Pakistan-Turkey defence cooperation: The realization of a shared strategic vision
Since gaining independence, Pakistan’s defence and security partnerships have followed a certain trajectory. As part of the American led western political camp during the cold war, Pakistan joined Baghdad Pact in 1955 and the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) in 1959. These west-sanctioned security alliances meant to create an infrastructure for Soviet containment in Eurasia also paved the way for developing formidable defence and strategic ties amongst the member states. This was manifest in the strengthening of political and security partnerships between Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran. With the overthrow of the regime of Raza Shah Pehlavi Iran exited this security infrastructure while Pakistan and Turkey continued to enhance their security cooperation.
The Pak-Turkey relationship has been multi-faceted. The two states have maintained a synergetic foreign policy outlook and political goodwill, even when in their national trajectories and ideational contours, they followed radically different pathways. Turkey has remained resolute in support of Pakistan whether it was the Kashmir file vis-à-vis India or the issue of Pakhtunistan vis-à-vis Afghanistan. During the 1965 Indo-Pak war, Turkey staunchly supported Pakistan. Similarly, during the 1971 war and in its aftermath, Turkey respected Pakistan’s sensitivities. Pakistan for its part has always supported Turkey’s position over the Cyprus issue.
Both countries did differ on Afghanistan during the 1990s but the personal repertoire between the political leaderships on both sides and in particular the diplomatic corps of both countries minimized the chances of any fall out. This dynamic also highlighted that the proximity between the two sides was not merely on the level of political leadership, but had transcended to the institutional fold where functionaries strove hard to preserve the strength of this bilateral relationship and to shield it from any momentary divergence.
Since Pakistan’s relationship with western defence providers has faltered over the years, its armed forces are increasingly reliant upon Turkey for the maintenance and up-gradation of its defence hardware.
With the ascension of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the bilateral relationship reached new heights. This happened owing to the Erdogan government’s religious turn and a policy to consolidate ties with Muslim States across the region, thus giving the Turkey-Pakistan relationship another pillar of support. Even when Pakistan backed out of its endeavour with Turkey to create a new platform for Muslims, it didn’t put a dent in the bilateral relationship. It is also interesting that even as Pakistan’s political atmosphere has descended into polarization and tribalism with each political stakeholder actively denouncing and criticizing the policies of their foes, there has remained a unique unanimity when it comes to Turkey and its leadership.
In this backdrop, it’s not strange when Pakistan’s military leadership categorizes the country’s relationship with Turkey as unique, a language reserved only for a couple of other nations. The burgeoning security partnership between the two countries in the realm of defence production remains a key component of this unique relationship. It has also made Turkey a contributor towards Pakistan’s security alongside China. Since Pakistan’s relationship with western defence providers has faltered over the years, its armed forces are increasingly reliant upon Turkey for the maintenance and up-gradation of its defence hardware. Turkey has aided Pakistan in upgrading both its F-16 fighter jets acquired from the United States and the ageing Agosta submarines purchased from France. Turkey’s ASFAT has built four MILGEM-class corvette ships in cooperation with the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works. These ships remain a cornerstone of Pakistan’s naval modernization, which is intended to enhance the capabilities of Pakistan’s Navy and to transform it from a Littoral Force to a Blue Water Navy.
In the air domain, the bilateral cooperation is marked by Pakistan’s purchase of Turkey’s state of the art Bayraktar TB2 and Akıncı combat drones. These Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) can prove to be a game changer for Pakistan in any future altercations with arch-rival India.
Recently, Turkey has announced that Pakistan may also officially join its fifth-generation Turkish Aerospace (TA) KAAN fighter aircraft programme while Pakistani technicians are already working in its development. The involvement of Pakistani citizens in such high-profile projects directly linked to Turkey’s national security underscores the level of bilateral trust and cooperation.
Turkey and Pakistan share each other’s political and security visions vis-à-vis major conflicts and issues in the Middle East, central and South Asia and the caucuses. This shared understanding over the broader strategic picture of their respective regions and world at large makes Turkey and Pakistan two brothers and allies in arms whose defence relationship can significantly impact the geostrategic and geopolitical frames of reference in wider Eurasia.
– Umar Karim is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s strategic outlook, the Saudi-Iran tussle, conflict in Syria, and the geopolitics of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan.