Lessons from Turkey
By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri
The Turkish President's recent visit to Pakistan at the head of a large delegation represents a welcome change in our foreign policy, which continues to remain mired in its sole dependence on the US. During his four-day tour, President Abdullah Gull struck right chord and made vibes, which resonated well with Pakistan's leadership and people.
The dialogue between both leaderships covered wide-ranging areas, including trade, investment, agriculture and infrastructure. President Gull's offer to Islamabad to help it overcome its energy deficit could not have been better timed, given the fact that Pakistan is faced with the worst crisis of energy with lethal implications for its economy and businesses across the country.
The highlight of the visit was the Turkish President's remark that brotherly relations between both countries needed to be concretised and reflected in enhanced economic co-operation. There is no denying of the fact that trade relations between Ankara and Islamabad have not realised their potential so far.
There is an immense opportunity for both sides to take it to five billion US dollars per annum. The extension of Pakistan-Iran cargo train service to Istanbul marks a major step forward, which, besides increasing bilateral trade between Pakistan and Turkey, would also present the latter with an opportunity to access the European markets.
On matters of foreign policy, both Turkey and Pakistan agreed that terrorism was one of the prominent issues facing the Muslim Ummah and needed to be uprooted comprehensively. They also reiterated their resolve to extend every kind of co-operation in that regard. Ankara also expressed its support to Islamabad on Kashmir issue. Likewise, Pakistan also supported Turkey's stand on the Cyprus dispute.
President Zardari also recognised the services of President Abdullah Gull in enhancing the co-operation between both countries by conferring on him the biggest civil award 'Nishan-e-Pakistan'. All in all, President Gull's visit was an important landmark both in form and substance.
Turkey has come to be acknowledged as a relatively developed country with a functioning democracy within the Muslim world. It has also joined the ranks of G20 countries and stands on the doors of European Union. It offers a number of lessons to Pakistan, which can stand it in good stand if they are imbibed and replicated accordingly. The following is instructive in that regard:
"Secularism has been the state ideology since the establishment of modern Turkey at the hands of Mustafa Kamal Pasha. Because of their spearhead role in the nation-building process, the Turkish armed forces have been invested with the responsibility to protect the Kamalist ideology. Resultantly, the Turkish military has been a principal actor in the political architecture of the country.
Credit goes to Turkish political parties, especially the ruling AKP (Justice & Development Party), founded by Prime Minister Erdgon that it has gradually but wisely regained the lost space, which has traditionally been the preserve of the powerful military.
It has been able to set the rules of the game and managed its relations with other important stakeholders in the Turkish polity. The AKP-led government is also preparing to table a bill of constitutional reforms in the parliament to restore the full-fledged democracy in the country."
The Pakistan military is also deeply entrenched in the political system of the country, a fact which is borne out by its retention of power for more than three decades of our national life. The failure of political parties to agree to minimum rules of the game and establish good governance has resulted in surrendering space to the powerful military.
The lesson for Pakistan's political elite is that it is by setting better governance standards and exercising wisdom and political maturity that they can reinstate true democracy in the country. Turkey has also brought about huge revolution in the educational field.
Its literacy rate is more than 99%. Turkish language is the medium of instruction, while education up to matric level has been declared compulsory. It is totally free for the economically disadvantaged sections of the society. In 2002, when Justice and Development Party came into power, the number of universities stood at 53, which has now risen to 142.
During his visit, the Turkish President has offered to cooperate in establishing a technical university on the pattern of Istanbul Technical University. There is immense potential for Pakistan to learn from the Turkish experience of technical and higher education.
Agriculture is yet another area where Pakistan has a lot of learning to do. Turkey is one of the agriculturally-developed countries of the world. According to an estimate, its agricultural produce has crossed 57 billion US dollars with more than 11 billion dollar of exports.
The signing of memorandum of understanding (MoU) on agriculture between the agriculture ministers of both countries is a good thing. There is a need to expand the co-operation in this field. The strength of the Turkish economy can be gauged from the fact that its exports in 2008 stood at 132 billion dollars.
At a time when the entire world faces the prospect of food shortages, Pakistan's agriculture can not only meet its domestic food needs but also help it earn precious foreign exchange, provided attention is paid to this sector of economy. Pakistan can learn a lot from Turkey in modernising its agro-based industry. Turkey has already shown its seriousness by declaring to invest 60 million dollars in the fields of agriculture and energy in Punjab.
President Gull's offer to help Pakistan in overcoming its fast-expanding energy deficit is also very timely. Turkey has said that its 250 construction companies are interested to invest in Pakistan. Pakistan is already constructing a number of small and medium dams, besides Dia Mir Bhasha Dam. The services of these companies can be hired to accelerate the pace of construction of dams and incomplete sections of motorway.
The regional grouping of Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, which is already there under the name of ECO, can offer every country vast opportunities for progress. While Pakistan should stay engaged with the US, it should not make its foreign policy solely dependent on Washington. The diversification of Pakistan's foreign policy by seeking to expand its strategic partnerships with other countries is what should top the government's agenda.
Both of these notions should not be mutually exclusive. It is high time we took practical steps to translate our brotherly and positive relations with the countries into economic partnerships. Turkey has already shown us the way. It now depends on the Pakistani leadership to seize the initiative and move proactively.
(The writer is a PhD candidate at Australian University)