Both Pakistan and Turkey are leading Muslim countries which have enjoyed cordial relations. It is satisfying that both the countries have had rich traditions of enlightenment, peaceful co-existence and societal cooperation and they have strived to help resolve the issues pertaining to the Muslim Ummah.
Historically speaking, Muslims of the sub-continent have shown empathy and brotherhood towards their Turk brethren after the First World War and sent medical missions alongwith cash and kind to help the people in need there. It may also be added that the word “Urdu” is derived from the Turkish language which means “Army”. Maulana Rumi — the spiritual mentor of the Poet of the East, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, was from Turkey. On the other hand, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah regarded Mustafa Kamal Pasha as the architect of modern-day Turkey.
Socially speaking, Pakistani culture has many close similarities with Turkish norms and traditions. In fact, the centuries-old Turkish influence is depicted in many fields, including architecture, cuisine, painting, music and literature. It is important to note that Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi and Faisal Mosque in Islamabad were designed by Turkish architects. When Pakistan came into being in 1947, Turkey was the first country which officially recognized the largest Muslim state in the world and established formal diplomatic relations with it. With the passage of time, the diplomatic relations have been further expanded to the benefit of both the countries, as they have a consensus on different international issues. While Pakistan is the only Muslim nuclear power, with a population of around 200 million and a formidable army, Turkey also enjoys a strategic geographical position on the world map, connecting east and west, and is regarded as a leading Muslim state.
When the PML-N came into power in 2008, the Chief Minister Punjab Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif decided to benefit from the rich experience and potential of Turkey to improve the governance structures for ensuring a good quality service-delivery mechanism to the people. He, therefore, initiated close cooperation with Turkish firms for energy production, enhancement of agricultural productivity, telecommunication and improvement in road transport network. The best example of Punjab-Turkish cooperation is the Metro Bus Service Project in Lahore and Islamabad which is providing good quality transportation service to lakhs of commuters.
As a result of this widening cooperation, quite a number of Turkish firms have started investment in the Punjab as Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has invited them to explore additional fields, including livestock and dairy development as well. Meanwhile, a piece of land measuring 225 acres has been allocated in Faisalabad to motivate the Turkish investors to set up their industries there. It is hoped that this industrial zone would open new avenues of Pak-Turkish economic relations as well as promoting investment in the Punjab. It is good to note that different Turkish bodies are providing their close cooperation to strengthen the capacity of the Punjab police to eradicate terrorism and other heinous crimes. The experts of the Turkish National Police are also assisting the Punjab police in establishment of state-of-the-art intelligence tracking and centralized data systems. Punjab and Turkey have also finalized an agreement for the training of nurses and improvement of health insurance and social security systems. Meanwhile, the Turkish cooperation in the field of public transport has also resulted in providing improved public transport infrastructure. The Turkish company, Albayrak, is already providing different services, including provision buses for the Metro Project, their repair and maintenance and supervision of different operational aspects.
Due to the Punjab government’s efforts to improve the overall service delivery structure, different memoranda of understanding (MoUs) have been signed with Turkish firms to improve an efficient traffic system, speedy busy service, Punjab Skills Development Fund, vocational training institute, etc. It has been decided that the Turkish company would set up a technical and vocational training center in Lahore, while Turkish experts would provide training services in the garments, housing, healthcare and education sectors. The Middle East Technical University of Turkey has also shown interest to set up a worldclass university in Lahore. On the other hand, establishment of the Solid Waste Management System in Lahore is another project of the Mayor of Istanbul Mr. Kadir Topbas. In fact, different projects are the result of the personal efforts of Kadir Topbas. While the work on landfill site project is in full swing in Lakhudhair, in Lahore, to scientifically dispose of solid waste, it has also been planned to initiate solid waste management projects in five major cities in the Punjab.
