With close cultural and historical ties, Pakistan and Turkey have great potential for cooperation in a host of areas, according to Pakistan’s president.
Arif Alvi was in the Turkish metropolis Istanbul as the first corvette ship built in Turkey for Pakistan’s Navy, named the PNS Babur, was launched in a ceremony on Sunday.
Anadolu Agency spoke to the Pakistani head of state on various issues including bilateral relations, the situation in Afghanistan (before the dramatic fall of the capital Kabul on Sunday), and ties with India, among others. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Excerpts:
ANADOLU AGENCY: Pakistan and Turkey enjoy close cultural, historical, and military relations. What are new ideas and ways on the table to expand them and deepen economic and strategic ties between the two countries?
ALVI: I think the opportunity is great. I think the world is changing very fast, there are new polarizations and the changes are tremendous. Therefore, Pakistan and Turkey have great potential in a number of areas.
The international community has been a community where rather than principles that should have mattered, there are vested interests – e.g. Kashmir, Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh – for quite some time.
So in such a situation, there always is an opportunity of emerging economies like Turkey and Pakistan to look for a path where morality is much more important than vested interests.
Opportunities of cooperation between Pakistan and Turkey are tremendous. The leaders of Pakistan and Turkey are for the first time educating the world that this Islamophobia kind of reaction pushes people apart, so the opportunities are tremendous.
Q: On economics, although the two countries set an economic trade volume target of $5 billion for 2023, they seem to be way behind this figure. How do you see this?
ALVI: I had a long discussion with President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan yesterday and we both are very concerned that this acceleration in economic grade should be happening. And there are focus groups, both in the Ministry of Commerce in Pakistan and the parallel system ministry in Turkey, which are looking at specific issues.
For example, there is good Turkish investment in Pakistan. There are a number of issues like cooperation on minerals and granite, and Turkey has good expertise that Turkey can participate in that. And the success of those investments is what the Turkish and Pakistan business community should be looking at, for example, many other areas where products being made in Pakistan with Turkish collaboration are being exported to Africa.
The potential of trade between the two countries should be achieved and $5 billion have been promised. The fact that the world is shrinking, and the world is becoming protective – that means that brothers like Pakistan and Turkey if they collaborate, their own economies prosper. At the same time, we are self-reliant, for example, in defense, we are self-reliant and the more we share with each other, the more there is economic development and prosperity of our people. So it's a very important area, where I expect with renewed vigor and the will between Turkey and Pakistan, tremendous progress is possible.
Q: In the defense industry, how can Turkey-Pakistan cooperation progress, what kind of ambitious initiatives can we expect?
ALVI: I think we are busy looking at the T129 ATAK helicopters. We are also looking at the development of submarines, we are looking at cooperative development of fifth-generation aircraft which is a very important area of cooperation.
We are looking at cooperation in unmanned aerial vehicles, which is very important for the economy. So Turkey and Pakistan continue cooperation in artificial intelligence, cyber defense. We are not offensive countries. Pakistan and Turkey are peaceful countries which are involved in defending themselves.
So I think Turkey and Pakistan have great potential in those areas, which are emerging technologies. So we can step on that train faster, the fourth industrial revolution, which is happening. Pakistan and Turkey, with the resolve with cooperation, we can join that race faster and therefore lead to greater economic progress.
Q: The Pakistani prime minister and army chief have often called for a shift from geopolitics to geo-economics. What does this mean?
ALVI: It is a major policy shift. The Chinese government over the last 15-20 years developed a One Belt One Road policy for their entire development with other countries.
Similarly, Pakistan is at the center of economic trade. The route of the Central Asian countries, as far as trade is concerned, is much shorter when it comes to water. The route of the western parts of China to export stuff is much shorter, is only about 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) from the western parts of China to through Pakistan to water, while if they go to the Chinese eastern side and go to the waters on that side, it is five or six thousand miles (8,046-9,656 km).
So for Central Asian countries for China for Afghanistan, for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, all everybody is concerned that this geo-economic hub, which Pakistan claims to be today, is very important for trade enhancement. And the more trade happens, the more people link themselves together, the more the prosperity, this overrules people's emotional situations.
And therefore, whatever is happening in Afghanistan, that people do realize there is a high time after 40 years of misery, they must come out peacefully, and Afghanistan is also part of that trade route.
Q: Can we expect peace in Afghanistan in the coming days?
ALVI: I'm hopeful. Pakistan has been hopeful.
Pakistan has always had a peaceful stance. Pakistan has always had a positive stance, for the last 40 years. Number one, it always said that the (1979) Soviet invasion of Afghanistan should not have happened. Number two, when the Soviets left in 1989, we were left alone to handle the mess left behind.
We managed a good relationship with Afghanistan and then when the Americans came in again, Pakistan kept on saying that war is not a solution.
So imagine in this whole scenario in this whole world, there was only one same voice of Pakistan, that war is not a solution.
And if countries only realized this after spending trillions and hundreds of thousands of deaths – Pakistan also lost over 100,000 people and a loss of billions of dollars – Pakistan can very rightfully say that the world should listen to us, that is peace.
Q: What kind of joint responsibilities can Turkey and Pakistan assume to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan?
ALVI: Both of us are waiting and so are other countries in the region, waiting for things to settle down, waiting for things to emerge, who will represent the people of Afghanistan, and to whom to talk to.
It's just a matter of days. We thought it will take six or seven months, the best experts which have spent billions and trillions of dollars in Afghanistan told us it will take six months. And everybody was surprised because what Pakistan has been saying from the very beginning, the world did not understand. And they started scapegoating Pakistan, that Pakistan is responsible for it.
