On March 4, 1948, newly inaugurated Pakistan President Muhammad Ali Jinnah was hosting an important reception at his Karachi office. The Republic of Turkey’s first Ambassador to Pakistan Yahya Kemal Beyatlı presented his letter of trust to Jinnah. This ceremony laid the grounds of deep-rooted and multidimensional relations between the two countries. Beyatlı, who was appointed to Karachi with the enactment published on Jan 8, 1948, had undertaken his duty without wasting any time, which was considered quite swift under the conditions of the era. Yet, the famous poet whose health was deteriorating – due to his age – was forced to retire in March 1949.
Beyatlı, who left Ankara to travel to Pakistan on Feb. 9, 1948, arrived in the Iraqi city of Basrah, then took a ferry to Karachi. He stepped foot on Karachi soil on Feb. 21. He spent his spare time meeting and chatting with Pakistani authorities. The Skopje-born Turkish poet’s vast knowledge of literature and history evoked surprise and admiration in everyone he met. Jinnah would also be extremely pleased with his conversation with Beyatlı, whose fame had long reached him. Relations between the two would thus extend beyond diplomatic practices.
Turkey-Pakistan relations, which started as a “chic salutation from Skopje to Karachi,” increasingly deepened in the following period when the two countries backed each other on strategic matters. An interesting reflection of their friendly relations, which was recorded with deals signed in numerous fields, including trade, defense, and security, happened during the Bosnia War (1992-1995). Then-Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller and then-Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto visited Sarajevo on Feb. 2, 1994, to draw global attention to the genocide against Muslim Bosnians in the heart of Europe. The meetings held by Çiller and Bhutto, who were welcomed by Aliya Izetbegovic, made it to world press headlines alongside their photograph in bulletproof vests. The visit did not lead to any change in the course of the war, however, it was significant in terms of Turkey and Pakistan’s cooperation on the common Bosnia agenda.
It is important to note in the context of Turkey-Pakistan relations that the affinity between the two countries was not limited to state and government leaders alone, but spread throughout the public as well. There are no other two countries in the Muslim world that are this close – neither at a state nor public level. Turks are perhaps the only nation who get as excited as the Pakistanis when they say, “Pakistan zindabad!” (long live Pakistan!). The same sentiment is present on the Pakistani front as well – if not more. To provide a concrete example: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have strategic relations too. Similar to Turkish state ministers and officials paying their first visits abroad to Cyprus and Azerbaijan – as a customary practice – Pakistani prime ministers make their first overseas visit in office to Saudi Arabia. However, it is impossible to talk about a “deep and voluntary love” between the Pakistani and Saudi public. Saudi Arabia, the source of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis, carefully and insistently maintains the distance. As a matter of fact, there are sad manifestations of this “distance.”
Turkey-Pakistan relations draw attention as they remain unaffected by the two countries’ internal political changes. Regardless of who comes to office in Ankara or Islamabad, relations have been upheld with the same seriousness and depth. In this respect, it can be said that the relations between Turkey and Pakistan reached a maturity that is rare to find in the international domain.
When evaluating Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s official visit to Turkey today upon President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s invitation, taking into consideration the above points will make it easier to understand the process.