AMID political tensions in Pakistan, the joint naval and aerial exercise in North Arabian Sea by Pakistan and Turkey is good news. On October 29, 2016,the navies of both the countries conducted a bilateral exercise in order to enhance interoperability and contribute to regional maritime security. According to Pakistan Navy, the exercise covered a number of areas, including anti-air warfare operations, communication drills, and joint manoeuvres by the participating surface ships, aircraft, and helicopters from both sides. The professional competence of both the navies was highly appreciated by the authorities. The bilateral exercise is the testimony of defence ties and mutual collaboration between the two counties in general and the two navies in particular. Though Pakistan and Turkey are not geographically neighbours, the affinity between them is unique. Naturally both countries feel so close to each other. The relationship between them is regarded as heart-to-heart. The historical Ottoman Empire is believed to be a major reason of the Turkish sympathy in Pakistan. Pakistan is also gateway to the Central Asian Turkic Republics and has absorbed a lot from Turkic culture. A major road of the Turkish capital Ankara, the Cinnah Caddesi is named after Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, while roads in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Larkana are named after Kamal Ataturk.Both countries were partners in the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and along with Iran, founded Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) which later was reincarnated as Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). Pakistan and Turkey are also part of the Developing 8 Countries (D-8) organization. Pakistan supports Turkey on Cyprus issue and Turkey supports Pakistanâ€™s position over Kashmir. Turkey has also been taking keen interest in promoting peace in South Asia by bringing Pakistan and Afghanistan closer with a view to resolving the Afghan conundrum and building mutual trust between them. It initiated Trilateral Summit mechanism in 2007, and so far several Summit meetings have been held to enhance cooperation for regional security, stability and development. The Turkish government always commends Pakistanâ€™s success against terrorism. In 2015, it announced $20 million aid for the internally displaced persons owing to the Operation Zarb-e-Azb. In May 2016, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a meeting with the Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, praised Pakistan Army for its successful fight against terrorism and contributions towards regional peace and stability.Turkey also welcomes the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and appreciates cooperation between Pakistan and China in that regard. In 2015,during the G-20 Summit, it signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Aligning the Silk Road and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and the Middle Corridor Initiative with China. It wishes to revive the ancient Silk Road with the help of Pakistan and China and believes that two project together will promote regional development, welfare, cultural exchange and people-to-people contacts. A strong cooperation between these countries can bring successful results in aligning the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative with the Middle Corridor project. All this goes to show that both countries value the future even more than the past. However, Pakistan needs to get more out of this relationship. Despite the constructive engagement at political level, the trade volume between two countries is far below the potential. It exceeded US$ 1 billion in 2011 but decreased to US$ 599.6 million in 2015. There was also a decrease in the bilateral trade volume in the initial months of 2016. There is little official evidence to explain this decline in trade volume. Though both countries have negotiated a preferential trading agreement (PTA), it is still not signed. The PTA if signed will boost trade ties and achieve the mutually agreed trade target of $2 billion. The signing of a comprehensive PTA without delay would also make a significant contribution to the bilateral trade while the two sides were considering opening trade centres in each other countries.
Turkey is a major exporter to Europe as well as the Central Asian Republics, Pakistan needs to team up with Turkey to penetrate these markets. Pakistanâ€™s geographic location will also play an essential role in establishing both the Middle Corridor project and One Belt, One Road initiative. Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, where Turkey and Pakistan are founding members, is another area of cooperation between two countries.
The proposed PTA might also later evolve into a free trade agreement (FTA) which would maximize the economic benefits. The potential for economic cooperation and integration between Turkey and Pakistan needs to be fully tapped. The present government should, therefore, lobby strongly to have the PTA implemented, given its delay since 2011.It should be a high priority to transform the political relations between the two countries into a strong economic partnership. The best is yet to come.