Babur Hizlan: Turkey is part of Europe; has right to become EU member

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Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
MR. Babür Hızlan, Ambassador was born in 1961 in İstanbul. Graduated from Boğazici University Political Science Department, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1984. Until now, Ambassador Hızlan has served in the Consulate General in Houston, the Embassy in Lagos, the Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, the Consulate General in Bourgas, the Embassy in Sofia and the Consulate General in Munich in different ranks. In 2006, he took over the administration of the Deputy Directorate General of South Asia where he presided over until he became the Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Ambassador Hızlan arrived in İslamabad on 1 August 2009 to assume his duties and started his tenure as the Ambassador on 18 August 2009 after he presented the Letter of Credentials to MR. Asif Ali Zardari, the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
He is married, with two daughters. Here are is the text of his interview.

Q.1 Pakistan and Turkey enjoy excellent relations. Would you like to share with us your vision of giving these relations new dimensions, besides giving a brief historical background of relations between the two countries?

I know very well the true love and affection between our peoples, the special bond we have with our Pakistani brothers and sisters, and the time-tested friendship we enjoy. We are very lucky to have this unique relationship. The two nations have always been shoulder-to-shoulder at difficult times and cherished each other’s accomplishments as if their own. Both Turkish and Pakistani peoples can easily feel this special friendship and intimacy even during their daily encounters in the street. The generosity with which our forefathers extended support and solidarity to each other during the Turkish National Independence War and the independence struggle of Pakistan is enshrined deep into the collective memory of the Turkish and the Pakistani Nations in the form of legendary stories to be passed on to the younger generations. That is why I think people-to-people relations constitute the most important aspect of our relations.

I believe, the first and foremost duty of a Turkish Ambassador is to improve these brotherly relations even further and serve for the good of both Turkish and Pakistani peoples. For that, we need to promote more business-to-business contacts, more trade, more cultural exchanges, more relations between the youth. We have to open more channels of communication and transportation: more flights of Turkish and Pakistani Airlines, establishment of direct maritime lines, commercialization of the railroad connection, thousands of TIR trucks travelling between the two countries.

Q.2 As we know, Turkish War of Independence ultimately resulted in the creation of Pakistan. Can you enlighten us a bit more about this?

Turkish War of Independence influenced and inspired many oppressed nations in the world in the first half of the 20th century. It gave them hope for their just struggle and showed that with firm belief and sacrifice, winning a war against the imperialist powers and creating an independent state would be possible. In particular, the leader of the Indepence War, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, became an idol for those nations thereafter. As we know, Muslims of the Subcontinent closely followed the developments during that time and wholeheartedly supported the Turkish cause. We still cherish the vivid memories of moral and financial support extended to us in our dire times by our brothers and sisters in the Subcontinent.

Q.3 Can you share with us efforts of your Embassy to further promote and strengthen these relations besides giving a brief account of Turkish aid extended to Pakistan on various occasions?

The flood disasters that occurred in 2010 and 2011 caused tremendous sorrow in the hearts of Turkish people. Yet, Turkish people were right beside their Pakistani brothers and sisters to heal their wounds as much as they could and extended their brotherly hand without hesitation.

Turkish Government provided 10 million Dollars in cash assistance to address the immediate needs of the flood victims. Through campaigns launched by the state agencies and NGO’s, approximately 150 million Dollars were raised. Turkey has delivered hundreds of tonnes of humanitarian aid worth up to 50 million Dollars.

Turkish Red Crescent continues its dedicated efforts in Pakistan since the 2005 earthquake. During the floods, Turkish Red Crescent set up prefabricated houses for thousands of flood-affected people. Turkish Ministry of Health also operated two field hospitals for a nine- month period.

Last but not least, the Housing Development Administration of the Republic of Turkey, (TOKİ) is building 4.620 village housing units in Pakistan along with hospitals, schools, mosques, trade centres, forming modern villages in some of the flood-affected parts of Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh.

Our efforts to alleviate the sufferings of the brotherly people of Pakistan will unabatedly continue. Also we appreciate the help our Pakistani brethren extend swiftly to us in times of need, most recently during the earthquake in Van province last year.
Q.4 Are you satisfied with the trade and economic ties between Pakistan and Turkey? Can you share with us initiative(s) taken to further cement business ties?
Enhancing our bilateral trade relations is an utmost priority since the current state of our trade volume is far from satisfying both sides, considering our excellent political relations. In 2011, our trade volume exceeded 1 billion Dollars. In order to further boost our trade, I think the signing of the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) will constitute a very important step. Recently, the Fourth Round of the negotiations on PTA was held in Islamabad on May 20, 2012. I hope the fifth round would be the last.
To achieve the aim set forth, private sectors from both countries should be encouraged to start joint ventures in each other’s as well as third countries. Turkey and Pakistan have a great potential for cooperation in the infrastructure, energy and construction sectors in particular.

Financial aspect of bilateral trade facilitation is already in place: the Currency Swap Agreement signed in November 2011, and put into action recently, that provides a mechanism for increased cooperation between the banking sectors creates favourable monetary conditions for tradesmen of both countries.

To strengthen bilateral ties, transportation is another key area. To this end, increasing the destinations and frequency of direct flights between Turkey and Pakistan is an important matter to which we should eye on. This is vital to increase human-to-human contacts which will pave the way for increasing the bilateral trade as well. As for the cargo transportation, İstanbul-Tehran-Islamabad train link is an important asset we are trying to develop. Direct maritime cargo links should also be explored.
Q.5 How many Turkish companies are engaged in Pakistan and what is their satisfaction level in terms of Pakistan’s business environment; facilitation; incentives etc. by the Pakistan authorities?
Currently more than 16 Turkish firms operate in Pakistan. We hope to see their number increase in the near future. Turkish private firms show keen interest in the sectors such as construction, energy, agriculture, manufacturing, food processing, and transportation among others. Creating suitable conditions in Pakistan for them would definitely encourage these firms to bring in more capital and know-how.
Within the framework of the Second Meeting of the Turkey-Pakistan High Level Cooperation Council held in Islamabad on May 22, 2012, a new agreement concerning the reciprocal promotion and protection of investments between Turkey and Pakistan was signed. This new agreement hopefully will enhance bilateral investments further.
Some of the Turkish companies investing in Pakistan have at times, unfortunately, encountered some difficulties, which caused disappointment and, regrettably, sank investor morale –to a certain extent. To overcome these hurdles, we have been working closely with the Pakistani authorities. Hopefully, we will be able to avert any prospective impediments.
Q.6 What is latest on Turkey’s EU membership? Some say, Ankara’s EU membership bid is in fact an endless game between Turkey and the EU? Please share with us your views?

First of all, I would like to state that Turkey has been part and parcel of the European history for centuries, and today, it is a member of most of the regional organizations in Europe such as Council of Europe, OSCE and specialized organizations like UEFA. So geographically and historically, it is pointless to discuss whether Turkey is a part of Europe or not. On the other hand, some EU member states discuss Turkey’s Europeanness in terms of its culture. We should not forget that the EU is fundamentally an economic and political union, which is built upon certain principles and shared goals of the members for future cooperation; not on discriminative cultural factors such as ethnic identity, religion or language. In that sense, I believe that Turkey’s rich culture would add to the cultural mosaic of Europe. The debate on Turkey’s membership should focus on to what extent it can be an asset for EU’s political strength and economic prosperity. And our answer to this question is: considerably. Turkey’s membership would extend the EU’s political reach to wider regions and help it assume a more global voice. Furthermore, Turkey’s growing economy and its extensive trade links could certainly add to the economic well-being of Europe.

Turkey is fully committed to the EU accession process. The EU membership remains a strategic goal for Turkey. We will continue to take necessary steps for membership. In that vein, the reform process to meet the EU membership criteria will continue. In addition to the comprehensive constitutional amendments that were passed in the last years to strengthen our democracy, we are also preparing a new constitution to consolidate the reform process. These reforms aim first and foremost to provide the highest standards in every field of life to our own citizens.

The current situation, though, is not acceptable or sustainable. There are 35 chapters, 2 of which will be finalised at the last stage. Out of the remaining 33 chapters, 13 of them have been opened. However, 18 chapters of accession talks are blocked due to political reasons. There is also less dialogue between Turkey and the EU on strategic issues of common interest and/or concern. The accession process should be allowed to run its course. This is the EU’s contractual obligation. Turkey cannot accept double standards.

We are aware of the fact that the EU is going through an introvert period –mostly focusing on fixing its economic problems and fostering a tighter political union, and seemingly pushing enlargement, for the time being, to the back-burner. However, as we have always emphasized to our European counterparts, Turkey’s membership will not entail yet another burden on the EU. On the contrary, it will contribute to finding common solutions to the problems of the EU. We remain confident of the future of the EU, where Turkey will be an important part of it.

Q.7 What may be the likely future of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus? In addition, do you think EU committed a mistake by admitting South Cyprus as member when the issue was still unresolved?

The Turkish Cypriots are and have always been committed to finding a comprehensive and sustainable settlement. In the recent round of talks, they continued their constructive efforts with the UN Secretary General. Turkish Cypriot public still wants a comprehensive settlement and a new partnership in Cyprus. Both the current Turkish Cypriot government and the opposition support the efforts to reach a just and fair solution.

The polls on the Greek Cypriot side, on the other hand, clearly show that they do not want a common solution. The Greek Cypriot youth has a negative view against a common future with the Turkish Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot side is rejecting the compromise proposals of the Turkish Cypriots without putting on the table anything new or acceptable.

The history, unfortunately, is a testimony to the Greek side’s reluctance: Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) having always sought a just, lasting and viable settlement in Cyprus, re-launched the negotiation process towards the end of 2003. It was considered that a solution before 1 May 2004 would be in the interest of all concerned, and in the interest of international peace and security. It would have constituted the only means by which Cyprus could enter the European Union united on 1 May 2004.
Accordingly, through the good offices of the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, negotiations were carried out, and subsequently the UN Secretary-General finalized the Plan (i.e. The Annan Plan) with the contribution of all parties.
The European Union, present at the final stage of the negotiations, had repeatedly expressed its strong preference for the accession of a reunited Cyprus and had made specific commitments to encourage and promote such an outcome.
The agreement reached was put to separate and simultaneous referenda on 24 April 2004 in both parts of the Island. While the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected it (75,83% against), the Turkish Cypriot people approved the settlement Plan by a clear majority (64,91% in favour) despite the significant sacrifices that it entailed for them. The results of the referenda clearly demonstrated to the international community that the Turkish side was in favour of a comprehensive settlement.
Hence, the EU did commit mistakes by admitting the naysayer Greek Cypriots to the Union at the expense of isolating the reconciliatory Turkish Cypriots, and by making the latter pay the price for its own wrongdoing. Today, even EU officials admit that it was a failure to grant the Greek Cypriot Administration membership at that time.

In light of these, we cannot let futile talks to go on forever: The process should be expedited. We want a negotiated and mutually agreed political settlement in Cyprus. The UN Secretary-General has stated that the process cannot be an open-ended one. We fully supported the efforts of the UNSG. Unfortunately it is now evident that we cannot expect the last UN process in Cyprus to produce a result despite the efforts of the Turkish Cypriot side. The problem is the Greek Cypriots’ lack of will. If an agreement could have been reached the new partnership state could have assumed the EU presidency on 1 July.

A new vision is needed for a political settlement in Cyprus. A paradigm shift will eventually be necessary. Our aim is a negotiated and mutually agreed political settlement whatever form it takes, provided that it is based on the inherent constitutive power of the two peoples, their political equality and co-ownership of the Island.

At the current impasse, confidence building measures, another Turkish Cypriot initiative, between the two sides keep the dialogue continuing. CBMs in new possible areas (hydrocarbon, water, air traffic safety and others) could serve to prevent a crisis and prepare the ground for a future political settlement. Especially cooperation in the areas of hydrocarbon and air traffic safety would be to the benefit not only of the two sides but the international community as well.

Q.8 Turkey happens to be one of the leading countries in the OIC. It is said about the OIC that it does not rise to the occasion and it’s performance so far has been ‘disappointing’. How would you respond to this question especially when the Secretary General of the OIC happens to be from Turkey?

With 57 Member States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations, with a number of subsidiary organs. OIC has undergone a conceptual change from its previous position towards having a complete overhaul for addressing effectively the real aspirations of the Muslim World in accordance with the changes in the international context. OIC was reorganized through a reform process, which was conducted successfully so far, to meet the contemporary challenges and play a major role in international affairs.

Turkey, a member of the OIC since its establishment in 1969, believes that OIC can play a bigger role and assume a greater responsibility in the international fora. For this purpose, we support all efforts and initiatives, and the reform process aimed at creating more competitive and effective organization equipped with necessary tools and organizational structure that are commensurate with the needs of the current global dynamics.
In this context, the reformation of the OIC to incorporate international values, such as, human rights, fundamental freedoms, freedom of religion, rights of women, rule of law, good governance, and liberalization of political systems was strongly supported by Turkey. On the other hand, conceptual reforms of the OIC through adoption of “Ten Year Programme of Action” and new charter augmented the capacity of OIC.

OIC Independent Permanent Commission of Human Rights; Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries; Science, Technology and Innovation Organization; Specialized Organ for Women Development; Department of International Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs within the OIC; new offices and permanent missions in Baghdad, Kabul, Islamabad, Mogadishu, New York and Brussels were established. As a result of these efforts, the OIC has become more vocal on important issues dominating the international agenda and its cooperation has become more essential and sought for in addressing a wide range of issues.

