BABUR GIRGIN : Turkey, Pakistan relations touching new heights

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Ambassador of Turkey talks to Centreline & DNA
Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
The Ambassador of Turkey to Pakistan Sadik Babur Girgin gave an exclusive interview to Centreline and DNA. He talked extensively about bilateral as well multi-lateral relations. He also spoke about the Kashmir and Cyprus issues. Here is the text of his interview.
1: Ostensibly, relations between Pakistan and Turkey have always been excellent and especially in recent years these relations seem to have taken a new turn. Can you share with us vision of your leadership vis a vis relations with the outer world and particularly with Pakistan?
Turkey and Pakistan have always had excellent relations due to the brotherly feelings of their peoples towards each other. In recent years the effort has been to translate this into more concrete cooperation across all fields.
We seek cooperation with all countries, but more so with those with which we have special relations. Foremost among them is Pakistan. This is why we have set up with Pakistan the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council mechanism.
Pakistan was one of the first countries with which we established this type of mechanism headed at Prime Ministers’ level. The annual meetings of the HLSCC bring the two Prime Ministers and relevant Ministers together, in a joint Council of Ministers format, to steer bilateral relations. But these are not the only high level meetings we have. Only in 2015, we have had two Presidential and two Prime Ministerial visits, one from each side. This clearly shows the importance given to Pakistan by Turkey’s leaders. And we are happy to see that the feeling is reciprocated by the leadership in Pakistan.
2: Cultural cooperation between the two countries has increased tremendously. Can you share some more details of this cooperation between Turkey and Pakistan?
Actually, the cultural proximity between the two countries emanates from the common culture and historical interaction among our peoples. Perhaps the best example is that the name of Pakistan’s national language originates from a Turkish word, ‘Ordu’.
What we really cherish is the increasing general interest, in particular among the youth, toward learning each other’s daily culture. We celebrated 2014 as Cultural Year’s of Turkey in Pakistan, and that of Pakistan in Turkey.
Our Embassy here and the Pakistani Embassy in Turkey organized numerous activities. For example, we invited the Ottoman Military Band “Mehteran” which is the oldest existing military band in the world to give several concerts around 23 March to celebrate Pakistan Day. The well known Whirling Dervishes were also a success in Pakistan. All these performances were also broadcast on national TV for the benefit of the general public. In Turkey, an activity that I personally liked very much was the live truck art painting performance of a Pakistani artist in several cities. The classic car that was used was later displayed in further cities and created lots of interest.
There is increased cooperation among the universities of both countries and a growing interest by Pakistani students to study in Turkey. Our universities say that the Pakistani students are their best international students. I think, the welcome they receive in Turkey as Pakistani brothers and sisters, coupled with the proximity of cultural values makes it easier for them to adapt and concentrate on their studies in Turkey.
3: Can you underline steps you have taken, or you intend to take, for further improvement of cultural as well as political relations.
The political relations are already excellent. Those that require further improvement are other sectors.
In the field of higher education, we are about to sign a new agreement to boost the relations in this sphere. We also intend to enable more Turkish students to study in Pakistan.
For further improving our cultural relations, we have renewed the three year cultural programme, within the framework of our cultural agreement, which envisages cooperation in many topics. An agreement for the opening of cultural centers was also signed and we intend to open our centers in Lahore and Karachi.
4: Are you satisfied with the trade and economic ties between the two countries or you think they need improvement?
No, we are not satisfied. The economic relations, together with the academic relations are our top priority. There is a lot of room for improvement here.
A major step will be the conclusion of the Free Trade Agreement talks that have started recently. This will pave the way in terms of the legal basis of boosting our bilateral trade.
Another field we are working on is our transport connectivity. We have been progressing in this. The air connections have tripled in the past two years. Apart from Karachi and Islamabad, there are flights from Lahore as well, all daily. We are also connecting Islamabad with Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, another brotherly country. Work is underway to increase rail, road and eventually shipping links.
5: Since peace in the region holds key to regional development therefore how Turkey can help strengthening of relations among Pakistan, Afghanistan and India?
Very true. Peace and stability are essential for any region’s development. Turkey is not within South Asia, but is neighbouring this region. Because of this, together with our close links and relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan, the stability of this region is important to us as well. In this vein, we have initiated the trilateral Ankara Summit Process in 2007 at the level of heads of state and government of Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan. There have been eight meetings thus far, where high level dialogue, security and economic cooperation have been on the agenda. The next meeting is expected in the coming months.
Another initiative which we took, together with Afghanistan, was the launching of the Istanbul Process involving the Heart of Asia countries in 2011. This is a regional process, which has confidence building measures in six fields, including trade, infrastructure and education. Pakistan is the co-chair with Afghanistan this year. As a regional country, India is participating in the Istanbul Process as well.
