On the invitation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Chief Minister Punjab Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif visited Istanbul from August 25-27 to attend the opening ceremony of the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge.
The Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, connecting the Asian and European sides of Turkey across the Bosphorous, is highly significant in geographical and strategic terms since the Bosphorous Strait is a crucial international waterway.
The 322-meters high bridge, built for rail and motor vehicle transit, was characterised by CM Shehbaz Sharif as an “engineering marvel”. The budgeted cost for the 2.164 km bridge was around $2.5 billion.
The launching ceremony of the bridge was held on August 26 and was attended by more than 20,000 people.
During his visit, CM Shehbaz Sharif also met Turkey’s highest leadership to congratulate them on the momentous and decisive victory against the failed coup attempt. During his two days in Turkey, the CM also made sure to explore avenues to further enhance bilateral cooperation and trade.
Upon arrival at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, CM Sharif had a brief meeting with Istanbul Governor Mehmet Ali Ulutash and member of Turkish parliament, Burhan Kayaturk, at the airport lounge and offered ‘fateha’ for the martyrs of the July 15 failed coup.
The meeting with Istanbul mayor Dr Kadir Topbas at the historic Beyti restaurant. The CM paid homage to the Turkish leadership and the people for safeguarding their right to rule and foiling the mutiny in a valiant fashion. The CM also shared that on the night of the failed coup attempt, he was not only following all developments but was also constantly in contact with the Pakistani ambassador to Turkey. Dr Topbas mentioned that Pakistan was the first country to have extended resolute support to Turkey in the testing times.
On August 26, at the Hotel Conrad, the CM had an early morning meeting scheduled with a delegation of the General Electric Company. The company is already working on some energy projects in Punjab including the Bhikki Power Plant.
The CM also met Turkish Health Minister Dr Recep Akdag. The main agenda of the meeting was health sector reforms in Punjab. Discussion also included ways to manage the load of patients on major hospitals. The Turkish health minister, a very humble and observant person, happily extended cooperation in the health sector and assured that a team would soon be sent to Pakistan. An MoU was also signed in this regard.
CM Shehbaz Sharif also expressed his gratitude towards the Turkish leadership for setting up the Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital in Muzaffargarh.
Later in the day at a press talk, remarking about the failed coup, CM Sharif said:
“In the past, tanks would roll in to stop the Azaan. This time around, the sound of Azaan drowned the tanks.”
The Turkish health minister said that in the face of the attempted failed coup, Pakistanis showed great solidarity with the people of Turkey. He also remarked: “The hearts of the Turkish and the Pakistani people beat in sync.”
CM Shehbaz Sharif too explicitly vowed: “Turkey’s enemy is Pakistan’s enemy, and Erdogan’s enemy is my enemy!”
Although the schedule for the two-day visit was packed to capacity, with back-to-back engagements, CM did manage to hold a meeting with the Punjab cabinet committee for flood control via video-link.
Later, after having attended the congregational Friday prayer at Dolmabahce Mosque, the CM visited the historic Dolmabahce Palace where the speaker of the Grand National Assembly, Ismail Kahraman, joined him. The CM lauded the role played by the speaker in upholding the sanctity of parliament during the failed coup attempt.
From the palace, the CM’s delegation, accompanied by the speaker of the Grand National Assembly left for the inauguration ceremony of the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge. After attending a vivid and lively ceremony, CM headed towards the president’s house for a dinner meeting that continued for around three hours.
Early morning on the 27th, the CM had a breakfast-meeting with ‘TOKI’, a Turkish housing development company. They showed great interest in developing quality housing schemes for low income households. Although the pre-scheduled engagements were over, CM Shehbaz Sharif’s meetings got scheduled with the president and prime minister of Turkey.
When the CM, accompanied by his delegation, reached the Prime Minister House for the meeting with PM Binali Yildirim, the latter welcomed CM Shehbaz Sharif very warmly.
The CM highly appreciated the role of PM Yildirim for leading from the front during the failed coup attempt. PM Yildirim thanked PM Nawaz Sharif and expressed his gratitude for standing by Turkey in their hour of need. Sounding resolute and firm, the Prime Minister remarked, “We lost our brothers and sisters, but we saved our country!”
The CM Punjab shared with PM Yildirim his meeting with the Turkish health minister. PM Yildirim instantly spoke to the health minister on the phone and asked him to ensure timely measures.
Lastly, the CM had a one-on-one meeting with President Erdogan which continued for over an hour. As a gesture of brotherhood, President Erdogan was wearing a green tie over a white dress shirt. Likewise, CM Sharif had the flags of both Pakistan and Turkey pinned on his coat collar.
The CM paid rich tributes to the dynamic and visionary leadership of President Erdogan, which, to him, was the decisive factor in preserving the will of the people and safeguarding democracy. The CM also praised the people of Turkey for the exemplary display of courage, their commitment to democracy and the great sacrifices they offered on the streets and squares of Turkey in defeating the coup attempt.
Just before departing for Pakistan, the CM received a message from the Bosnian ambassador in Turkey that the Bosnian president, who was also present in Turkey for the opening ceremony of the Bosphorous Bridge, had desired to meet the CM. So, a brief meeting between the two leaders took place at the lounge of the Ataturk airport.
The writer is a digital media consultant for the government of Punjab.