It has been observed that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always been very interested in providing full support to help improve the socio-economic conditions of the Pakistani people. Turkish assistance and cooperation during past earthquakes and floods was very crucial, and showed that the people and the government of Turkey have always stood firmly with the people of Pakistan. The Turkish government has also invited the Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif to inaugurate the provincial office of the ruling Justice and Development Party. Mr. Shahbaz Sharif has also donated one million dollars for the establishment of a hostel for children in the Turkish province of Van. Moreover, he was specially invited to attend the fourth annual congress of the Justice and Development Party which was held in Ankara. It is good to note that the cordial relations between Pakistan and Turkey have resulted in establishing useful trade and economic relations due to the personal efforts and vision of Chief Minister Punjab Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif. It is commendable that the PML-N has been working hard to exploit the potential and expertise of Turkey so that the quality of life of the impecunious strata in Pakistan could be improved.
Against this background, the recent two-day official visit of the President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan on November 16-17, is very important. He was accompanied by a high-level delegation representing different fields of trade and commerce. He was accorded a warm welcome at the Noor Khan Airport in Rawalpindi where Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and different federal ministers warmly received the Turkish guests. In Islamabad, the Turkish president held meetings with the Pakistani leadership and exchanged views on the entire spectrum of Pakistan-Turkey bilateral relationship as well as issues of regional and international importance. The two sides emphasized the time – trusted historic and ever-growing fraternal ties between the people and governments, epitomized by exceptionally strong bonds of goodwill, mutual trust and understanding, which are embedded deep in a common cultural and religious heritage and a shared vision for the future. The two sides noted with satisfaction the progress achieved towards implementation of ongoing projects under the framework of the Pakistan-Turkey High Level Strategic Cooperation Council and reaffirmed their resolve to explore new avenues for collaboration in the forthcoming fifth session of the Pakistan-Turkey High Level Strategic Cooperation Council to be held in Turkey. Both the leaders also underscored the need for resolution of all outstanding issues between Pakistan and India, including the core issues of Jammu and Kashmir, through a sustained dialogue process and in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. The Turkish president also addressed the joint session of Pakistan parliament.
During the last leg of his visit, the Turkish president visited Lahore, where he was accorded a very warm and cordial welcome by the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the people of Punjab who thronged The Mall in large numbers to welcome the honorable guest. Shahbaz Sharif, while welcoming the Turkish president at Lahore Airport, said that he was really delighted to receive his “dearest brother” Tayyip Erdogan; adding that the words could not express the feelings of happy emotions as Tayyip Erdogan lives in the hearts of the people of Pakistan. Later on, a spectacular dinner was arranged in honour of the Turkish guests at historic Hazoori Bagh in Lahore. The city of Lahore was tastefully decorated to welcome the honourable guests from Turkey. The route from the airport to Hazoori Bagh was decorated with colourful buntings and the people thronged the roads to welcome the august visitors. They also threw rose petals on the cavalcade. At some places, artistes presented cultural dances to the beat of dhols as an expression of their warm welcome. Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif welcomed President Tayyip Erdogan and his entourage upon their arrival at Hazoori Bagh. The Turkish guests also visited Badshahi Mosque, Minar-e-Pakistan and different places of Shahi Qilla besides offering Fateha at the mausoleum of Allama Iqbal. They were entertained with a music show. The participants were also shown a video of Tayyip Erdogan’s address to the Turkish people. The Turkish president especially thanked the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for arranging a very warm welcome for him in Lahore. Different personalities as well as a number of parliamentarians from Sindh and Balochistan also attended the ceremony. During this visit, a MoU signing ceremony was also held to improve the healthcare system in the Punjab with the support of the Turkish Ministry of Health which will provide necessary technical support. It will also help in improving the standard of a drugs-testing laboratory in Multan; the Turkish Health Ministry will provide support in medical research and outsourcing of management and non-core services of four different hospitals. The MoU was signed by Turkish Ambassador in Pakistan Babur Girgin and Secretary Health Punjab Najam Shah.
It is hoped that growing Pakistan-Turkey relations will benefit the people of Pakistan. It will give an opportunity to learn from the Turkish experience and expertise in the field of healthcare, public transport, sanitation and anti-terrorism. As Punjab is population-wise the largest province, any improvement in the public service delivery systems will ultimately benefit the whole of the country. Growing relations have their global impact too. It will give the message to the international community, including India, that Pakistan is not alone and the Muslim Ummah stands firmly behind it.