The Expanding Turkey-Pakistan Military Cooperation
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, at the time of the appointment of the first Turkish ambassador to Pakistan on the 4th of March 1948 stated: "Turkey has drawn our admiration for the valor of Turkish people and the way in which your statesman and the leaders have struggled and fought almost single-handed in the midst of Europe for your freedom and sovereignty which is worth mentioning. I really can assure your excellence that the Muslims of Pakistan will entertain sentiments of affection and esteem for your country and now Turkey and Pakistan both as free, sovereign and independent countries can strengthen their ties more and more for the good of both." Starting from the 1950's, with the fact that both countries opposed the expansion of communism, both Islamabad and Ankara have colluded on many strategic interests such as working towards Afghan peace and fighting against international terrorism and organised crime and various other security concerns. Apart from two important factors, namely religion and culture, there are many other areas of cooperation that Pakistan and Turkey enjoy at this point in time, particularly in the field of defence.
Defence cooperation is currently playing an important factor in their strategic partnership from which both nations are aiming to achieve a win-win situation. And one such example of the growing ties is the High-Level Military dialogue established in 2003, which is an active platform facilitating Pak-Turk defence ties. Tracing back the formation of this military cooperation forum, it started in the scenario of post 9/11 when NATO intervention started in Afghanistan and maintaining stability in the region became the common objective of Turkey and Pakistan. Turkey, keeping in context its past relations with Pakistan, started official mediation efforts after NATO intervention. Later on, these efforts were fruitful in the form of the Ankara Declaration issued by all three heads of the states. In addition to this, the fight against growing terrorism after 9/11 became a common agenda between Turkey and Pakistan.
Prior to this, in 1988 a Military Consultative Group (MSG) was established between the two countries which has been an active forum, with regular exchange of experiences in the field of military training and defence production between the two countries. In addition to this, both Pakistan and Turkey were signatories of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), which was a US-led organization to counter the spread of communism in the region. Turkey, being an important defence partner, provides training to Pakistan's Air Force officers and also helps in the upkeep of Pakistan's F-16s, their most important fighting air craft.
Based on the developments of 2018, Pak-Turk ties are at its peak. Pakistan considers Turkey to be a reliable defence partner when compared to other countries who left Pakistan alone in the hour of need. This is depicted by their placing all the three military (army, naval and air) attachés at the Pakistan embassy in Ankara, which is a very rare practice in Pakistani diplomacy. Both states concluded a defence deal worth $1.5 billion in which Pakistan purchased thirty Turkish (ATAK) helicopters. These ATAK helicopters are the first Turkish defence aircraft produced domestically by the Turkish Aerospace Industry and are considered to be an important part of the Turkish fleet. This particular deal is the largest defence sale agreement between the two allies and is expected to open up more avenues of cooperation between the two states in the area of defence cooperation. To support Pak-Turk cooperation in the field of counter terrorism as well as for anti-terrorism missions, 20mm and 70mm guns with a 76-rocket capacity were sold to Pakistan.
To endorse the brotherly Pak-Turk ties, Pakistan decided to invite Turkish choppers to be tested on its territory. For this particular event, the 23rd of March – Pakistan Day – was selected in which the Turkish-made choppers participated in a fly-over ceremony in the capital, Islamabad.
Pakistan's defence cooperation with Turkey is not limited to capabilities and products alone. In fact, during the past decade, Pakistan and Turkey have exchanged a high number of military officers under their bilateral military education exchange program. Around 1500 Pakistani military officers have completed a training course in Turkey during the past decade. Similarly, more than 130 Turkish military officers participated at war colleges throughout Pakistan as well as at their National Defence University.
Another significant fact about growing Pak-Turk defence ties is that Turkey is the second (after China) key participant in Pakistan's International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), which is not only a platform for displaying defence products but also facilitates foreign delegates and key government officials holding important side line meetings with regard to defence production. Thus, it provides companies and organizations with a unique opportunity to showcase their military/defence capabilities, might and products.
Pakistan's defence industry is growing and at the same time is expanding in order to tap into the international market. Simultaneously, it is trying to expand its alliances to meet the demands of its armed forces. Pakistan's defence products (such as JF-17 Thunder, Al-Khalid tank, and small ammunitions produced at the Heavy Industries Taxila and Pakistan Ordinance Factories Wah) are the perfect blend of foreign technologies and local expertise and hence can meet the demands of all regional and international defence forces. Pakistan Ordinance Factories are currently supplying small arms to Turkey in compliance with NATO specifications. There is a mechanism called High Level Cooperation Council between Turkey and Pakistan. Under this mechanism around 60 agreements in terms of defence cooperation have been signed under Pak-Turk bilateral cooperation. This cooperation mechanism has been upgraded to the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council.
There has been a significant boom in Pak-Turkey defence cooperation over the last few years. Agreements in the defence sector have been signed every year since 2013. That $80 million agreement was signed between Pakistan and a Turkish company to build tankers for the Pakistan Navy. In 2015, the two states decided to collaborate on the production of unmanned aerial vehicles. According to this deal, the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex will supply parts to the Turkish Aero Space Industries for the production of unarmed aerial vehicles. During the same year an agreement was signed between the Turkish Deputy Chief of General Staff and Pakistan's Secretary of Defence regarding the provision of 34 T-37 fighters cum training aircraft, with spare parts on gratis basis. Similarly, in 2016, Turkish Aerospace Industries signed a deal to modernize Pakistan’s Air Force fleet of F-16 fighter aircraft at a cost of $75 million. Along with other spare parts, Turkey is also manufacturing engines for F-16 aircraft, which is considered to be its edge on other aviation industries of the world. The driving factor behind these defence deals is Pakistan’s increasingly deteriorating relationship with United States. The killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 strained US-Pakistan relations. Since then, Pakistan has tried to expand its foreign policy circle and because of their close alliance, Turkey came to the rescue on the diplomatic front by signing multiple defence deals with Pakistan.
Hence in this regard, there is a need for Pakistan and Turkey to work on the development of a body that can draft a proper research mechanism between the two states in order to set up new ventures for the production of certain military assets collectively. If done, this would provide a platform for Turkey to join in Pakistan's ventures with China under a triangular military cooperation framework.
Despite the diverse geographical environments of the two countries, both are confronted by a number of challenges and in this regard, they are supportive of each other. The two states vibrantly support each other's stance regarding major issues on international forums. In every forum, Pakistan vows to extend its support as well as share its expertise in dealing with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and IS. Pakistan supports Turkey's stance because it believes that PKK’s violent acts are not justifiable under any circumstance. Similarly, Turkey has assured Pakistan of complete support in its quest for a peaceful solution to the Kashmir question. Moreover, despite American pressure, Turkey extended support to Pakistan when it was fighting its case not to be put on the grey list at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting.
Nations who know how to promote their bilateral ties in accordance with their national interest and adjust to the international environment according to the spirit of the time never fail. The current government in Pakistan under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan values its relations with Turkey like all previous governments. The agenda of this government is to promote trade relations with other states. In the current visit of Prime Minister Khan, the signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries will boost the bilateral trade volume and the current trade volume will multiply considerably. Hence, both Pakistan and Turkey can use the defence /military forum to further strengthen their ties and collectively achieve their respective objectives of self-defence as well as regional stability.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect IRAM’s editorial policy.