Turkey; Pakistan’s Most Promising Defense Ally

Pakistan’s President Dr. Arif Alvi conferred the Nishan-i-Imtiaz (Military) on Commander Turkish Air Force, General Hasan Kucukakayuz, in a special investiture ceremony which was held at Aiwan-e-Sadr on April 10.  The following day, the Commander of the Turkish Air Force while addressing the passing out parade of Pakistan Air Force cadets at Asghar Khan Academy in Risalpur said; ‘Turkey will always stand by Pakistan through thick and thin.’ He was the guest of honor at the parade. Earlier this year, the aerobatic performance of the Turkish Air Force “Solo Turk” F-16 team in the Pakistan Day Air Display dazzled spectators and drove home the significance of the Turkey-Pakistan friendship.

The bilateral ties between the two countries have transitioned into a strong and sturdy strategic partnership over the years. The relationship seen in the context of recent high level visits, diplomatic exchanges, convergence in views and significant defense collaboration reflects the potential of a new ‘fair-weather friend’ for Pakistan in the years to come.

These improved and growing relations between Turkey and Pakistan have gained momentum with trade agreements inked in the defense industry. According to Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) data, Turkey’s exports to Pakistan have considerably risen over the past decade—to $352 million in 2017 from $155 million in 2008.

Following negotiations between Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and the Pakistan Defense Production Ministry, the sale of ATAK helicopters and MILGEM corvettes has been finalized. In July 2018, Turkey won a multibillion-dollar tender to provide four Turkish-made Ada class MILGEM corvettes to the Pakistan Navy. This deal is the biggest export for Turkey’s defense industry in history according to the then-Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli.

As part of the program, Turkey will enhance the capabilities of Pakistani submarines with the addition of Torpedo Countermeasure Systems and acoustic measurement sensors. The first submarine will be delivered in 2020 under the project. In 2018,  a string of deals have led defense analysts to believe that  cooperation on the security and defense fronts will be incremental.

Deals for platforms like the T-129 helicopter gunships and MILGEM corvettes, have been pivotal for Pakistan. Designed to operate in extreme conditions, the T129 Attack Helicopter can be deployed in a wide range of operations including attack, reconnaissance and deterrent missions. Analysts foresee that this co-operation “could well take the shape of future collaboration in the development of a ‘Block-4’ JF-17” that could be jointly developed by Turkey and Pakistan. The JF 17, a highly successful fighter plane that Malaysia is considering for induction, is the result of China-Pakistan collaboration. A tri-country consortium could be formed for eventual development of a ‘stealth Fighter aircraft’.

In the defense sector Pakistan has offered Turkey the highly successful Super Mishak aircraft. Turkey is to supply 30 T 129 attack helicopters and there will be cooperation between the two countries in the defense production establishments especially avionics, IT communications, weapons, ammunition, security vehicles and vessels. Pakistan has asked Turkey to build four ships for Pakistan Navy—two in Turkey and two in Pakistan as transfer of technology is part of the agreement.

The burgeoning relationship between Turkey and Pakistan is only natural. Both Muslim states have witnessed a fair amount of security crises catalyzed by the recent surge of terrorism and terrorist counterinsurgencies in the last decade. They have also shared similar hostilities from the West, on account of their internal security issues but have been able to offset these by virtue of their geo-political and strategic leverage. Both have faced the worst migration crises in the last decade– Turkey in the past has welcomed 3.6 million refugees and Pakistan 1.45 million.

Therefore, it not surprising that the major concern for both Ankara and Islamabad has been security – and this has formed the crux of the relationship between both nations, which can be described as a common desire to contribute to a more peaceful region, from the Middle East to Southwest Asia. Add to this the historical linkages between the two countries and the close ties between the people.

A Pak-Turkey Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is in the final stages of negotiations and could be concluded by June. This is being worked out under the Pakistan-Turkey Strategic Economic Forum (SEF) plan of action. Pakistan is expected to get a tariff free market access in Turkey and bilateral trade could go up to $ 6 billion from the current level of $ 598 million. Trade imbalances could be addressed under the FTA with Pakistan’s top 20 exports increasing from $ 400 million to $ 2.6 billion. A Joint Pak-Turkey Business Council has been formed to boost economic and trade relations. Other agreements include a Pak-Turk Hospitality Council, an MOU between Pakistan’s Board of Investment and the Turkish Investment Authority, the development of a Pakistan Textile Technology Park, a Combined Freight Transport Agreement and the establishment of a Pak-Turk Trade Corridor. There are also plans to revive and upgrade the RCD Highway.

Turkey and Pakistan can look forward to a future in which converging interests draw them closer leading to significant mutually beneficial defense, economic and trade collaboration. Turkish Airlines operating from Pakistan is the preferred air travel option for Pakistanis just as Turkey is the preferred destination.

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