6: Like Cyprus, Kashmir issue remains unresolved for decades now. How Turkey can facilitate both Pakistan and India to settle this issue amicably?
Turkey’s position on Kashmir is quite straightforward. The issue should be resolved through peaceful dialogue and lead to a settlement acceptable to all parties, above all, the people of Kashmir. We support the dialogue between Pakistan and India in this regard and hope that it will resume soon.
Turkey is also a founding member of the OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir.
A pre-requisite for facilitation regarding any issue is that all parties involved request it. If requested, no doubt Turkey would do its utmost to facilitate an amicable settlement.
7: What is the likely future of Cyprus issue? do you think the EU exercised partiality and a mistake by admitting Greek side into the EU in 2004?
Yes, clearly. As EU representatives will also privately admit, the EU has made a mistake in accepting the Greek Cypriot administration of Southern Cyprus as a member. This was against EU’s own policy of not admitting a country with unresolved border issues. And it fostered the intransigence of the Greek Cypriot administration regarding a settlement up until now. The fact that the admission decision was taken only days after the Greek Cypriots rejected the UN plan to settle the issue is telling. The general belief is that the aim of those that supported the admission was also to put another impediment before Turkey’s membership.
Right now, there are a new set of talks going on between the President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and his Greek Cypriot interlocutor. However, in the final analysis, what is important is that the Muslim Turkish Cypriots which suffered decades of atrocities and killings have been safe and enjoying their freedom under their own state for over forty years now.
Turkey is supportive as always. Most recently, using innovative engineering methods, Turkey has connected a freshwater pipeline which goes under the Mediterranean Sea to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This will ensure its freshwater supply for the next fifty years and will also help increase its agricultural production.
8: Greek side says, Turkish forces will have to quit the island if the goal of reunification is to be achieved, a demand which has been rejected by the Turkish government. Why you think presence of Turkish forces on the island is essential?
This is related to Turkey’s position as guarantor according to international law. Turkey’s involvement in Cyprus and the presence of its forces are all in line with the international treaties that were concluded at the time of independence of the island from British rule in 1960. Turkey, Britain and Greece were declared powers guaranteeing the established status, with Turkish Cypriots as equal co-founders of the state. These three powers were also allowed to station forces on the island according to these treaties.
In 1963 the Greek Cypriots began massacring the Turks, to ethnically cleanse the island from Muslims, so that they could unite it with Greece. The UN sent a peacekeeping force in early 1964 which was not able to prevent the atrocities. After a decade of suffering and killings, following a coup engineered by Greece to seize the island in 1974, it was the Turkish forces that liberated the Turks. They have remained safe and free for forty years thanks to the Turkish forces, whereas Greek Cypriot forces still take oath every year to cleanse the island of Muslim Turks. It is a fact that peace and stability on the island is owed solely to the presence of Turkish forces.
9: As is viewed by many Turks about EU membership, — it’s an endless game between Turkey and the EU? Do you share this view? And, if you could identify the key factors / impediments blocking Turkey’s EU membership?
Turkey’s relationship with the EU dates back to the first agreement signed in 1963, when it was still the European Economic Community. The candidacy and the ensuing accession negotiations began much later, in 1999 and 2005 respectively. Still, it is indeed the longest accession process compared to that of any EU member.
The interest of Turkey at the time was to join the European Economic Community, mainly for economic reasons. Following its impressive economic progress in the past decade, Turkey has become the sixth largest economy in Europe. In the meantime, various opinion polls show that the interest of the Turkish public to join the EU has declined to around 35 percent compared to about 70 percent in the 1990’s, when Turkey suffered several economic crises. However, we still continue our accession negotiations as we see benefit in it.
The impediments placed by the EU before Turkey have been subjective. In private talks, EU representatives will admit that Turkey’s comparatively large population and Muslim culture are the reasons major countries in the EU are looking for pretexts to block the negotiations. Imagine that Turkey’s 77 million population would be second in Europe only after Germany’s declining 82 million population. At the same time, you will be aware of the racism, xenophobia and islamophobia that is plaguing Europe. A group calling itself PEGIDA, a German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West”, has been demonstrating against Muslims in Europe. Not to mention the frequent attacks by racist extremists against Muslims and the burning down of their mosques.
10: Your impressions about Pakistan and its people?
Pakistan is a beautiful country with immense potential. I say this having travelled extensively to all provinces.
Pakistani people are very talented which, coupled with its abundant natural resources, makes me think that we shall soon witness Pakistan’s economic boom. It is a great injustice that a negative image of Pakistan is being portrayed by the international media, including even by a portion of the Pakistani press.
Pakistani people have great respect for family, their culture, values and traditions. This makes them very resilient against challenges. And they are very very hospitable. As you can see we Turks have a great affection for Pakistanis!