“We believe that bilateral economic cooperation and trade volume does not reflect
the real potential. However, it can be improved with an intense mutual effort and determination”
Q: Pakistan and Turkey enjoy exemplary bilateral relations for around seven decades. Which cementing force in your opinion is binding the two countries in close, friendly relations?
A: Actually, seven decades is the duration of only the state-to-state relations. The roots of the two peoples’ relations date back to centuries. Although not widely known, some sources indicate that the Muslim rulers in the Subcontinent sent congratulatory letters to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, following after the conquest of Istanbul and exchanged correspondence. As Istanbul was conquered in 1453, this means that people-to-people relations has a history of more than five hundred years!
Again, it is not well-known that an admiral of the Ottoman Empire called Seydi Ali Reis visited the Subcontinent in the 16th century. He began his journey from Basra en route to Egypt, but had to change his direction for the Subcontinent because of the struggle with the Portuguese and unfavorable weather conditions. On his arrival to Gwadar, he was welcomed by the governor and people of Gwadar with esteem and affection. Passing through Sindh and Lahore on the next phases of his journey, he narrated his tales in India and the return to the Ottoman territory in his book Mirat-ül Memalik (Mirror of the Countries). So maybe the first Turk arrived in Gwadar nearly five centuries ago.
Khilafat Movement and the support that Subcontinent Muslims extended to the Turkish Independence War is more widely known.For those unaware of the deep roots between the two peoples,it must be amazing that the Muslim women of the Subcontinent sent their jewelry in order to help their Turkish brethren to expelthe occupiers from Anatolia between 1920-1922. This demonstration of solidarity and unityis so significant for the Turkish people that it is always in memory and awareness of Turkish people, no matter if it’s past a century.
The reason I am referring to these anecdotes is that the history, culture and common destiny bind the two people together. Of course, today’s international politics are based on mutual interests, but if you are aware of the deep historical and cultural ties between Turkish and Pakistani people, you would understand that there is very few pair of nations that enjoy relations as unique as those between Turkey and Pakistan.It is based on not interests, but ties of heartfelt affection and inheriting its strength from the brotherhood of the peoples.
Q: What is the commonly shared vision of the leadership of the two countries?
A: It is the common visionof a stable region and peaceful world with the constructive cooperation.
PO: Which particular areas of bilateral relations are the hallmarks of the two countries’ strong cooperation?
Deep historical and cultural ties contribute to the excellent political relations we enjoy. On the political side, the mutual support and advocacy of our diplomats to each other in international fora is one of the concrete examples of this unique relationship.
Moreover, the qualifier ‘Strategic’ was included in 2013 in the title of the High Level Cooperation Council, which was the high inter-governmental structure giving direction to our bilateral relations since 2010. Therefore, it is officially registered that our relations were upgraded to the strategic cooperation level. It means that Turkey and Pakistan became strategic partners in addition to their historical brotherhood!
Q: Which areas of bilateral cooperation in your opinion can be further improved?
A: We believe that bilateral economic cooperation and trade volume does not reflect the real potential. However, it can be improved with an intense mutual effort and determination.
Education is another cooperation field we attach special importance to. It is significant as it helps us to carry the close relations and affection between two countries to the future generations. We want to increase the number of scholarships and education opportunities offered by Turkish universities to our Pakistani brothers and sisters. As of today, there aremore than 1600 students from Pakistan who have graduated from Turkish universities. Hopefully, this figure will be much bigger than today in the near future.
Q: What is the current trade volume between Pakistan and Turkey?
A: It was 675 million USD for the year of 2017. In that figure, 352 million US is the export of Turkey to Pakistan whereas 323 million USD is the import from Pakistan.
Q: What does Turkey import from Pakistan and what does Pakistan import from Turkey? What are the ways to diversify the profile of trading goods?
A: Turkey’s main export products to Pakistan are machinery and industrial products whereas Pakistan’s main export products to Turkey are textile products, chemicals and agriculture. I think the business communities must increase their interactions and contacts to explore new areas of trade that will be beneficial for both countries.
Q: Pakistan’s trade balance started decreasing at annual rate of 19 percent after 2011. The year 2011 also marks the date when Turkey imposed additional duties in trade. How can Turkey help Pakistan business and trade community come out of thatz deficit?
A: Contrary to the general belief in Pakistani media and public, which is negatively affected by unfortunate statements of some sources supposedly involved in the FTA negotiations, bilateral trade between Turkey and Pakistan is not unbalanced today. The trade deficit of Pakistan to Turkey is only 29 million USD, and that occurred only last year. Since absolutely equal mutual import and export figures is not usually possible to attain, this figureis an indication of a balanced trade relation. And 29 million USD is not a very big deal. Pakistan’s trade deficits to the various countries are much more than its trade deficit to Turkey.Such reports or statements on this matter may give the completely false impression that Turkey is the sole responsible of the whole trade deficit of Pakistan.
Therefore, what we need to focus is to increase the trade volume through cooperation other than unfair and unfounded criticism. We believe that creating a negative public opinion on such basis will not contribute to the mutual goal of growing our welfare. We always focus on the common future and the big picture while making our deals and recommend this approach to all our partners, Pakistan being in the forefront as our everlasting brother.
Q: What is the status of Free Trade Agreement negotiations between Pakistan and Turkey?
A: The negotiations are still ongoing between the relevant ministries. We hope there will be a mutual understanding in the near future and the agreement can be signed.
Q: What is your evaluation on the new South Asia Strategy of the US with particular to Trump Administration’s attitude towards Pakistan in this regard?
A: Firstly, I think that the sacrifices and contributions of the people and government of Pakistan in fighting terrorism must be acknowledged. As a victim of terrorism, Turkey understands Pakistan very well and supports it in its fight against this menace. Recognizing and registering the efforts of Pakistan in this context is crucial to encourage this country moving on its path to eliminate terrorism in each and every walk of life. This is why Turkey stands by Pakistan in all international forums in this regard.
Regarding the role of Pakistan in South Asia, I believe the goal of a stable region and a peaceful Afghanistan can only be accomplished with active participation of Pakistan. I would like to add that, global actors cannot achieve this goal by disregarding the legitimate concerns of regional and neighbouring countries, with Pakistan in the front seat. In this respect, I am of the opinion that blaming Pakistan for collective failures in the region is an attitude far from the ability to produce the desired results and may negatively affect the fight against terrorism.
Q: Pakistan has been extending support—diplomatic, political and moral—to the people of Jammu & Kashmir, can Turkey play its role in resolving the dispute between India and Pakistan, have any effort made so far?
A: We believe that the Kashmir dispute can only be solved by dialogue and negotiations between Pakistan and India on the basis of equity and UN parameters. Therefore, we are ready to support any dialogue opportunity regarding the matter. Before his visit to India last year, President Erdogan also urged both sides to keep the dialogue channels open.
Q: What is the Turkish government’s role in restoring stability in neighboring Syria and Iraq? How can the world be saved from the menace of DEASH?
A: Let me give you some brief information on our fight against DEASH. Turkey recognized DEASH as a terrorist organization upon the decision of the Council of Ministers No. 5428 dated 30/09/2013. One of the earliest states that declared DEASH as a terrorist organization and took action against it is Turkey. We became a victim and target of the major terrorist attacks perpetrated by DEASH. DEASH terrorist organization has carried out 20 terrorist attacks in Turkey, which claimed 310 lives and wounded 967.
Until today, our security forces have arrested 4.045 DEASH members in Turkey among whom 1.858 are foreign terrorist fighters (FTF). We also prohibited the entry of 61.158 terror suspects from 148 countries to Turkey. Moreover, 6.151 terrorists from 100 countries were arrested and deported to their own countries.
We always indicate that territorial unity and stability of our neighbors are our primary concerns. In this context, we supported every effort to save the region and the world from the terrorism in whatever form or name. Fight against terrorism can be successful only if conducted in a coordinated and non-discriminatory manner.
Unfortunately, some of our allies are trying to make a distinction between the terrorist organizations. They want to portray some terrorists as “good terrorists” while according to them the others are “bad terrorists”. It is a worrying development that the United States is using PKK/PYD/YPG, which is a terrorist organization, against another terrorist organization, DEASH. It is very ironical as you know that the United States is blaming other countries to provide safe haven to terrorists. The reality is that in Syria in addition to their providing safe haven to a terrorist organization which is responsible for deadly terrorist attacks against Turkey, a NATO ally of US, for years, they are also supplying this terrorist organization with the latest technology modern weapons.
It is equally ironical and disturbing that some Pakistani newspapers and media outlets are adopting the same approach of the US and international media against Turkey, which is blaming Pakistan with providing safe havens to terrorists at the same time.
Q: How does Turkey deal with the threat against her security and territorial integrity, deriving from the vacuum in Syria’s north?
A: In connection with your previous question, there is no need to say that the conflict in Syria and the instability in Iraq have some serious negative effects to our national security. The large ungoverned territories in Syria and in Iraq turned into safe havens for terrorist organizations. These terrorist organizations had occupied areas near Turkish borders and used therefor launching terrorist attacks. These attacks claimed the lives of hundreds of our citizens.
To ensure the safety of our borders and our citizens from the attacks of terrorist organizations, we initially launched Operation Euphrates Shield last year. With this operation, we cleared our borders from DEASH and provided a safe return for the Syrian refugees who left their homes in fear of terrorists. Nearly 140 thousand civilians have returned back to the areas liberated from DEASH with the Operation Euphrates Shield.
However, the threats emanating from the terrorist organizations in Syria have not yet ended. PKK/PYD/YPG terrorist organization continued targeting our border areas with the weapons provided by some of our allies that is well known to the public. It also continued its cruel and inhumane treatment to the civilians living in the areas they controlled. The crimes against humanity including forcibly removing local communities from their lands, conscription of under-aged boys and girls, use of oppression tactics to its opponents, perpetrated by this terrorist organization are reported by the international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
As a result of these worrying developments that are threatening the security and stability alongside the Turkish-Syrian border, we launched Operation Olive Branch on 20 January 2018. The aims of the operation are to provide security and stabilization to the region, to eliminate all terrorist groups including PKK/PYD/YPG and DAESH and to safeguard all civilian and innocent people of the region from the oppression of the terrorist organizations.
The operation is being carried out very successfully. As of today, more than 3500 terrorists were neutralized and Afrin city center was secured by Turkish Armed Forces. We are determined to proceed until there is no terrorist presence threatening our borders.
Q: Can you also enlighten us on Turkey’s rising soft power and influence on humanitarian issues and assistance in a wider region?
A: I believe the greatest humanitarian problem of our times is the refugee crisis. Specifically, the Syrian crisis is one of the biggest challenges the world is facing in terms of refugee numbers. We
As of February 2018, Turkey is hosting more than 3,5 million Syrian refugees which makes us the largest refugee-hosting country in the world. Nearly 230 thousand of them are living in 21 refugee camps based in 10 cities of Turkey. 620 thousand refugee children are continuing their education in our schools. Until today, we have spent more than 30 billion USD for the refugees from our national budget. I don’t think that any other country have contributed to the betterment of the lives of refugees more than Turkey. This is an important indication of our humanitarian diplomacy which gives priority to the people regardless of their ethnicity, religion or race.
Another recent significant challenge is the displacement of Rohingya Muslims. Since the outbreak of the crisis last year, Turkey spared extraordinary efforts to increase international awareness. President Erdogan, PM Yildirim and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu urged their counterparts and the multilateral institutions to take action and prevent the suffering of Rohingya Muslims in their bilateral meetings and press conferences. With the contribution of Turkey, the crisis was put into discussion in the UN and OIC sessions.
Right now, our priority is to improve the life conditions of 700 thousand Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh and help them return their homes in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner. In this context, we attach importance to further our existing cooperation with the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar. Turkish government’s humanitarian relief efforts such as construction of dwellings, field hospitals and health centers and providing drinking water and food for the Rohingya Muslims are continuing in coordination with the Bangladeshi authorities.
In general, the ratio of Turkish official humanitarian assistance equals to 0.75 percent to its national income. According to the 2016 statistics, we spent 6 billion USD for humanitarian assistance all over the world. Our assistance makes up around 20 percent of the total humanitarian aid in the world. This said, we fulfill what our culture and tradition require, when humanity in need is at stake.