President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid high profile visit to Pakistan last week. He delivered a very strong speech on political issues of mutual concern for the two countries at the parliament.
He spoke his heart out when he touched on Kashmir issue.
He likened the Kashmir freedom struggle to the Khilafat Movement and said the feelings of Turkish people for Kashmir were the same as those of the Muslims of the subcontinent had for the Khilafat Movement.
However, his emphasis on the need for cementing of economic ties between the two countries was as strong as his call for strengthening political ties.
President Erdogan’s speech at the Pak-Turkey Joint Business Forum showed he meant business.
He said the two countries’ combined population was about 300 million but their bilateral trade was just $800 million and “this is unacceptable”.
Erdogan, who is credited to have spearheaded the economic turnaround for his country after coming into power, made it clear the economic ties between two brotherly countries should be taken to the level of political relationship.
He said the two countries should immediately raise their bilateral trade to $1 billion mark and it should eventually be taken to the $5 billion.
Abdul Razak Dawood, Advisor to Prime Minister on Commerce, invited Turkish businessmen to launch joint ventures with their Pakistani counterparts for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) but Erdogan very clearly said the Turkish entrepreneurs must be properly briefed with regard to the CPEC.
Without making any reference to CPEC, he said some countries were not offering (investment) opportunities to Turkey as being given to others.
Erdogan did not explain his point but the government of Pakistan should give first priority to Turkey’s reservations, if any, in this regard.
Turkey has not only extended strong political support bilaterally as well as at the international forums to Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues and Pakistan needs to allay any Turkish concerns.
Prime Minister Imran Khan many a times cited Turkish model led by Erdogan as well as Malaysian model led by Mahathir Mohamad for Pakistan to emulate. However, this political rhetoric needs to be transformed into a reality. Erdogan said there were 158 companies with Pakistani capital working in Turkey and said he wanted this number to increase.
He listed a number of measures taken by his government to lure private investment, both from the Turkish as well as foreign entrepreneurs, including an offer of Turkish citizenship to such investors.
Since Erdogan himself led the economic turnaround for his country and has a deep desire for deepening ties with Pakistan. It is high time for the Pakistani government to jump on this opportunity and promptly explore ways and means to exploit it.
“I invite my Pakistani brethren to have confidence in the Turkish economy, we are among the world’s [top] 20 economies,” he said urging Pakistani businessmen to take benefit of the favourable environment offered by Turkey for private foreign investment.
Imran Khan has a good personal rapport with Erdogan as well as with Mahathir Mohamad. These personal relationships now need to be transformed into the economic bondage among these countries.
Though our Prime Minister missed an opportunity to have a summit meeting with these leaders as well as with the leaders of Qatar and Iran, but there is still a strong desire in these countries that Pakistan, being an important country of the Muslim world, should join this club.
Though this forum is basically aimed at tackling Islamophobia in the Western world, these countries could join hands to promote economic cooperation among these important Muslim nations.
He made it clear that the economic ties between Turkey and Pakistan could not be strengthened just through goodwill. “We need to take determined, clear and strong steps towards common objectives,” Khan said.
Turkey’s direct investment in Pakistan stands close to $500 million and it is worthy of Pakistan-Turkey friendship.
Khan on his part also invited the Turkish businessmen to invest in Pakistan boasting his was the most business-friendly government in the history of Pakistan.
He urged Turkish businessmen to join hands with their Pakistani opposite numbers for joint ventures in tourism, agriculture, information technology and mining.
These goodwill gestures need to be followed up with strong and practical steps towards achieving these objectives.
Turkish president’s comments with regard to CPEC might be exploited by the powers hostile to this gigantic project. It is therefore incumbent on the government to address concerns of the Turkish government and businessmen in this regard.
At a time when Pakistan is seeing a lukewarm response from the Western countries for its offer for investment, it is time for the country to attract much needed investment from friendly countries like Turkey.
Erdogan also extended resolute support for Pakistan at the front of Financial Action Task Force (FATF), whose meeting is due in Paris this month, in an effort to get Pakistan off its so-called grey list of countries that have not done enough to curb money laundering and terror financing.
Pakistan has a number of security, geostrategic, and geopolitical challenges and these could be eased if it establishes economic bonds at the regional level and beyond.
Erdogan in his speech at the parliament house very deftly tracked back Pakistan’s historical links with Turkey starting from the Mughal dynasty, which has its Turkish roots as well as to Khilafat movement.
In modern times, the two countries have enjoyed close and cordial relations and it is important for both to cement their economic ties on the basis of these strong historical and political connections. The two countries are also expected to begin negotiations to finalise a bilateral free trade agreement in April.
“The Turkish government sent a delegation to Pakistan last month and we agreed to enhance our trade relations,” Turkish news agency Anadolu quoted Razzak Dawood as saying.
After China, Turkey is the second country with which Pakistan has a unique relationship with grass-root level support among masses that transcends beyond political division in the two countries.
This strong people-to-people goodwill needs to be transformed into robust economic and commercial linkages between the two countries.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad