practiced effectively thanks to this trilateral process. Confidence-building measures (CBMs) put forth via the İstanbul process further expanded the grounds on which the trilateral partnership is expected to reach higher.

Conclusion

The ambassador of Pakistan finalized his speech with a gesture by referring to Kemal Ataturk’s famous quote, stating that “We (Pakistan) seek peace at home, in the region, and the world”. In the aftermath of his elaborate speech, participants were allocated time for a fruitful Q&A session.

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