The recent events we have been witnessing in the Middle East and North Africa, have once again proved the need to further develop the existing OIC capabilities in order to play a leading role in conflict prevention, resolution and management. Active role assumed by the OIC Secretary General H.E. Mr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu in recent years both in terms of preventive diplomacy and post conflict situations is highly appreciated by all OIC Member States. This has not only significantly increased the visibility of the OIC, but also made it a more active, reputable and credible force to be reckoned with in international relations.

The last OIC Extraordinary Islamic Summit organized on 14-15 August 2012, in Mekkah is also a striking instance. The membership of Syria, whose actions towards its own citizens has passed the border of human rights breaching and forms the crimes against humanity, was suspended. The role of OIC on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the state of Rohinga Muslims in Myanmar is also promising.

All in all, we strongly support the OIC to play an active role in political affairs which is essential for regional ownership. We also believe that stronger OIC would facilitate the process of democratic transition of regional countries. More active involvement of the OIC and its recognition by other leading world organizations as a “reliable partner” in the maintenance of international peace and stability is desirable. We also appreciate and actively support the OIC’s involvement in initiatives for promoting dialogue between cultures and civilizations.

Q.9 What is your understanding of the Middle East crisis, especially situation in Syria, and why it still continues to be a hotspot despite huge international efforts?

The transformation we witness in the Middle East is a historical one. The mass demonstrations stem from the legitimate frustration and expectations of the people that were suppressed for decades. They were fed up with poverty, corruption and repression. They rightfully demand freedom, justice, respect and dignity.

The Middle Eastern peoples have shown the world that democracy is not only for certain cultures or religions. Desire for democracy is universal. Therefore what is happening in the Middle East is only natural. This is why change is not something to be feared but to be welcomed and supported. The transformation process that has started in the Middle East is inevitable and irreversible. From now on, no administration can ignore people’s demands. All governments must undertake true reforms that will pave the way towards more democracy and freedom. There needs to be legitimacy, accountability and responsibility.

The crisis in Syria is deteriorating further and fast. Each day hundreds of innocent people are being killed by indiscriminate shelling of regime forces. The regime, which can no longer be qualified as legitimate, has become a ruthless militia murdering its own people. Prolongation of the conflict is detrimental for Syria, Syrian people and for the region.

The international community, however, is watching this tragedy indifferently. UN Security Council meeting on August 30, 2012, yet again yielded no results but inaction.

Q.10 Turkey is a key NATO member. After almost a decade-long presence in Afghanistan, do you think NATO made a right decision to come to Afghanistan? Moreover, can you share with us your views, what may be the logical end to Afghan situation?

The international community should continue to be in solidarity with Afghanistan and focus on the positive scenario for the future of Afghanistan. In this context, our commitment to Afghanistan is long-term. We will continue to stand by our Afghan brothers as long as they want us to do so. We are shaping our post-2014 contributions around this understanding. Apart from our bilateral contributions, we made a three-year commitment of 60 million USD between 2015 and 2017 at the NATO Chicago Summit for the financial sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). We welcome that the international community reiterated their long-term commitment by pledging over 16 billion Dollars to the development of Afghanistan at the Tokyo Conference. We also made a commitment of 150 million Dollars at the Tokyo Conference for development projects between 2015 and 2017.

We think that reconciliation among Afghans, regional cooperation and the support of international community are essential for the sustainment of peace and stability in the region and beyond. For this reason, in addition to engaging our Afghan counterparts at the bilateral level, we continue to adamantly take part in regional and international initiatives concerning Afghanistan. In this context, we believe that the Istanbul Process, which was launched at the Istanbul Conference for Afghanistan on 2 November 2011, has already made significant contributions to regional cooperation regarding Afghanistan.

Together with regional dimension, we attach utmost importance to the trilateral summit process initiated among Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Thanks to this platform, leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan were brought together for dialogue even at the most strenuous times faced in their bilateral relations.

We believe that for a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, there needs to be a political solution, hence establishment of sustainable peace and reconciliation among the Afghans. The peace process in Afghanistan, however, is and should remain an Afghan-led process and must be governed by Afghans. The government and people of Turkey are determined to support the Afghan Government, the High Peace Council and the Afghan people in this important undertaking. The government of Turkey recognizes the High Peace Council as a leading Afghan body to coordinate Afghan peace and reconciliation efforts and stands ready to fully support its initiatives and efforts. Both Afghanistan and Turkey will work in consultation and cooperation with all concerned parties in promoting the peace process in order to ensure successful outcomes. Turkey can consider extending further support to the Afghan Government in its reconciliation efforts provided that all relevant parties see benefit in this.