The way the Afghan people cooperated with each other, I would say now, I have not heard any big reports of bloodshed That makes me happy. We are heirs to Muslim Ummah tradition. Solh Hodaybiya (Hodaybiya Peace Agreement) is the biggest example. I was addressing the Taliban, if you gain ground in Afghanistan, forgive, give amnesty like Nelson Mandela did in the recent era trying to unite South Africa... I'm hopeful.
Q: The historical Turkish TV series Dirilis: Ertugrul has been watched with great admiration in Pakistan. After the series gained great popularity, the two countries jointly started a new series Turk Lala, which tells the story of Abdur Rehman Peshawari, one of the very first reporters of Anadolu Agency when it was founded in the early 1920s. How do you see this development?
ALVI: (This series) cements the relation between Turkey and Pakistan even before Pakistan was formed, it goes back to the 1880s at least, it goes back in history, it's the Muslim ummah (community), which has been a tremendous link. Pakistan started in that reason Khilafat Movement. And I think the new generation should remember that. That is the greatest cooperation any people in the world did with Turkey in this region of the world.
So there are other things which are happening with Ertugrul and (13th-14th century Turkish poet) Yunus Emre and this project, which is coming up, people, Muslims are looking for peaceful past. And when they take pride in the peaceful past, they develop a future, which is also peaceful.
The rise of Muslims happens when the people are convinced, and they're hopeful. And they're looking at these projects, monuments, and some are monuments, for example, in Istanbul, or in the Muslim world, and some are monuments, and personalities, which existed in history.
And as Muslims identify with that, they will have a renaissance within them. And therefore, Pakistan and Turkey are the two leaders of the Muslim world, which are looking at the West, teaching them, trying to inform them that Islamophobia is very damaging, that the issues of the Muslim world have to be handled, trying to tell the international community, for example, that Kashmir is a festering problem.
What is happening in India is what has happened in Europe, when you isolate a population, like the Muslims, they're all minorities – not only Muslims, all minorities are treated very poorly in India. They're trying to rewrite their history.
While we are looking at a past in a beautiful history of the peaceful rule in the world, they are trying to rewrite the history and create division within their communities and within their people.
So Pakistan is conscious of these things. Why? Because when issues are not fairly happening, we suffer, if India gets into unrest with their trade, trying to create themselves, they will blame us. Kashmir is a festering situation which will not have been allowed to happen by the international community.
That is where Pakistan and Turkey have a great role in to bring morality into the United Nations, decisions made on peaceful like that of Kashmir and Cyprus. And that is where I think the leadership potential is there.
Q: Our last question is about Pakistan-India relations. After a cease-fire along the Line of Control (LoC) in February, there is no progress in Pakistan’s relations with India. It was reported that back-channel talks have started. What is the status of these talks now? This is very important because Kashmir is a flashpoint.
ALVI: India is a belligerent nation, and does not understand what a future of peace means. It has issues with countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, and is now having problems with its own population today. It is dividing its own people, rewriting history.
We have warned the international community that these things lead to genocide. When you isolate people, when you treat them as different citizens ... Those kinds of laws are immoral, that is apartheid.
India introduced citizenship laws, and is trying to change the demography of Kashmir as well. But will it lead to peace and prosperity? It will not.
If you come to the Pakistan side of Kashmir, it is peaceful today. It has a cricket league. But on the Indian side, they don't allow journalists to cover anything. They don't allow UN inspection.
They don’t allow images to come out of their atrocities. So, I think the situation is bad, and we want to focus the international community toward Kashmir at the same time.
I believe that Turkey has supported us well, and has understood that in principle and the people of Turkey understand that well. (If) any alternate picture is ever painted, the Turkish people will not accept that alternate picture.
Pakistan has raised this issue again and again. And despite what India says, in fact, as soon as India became the president of the UN Security Council for a short period, it said Kashmir is an integral part of India, which was denied by the UN secretary-generalship.
I congratulate Turkey and Azerbaijan for solving an issue which the international media and community had closed their eyes to (in Nagorno-Karabakh). We are hopeful that Northern Cyprus will also have a solution.
Therefore, the people unite, the governments unite afterward, the people of Pakistan and Turkey are so united on this issue, that any situation which India sends out as propaganda. Recently in Europe, they establish fake companies, etc. The world knows that fake news was being propagated recently Pegasus, they started eavesdropping and spying on all countries.
It's a very disrespectful situation in which India should learn to live in the international community with the principles which are upheld by the United Nations and not in a rogue manner. So it's a very strange country the world should know about that.
Q: And is there any back-channel diplomacy with India?
ALVI: I don't think … Firstly, that the Kashmir issue is festering because of the promises made at the time of partition, Kashmir was excluded from that promise, the promise was the (states having) majority (of Muslim) religion will go to Pakistan and those who are Hindus will go to towards India and Kashmir was not decided on those grounds. That's the misery right now.
So, Pakistan has made a resolution that Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which we do not agree with – Kashmir should never have been mentioned in the Indian Constitution should have been a part of Pakistan.
But still, it was a promise made to the Kashmiri people, Article 35A, a promise made to the Kashmiri people and they're disappointed. So I think unless India takes those things back, Pakistan is not going to resume any dialogue on that.
We can't bargain the misery of a people. That's not possible. Pakistan is a principal country, will never bargain. We will never bargain on the issue of Cyprus, will never bargain on the issue of Kashmir.