Pakistan and Turkey are one step closer on a path for tighter bilateral relations. Islamabad and Ankara have made a joint declaration of strategic partnership. The meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad serves as a yet another indication that Turkey favors Pakistan over India.

Pakistan Turkey
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Next year will mark the 70th year of Pak-Turkey diplomatic relations., and while Turkey has tried to remain neutral and be partners with both Pakistan and India, its recent actions indicate that Ankara has actually picked a side. Earlier this month, Turkey didn’t back India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), while supporting Pakistan’s membership in the NSG. Turkey has also been vocal about its support for Pakistan’s position on Kashmir.

Refreshing friendship between Turkey and Pakistan

During their meeting on Thursday, Erdogan and Sharif praised the progress achieved towards strong strategic partnership between their countries. Turkey and Pakistan also reiterated their firm mutual support on issues of national interest, meaning that Islamabad will continue backing Turkey’s anti-coup measures, while Ankara vows to continue supporting Pakistan in its long-standing dispute against India.

Erdogan called for a dialogue between India and Pakistan that would be in line with the United Nations Security Council resolutions. The Turkish President also expressed his concern over the recently re-ignited tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad and the growing number of casualties.

Erdogan praised Pakistani and Turkish military and law enforcement personnel for their fight against terrorism. The two nations also urged the international community to step up efforts to fight Islamophobia, religious discrimination and stereotyping against Muslims.

Ankara and Islamabad: “longstanding brotherly ties”

Turkey remains one of Pakistan’s main allies in terms of diplomacy, military trade and economic ties, and that’s a crucial advantage for Pakistan, which needs allies in its fight against India over the disputed Kashmir.

In return for Turkey’s support of Islamabad’s stance on Kashmir, Pakistan reiterated its firm condemnation of the anti-government coup attempt that took place in Turkey on July 15. Sharif also paid tribute to the brave Turkish people who sacrificed themselves in the fight for Turkey’s democracy.

Turkish and Paki leaders also vowed to step up their collaboration in various fields, including energy, infrastructure, housing, agriculture and food processing. In fact, the two sides vowed to complete the negations on the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the end of 2016.

Welcoming the Turkish President to Islamabad, Paki Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif said Turkey and Pakistan share longstanding brotherly ties and that the two nations have always supported one another in tough times.

Why is Turkey favoring Pakistan over India?

Despite Turkey’s close trade ties with India, Ankara still remains committed to supporting its strategic partner, Pakistan, on many international issues. Not lending enough support to India’s bid to join the NSG and being a vocal supporter of Pakistan in its territorial disputes with India are two recent indications of India prioritizing Pakistan in South Asian politics.

Despite its strong diplomatic support for Islamabad, Turkey has boosted its bilateral cooperation with India in such fields as education, trade and technology. However, Turkish bilateral trade with India remains more than 7 times larger than its bilateral trade with Pakistan. A trade volume of $7.49 billion was registered between Ankara and New Delhi in 2014, while bilateral trade between Turkey and Pakistan barely even reaches $1 billion.

But the free trade agreement (FDA) is a major factor that could skyrocket the bilateral trade between Pakistan and Turkey. On Thursday, Erdogan vowed to sign the deal before 2017.

Despite Turkey’s strong opposition to India on the issue of Kashmir, Ankara and New Delhi still share common interests in ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

China, Russia and Turkey join forces against India

But Turkey’s relations with Pakistan seem more solid and brotherly, as described by Paki COAS on Thursday. With Ankara and Islamabad strengthening their strategic partnership, the two nations enjoy close cultural, historical and military ties.

The free trade agreement (FDA) will allow them to drive their bilateral trade up and develop their economies. Turkey is also one of the key weapon sellers to Pakistan. Interestingly, Ankara is also purchasing arms from Pakistan, including minor aerial weapons and arms components.

Turkey also supports Islamabad’s position on holding a plebiscite under the UN to decide if Kashmir wants to officially join Pakistan or India.

Another major indication of their diplomatic friendship is the fact that Turkey supports Pakistan’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the 48-member group that regulates international nuclear commerce. Despite U.S. efforts to get India into the NSG, Turkey was among those that remain non-committal about backing India’s bid. Ankara explained its position by saying that India should first build consensus in its favor.

China, major Pakistan’s ally, firmly blocked India’s bid because New Delhi, like Islamabad, has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Russia was also among those calling for a criteria-based approach before accepting India’s bid to join the NSG, which regulates trade in atomic material. The fact that China, Russia and Pakistan joined forces to reject India’s bid re-ignited speculations about a possible superpower triangle between the three countries.

Russia-China-Pakistan-Turkey rectangle?

It also adds to the fact that Turkey and Pakistan are founding members of the Economic Cooperation Organization as well as members of the Developing 8 Countries (D-8) organization. Having an FDA between Ankara and Islamabad would be a game-changer for their bilateral ties. In fact, Turkey could become part of the Russia-China-Paki superpower triangle, though there’s little evidence that Ankara is headed that way.

While China and Turkey share close economic and military ties, relations between Russia and Turkey are far more complicated. Ties between Moscow and Ankara took a turn for the worst when the Turkish Air Force downed a Russian military jet over Syria last November.

However, during their meeting in August, Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed a mutual interest in restoring their once very close ties. While there’s little point in speculating about a potential rectangle between China, Russia, Pakistan and Turkey, bilateral relations between Ankara and Islamabad are expected to see a bright future in the coming years.