The Symbolism Behind PM Erdogan’s Visit To Pakistan

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Context

Tit-for-tat events have started to unfold in Pak-US relations, and if they are allowed to escalate unchecked, both nations will end up on the losing side. Since the Chicago stalemate, the US has restarted drone strikes and has curtailed Pakistan’s aid while the country has persisted in blocking NATO’s Afghan supply lines.

At this juncture, third party intervention may be needed to salvage the relation. Many think Turkey may be one of those countries that not only can play a role but also serve as an example. This analysis looks at how Turkey is dealing with key challenges it faces in its relations with the West.

Analysis

According to media reports, Pakistan’s invitation to the NATO summit came at the behest of Turkey. While the meetings were going on in Chicago, PM Erdogan was in Pakistan meeting with the nation’s civilian leadership. Several reasons have been mentioned for his visit at this critical time.

Firstly, PM Gilani wanted to demonstrate that despite the contempt ruling against him, foreign leaders do not consider the matter serious enough to not visit the country, or meet with him. Secondly, his visit showed that like Turkey, Pakistan aspires to democratic principles and civilian control of military. Thirdly, news in the media indicated Erdogan’s mission included friendly advice on the role of opposition in a democratic system.

Turkish Demand For Israeli Apology

However, the visit also had not so positive symbolism associated with it. For example, the Turkish demand of an Israeli apology for the May 2010 peace flotilla incident is similar to Pakistan’s insistence on US admission of guilt for the Salala tragedy.

Consider the Turkish actions vis-à-vis Israel for not rendering an apology. According to Turkish media sources, the country prevented Israel from attending the NATO summit in Chicago, despite pressure from US and other European powers.

Additionally, Turkey has vetoed Israeli attempts to deepen its relations with NATO and to open an office in Brussels. Turkey’s foreign minister had earlier stated, “The army of a country which you call a partner killed our citizens upon a political order given by its administration. We do not call this kind of country a partner.”

American Drones And Turkey

On the other hand, there is also something to be learned from US-Turkey ties. The potential deal on drones between the two countries presents an interesting model for the resolution of drone issue between US and Pakistan i.e. if the trust deficit can be tackled.

The Turkish President Abdullah Gul met President Obama on the sidelines of the Chicago summit to discuss the supply of armed drones, which Turkey has wanted to fight Kurdish rebels. The US administration is trying to convince Congress to allow the sale of these drones to Turkey. One would think that with Turkey allowing the placement of radars for the NATO missiles defense system on its ground, at the expense of alienating Iran and Russia, this matter would have been a no brainer. Turkey’s policy on Syria, and earlier in case of Libya, is also closely aligned with NATO. However, Congress is likely to oppose the move due to Turkey’s tense relations with Israel.

The issue has been complicated by a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. The article revealed that American drones provided the original intelligence to Turkey that subsequently led to the death of 34 Kurdish smugglers. These smugglers were mistaken as the insurgents belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The incident has caused an intense debate inside Turkey about the level of American involvement in Ankara’s fight against PKK.

US drones have supported Turkish military efforts since 2007, the time when the US established a Combined Intelligence Fusion Cell to jointly monitor live drone feeds. The cooperation was stepped up over the last year as US moved a squadron of Predators from a base in Iraq to Turkey’s Incirlik airbase.

Turkey And European Union

Aside from friction with Israel and matters of trust, Turkey also has a tense relation with France. While Turkey and France have an important and lucrative trading relationship, estimated to be in the region of $14 billion, it has not been smooth sailing all along for the two nations. The latest souring of ties with regards to the Armenian genocide bill is a dramatic shift, but one which was not without predecessor. Warning signs of a difficult time between the two countries first emerged from French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s strong objection to Turkey entering the European Union (EU), and building strong bonds with two nations with which Turkey is in conflict: Cyprus and Armenia.

Sarkozy’s opposition to the Turkish bid for EU membership is thought to stem from the fear that Turkey’s entry into the organization would weaken French influence. There is also the question over how the largely Muslim country would fit into the EU, especially given the rise in Islamaphobia that has been seen in the last few years in many EU countries, not the least France.

Turkey is at somewhat of a crossroads, and while it is not as simple as choosing to look to the Middle East or the EU, the prospects in the Middle East (despite the turmoil) are perhaps better for Turkey to take advantage of.

It is with this realistic context that one needs to view the Turkish role and experience.
Even after being a staunch NATO ally, Turkey is still struggling to be accepted and trusted by the West. This does not present a remarkably optimistic picture for Pakistan at this point. And, at the same time, it raises serious questions for the West to ponder over.