Turkey’s newly elected President, Abdullah Gul, has confirmed that he attaches the highest priority to forging even closer ties with Pakistan.
Gul, whose Justice and Development Party has Islamist roots, is causing concern among secularists and the military, who for their part have in the past pushed democracy aside to defend Turkish secularism.
While Gul and his party have pledged to retain a secular government, the military remain unconvinced. On the eve of the presidential vote in Parliament, they put out a warning that “centres of evil” were trying to erode the secular government.
The chief general also elected to absent himself from the swearing-in ceremony.
This from a military that has toppled four elected governments since 1960.
It is therefore ironic that Turkey’s partner in what Gul styles the “unique relationship” should be Pakistan.
Military presidents have assumed power repeatedly in the past, and for this exercise, since 1999.
The Pakistani president is at present both head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister in exile, who was deposed during a military coup eight years ago by President General Pervez Musharraf, will be returning home shortly.
This after Chief Justice Ifthikar Chaudhry made a Supreme Court ruling that challenged the legitimacy of the president and confirmed Sharif’s inalienable right to return.
Add into this mix the current expectation that the president will step down as army chief and enter into a power-sharing agreement with the Pakistan People’s Party leader, Benazir Bhutto. The pact between her and Sharif would then fall by the wayside.
The problem is that the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, from where the president draws his power in Parliament, will not lift the bar on a prime minister serving a third term. It does not want the president to relinquish his command of the military believing that Pakistan needs a strong ruler at present.
This would prevent Bhutto from assuming office.
If, however this does take place, it will bring the president and Bhutto into an uneasy alliance against Sharif.
The army is then expected to be headed by former head of the Intelligence Services Lieutenant General Ashfaq Kiyani.
While both Turkey and Pakistan are struggling to separate the military from the presidency,
the threat of a military coup remains.
In global terms, the concern is that Pakistan’s nuclear capability and assets may fall into the hands of terrorist groups. In European Union terms, the instability in Turkey is cause to pause when deciding on entry into the EU: the contemplation of an open door to the EU by extremists.
The relationship between the two, however, is very strong. In this article in the Turkish Daily News, Gul — then deputy prime minister and foreign minister — heaps praise on the Pakistani people on achieving their 60th anniversary.
Whereas the two countries are very similar politically and ideologically, they have thus far not shared close economic ties.
In 2003, the Turkish prime minister paid a three-day visit to Pakistan to boost the economic and trade between the two.
As seen above, Gul is making Pakistan a priority, which should be boosted by the fact that Musharraf spent some of his childhood living in Turkey when his father was posted to Ankara. The Pakistani president is fluent in Turkish.
Crucially for both, they support each other in respect of Cyprus and Kashmir.
There are, however, testing times ahead for the partners in the “unique relationship”.
Turkey’s relations with the EU and the Untied States are going to come under pressure in the next few months.
Turkey’s ties with Iran, primarily in the field of energy, will bring the question of whether the government is driven by a secular bus or otherwise. If, despite the pressure from the US and the EU it still drifts towards Iran, then can it be said that factors other than economics are the primary catalysts in Turkish policies?
In Pakistan, the president’s position may well become untenable. The undercurrent that gave rise to the ruling by the chief justice, which forced his hand on Sharif and opened the way for Bhotto to return, is far from over.
Yet at a time when Pakistan is celebrating 60 years of independence and Turkey is welcoming its new president, it is important that these two significant regional forces achieve stability and growth.
Hopefully this “unique relationship” will prosper and contribute towards peace in the region and beyond.