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By Javad M. Goraya
Q 1. Turkey is at forefront of different causes and issues facing the Ummah including Kashmir. What are your views on the global conflict resolution standards and mechanism and handling of unresolved issues like Kashmir and Palestine?
Ans : The worsening nature of conflicts across the world is alarming. Around 2 billion people currently live in countries affected by conflicts. However, some nations and geographies suffer even more, particularly the Islamic world. In fact, around 60 % of conflicts take place within the OIC. Recent developments in the Caucasus confirm that terms such as “frozen” or “protracted” conflicts are misnomers. A conflict is a conflict and it can escalate at any moment. Leaving it unresolved, poses threats to human security, has socio-economic costs and holds parties back from realizing their full potential.
Prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts are therefore key to regional stability and development. This is why peaceful resolution and mediation are among our top foreign policy priorities. We are raising awareness on the importance of mediation and building capacity through different mechanisms. For example, the three distinct Groups of Friends of Mediation that we simultaneously co-chair at the UN, the OSCE and the OIC help promote the role of mediation in conflict resolution. (We are pleased to have Pakistan as member of both groups at the UN and the OIC). The annual Istanbul Mediation Conferences and the “Mediation for Peace” Certificate Programme are also among our key contributions to the field.
Kashmir issue remains the core issue between India and Pakistan, with significantly more ramifications for the regional and global stability. Keeping the ethnic and religious composition of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir unchanged has remained central to the decades-old conflict. Thus, we believe that recent unilateral steps which eroded the special status of Jammu and Kashmir have further complicated the situation in Kashmir. President Erdogan has taken a clear stance in support of the resolution of the problem. Turkey maintains its view that the problem should be solved through dialogue between India and Pakistan, in line with the legitimate expectations of the Kashmiri people, within the framework of the UN Charter and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.
Concerning Palestine, defending an independent and sovereign State of Palestine with Al Quds Al Sharif as its capital is the common cause of the Muslims. We are at a critical juncture in this conflict. The vision of a two-state solution has been damaged. With the developments of the past few months, the internationally agreed parameters have increasingly come under attack. The so-called normalization agreements also sought to set back the Palestinian cause. In that sense, we do appreciate the Pakistani stance. To prevail against the coordinated attempts to undermine the Palestinian cause is our duty.
We should continue to support all international initiatives that could help advance a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian conflict based on internationally accepted parameters, including UNSC and UNGA resolutions. We can also take determined action and measures within the OIC. In this context, we support President Abbas’ call for a UN led international peace conference. We must make every effort to keep the ongoing injustice in Palestine on the agenda of the international community. We are communicating these messages to all our counterparts and we are looking forward to coordinating with our Pakistani brothers.
On the Cyprus issue, Turkey advocates a fair, lasting and sustainable settlement on the Island. Despite our efforts and goodwill, we still cannot talk about a settlement. The Greek Cypriot side does not want to share the power as well as the wealth with the Turkish Cypriots, the co-owners of the Island. Since 1968, every negotiation process aiming bi-zonal, bi-communal federation has failed for the same reason. The federation model has also been exhausted. Therefore, we need to be realistic. There are two peoples, two democracies and two states on the Island. A settlement will be only possible, if it is based on these realities. Therefore, we fully support the Turkish Cypriot people’s vision to negotiate two-state settlement based on sovereign equality. We believe that this would be a win-win situation for both sides on the Island. With this understanding, we will continue to support the efforts of the UN Secretary General.
The Nagorno Karabakh issue is also worth mentioning in this regard. This destabilised the South Caucasus for almost three decades, caused by Armenia, attacking and grabbing 20 % of Azerbaijan’s territories. From the beginning, Azerbaijan had the moral high ground. Four UN Security Council resolutions called for the return of these territories to the rightful owner; but Armenia did not heed to these calls. Armenia also occasionally provoked Azerbaijan so as to complicate things and stall efforts for the resolution of the conflict based on international law. The international community, mainly the OSCE, failed to produce a solution which required Armenia to end its occupation. Finally, following further Armenian provocations last summer, Azerbaijan acted in self-defence and achieved a well-deserved victory. In the end, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan was restored to a large degree. Turkey stood on the side of Azerbaijan not just because of our brotherhood but also because Azerbaijan had international law on its side. Following the end of the fighting on 10 November 2020, there is now a new reality on the ground and we hope Armenia will draw lessons from its past mistakes and this time take a constructive step. It is now time to establish lasting peace and stability in the region. Turkey will continue to support Azerbaijan in this phase as well.
Q 2. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan repeatedly talks about settlement of differences between major Muslim states. What is Turkey’s vision, recent actions and plans to resolve these issues and make OIC a cohesive bloc to face global challenges . Also could you share the performance and potential of the OIC, also as an economic bloc?
Ans. OIC is founded to protect the common interests and support the legitimate causes of its member states and the Ummah in general. To this end, we believe that it is imperative to unify the efforts of the member states in view of the various challenges faced by the Ummah.
During Turkey’s OIC Summit Chairmanship between 2016-2019, we initiated a reform process within the OIC towards making the Organization more effective to live up to the expectations of the Muslims all over the world.
When it comes to economic sphere, statistics speak for themselves. Total OIC trade volume remains approximately at 4 trillion USD. While this is a huge number, the progress in intra-OIC trade cooperation remains insufficient. There is a need for quick operationalization of trade facilitation schemes such as the OIC Trade Preferential System (OIC-TPS) in order to reach the goals enshrined in the OIC 2025 Program of Action adopted at the 13th Islamic Summit held in I?stanbul in 2016.
We also try to contribute to improvement of cross-border business relations and resolution of trade disputes among the OIC members. With this understanding, Turkey has completed the legal procedures for hosting the OIC Arbitration Center in Istanbul. In this regard, we are working closely with the Karachi-based Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (ICCIA) for making this Center operational soon.
Nowadays, the world has been suffering from the adverse effects of Covid-19 pandemic. So far, we have assisted 156 countries more than 40 of which are OIC member states and observers. Furthermore, under the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation (COMCEC) chaired by H.E. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “the COMCEC COVID-19 Response Program” has been recently adopted at the 36th COMCEC Ministerial session held in last November in order to help the member countries in their efforts towards mitigating the adverse effects of the pandemic.
Unfortunately Islamophobia has been rising throughout the world. In view of this phenomena, we strongly supported Pakistan’s initiative to designate 15 March as “International Day to Combat Islamophobia” adopted at the 47. Session of OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) recently held in Niamey. We hope the next CFM to be hosted by Pakistan this year will also bear significant outcomes for the Ummah.
Q3. Turkey has grown over 5% on average since 2003, is a G-20 economy and has ended dependence on IMF programs. Please share major decisions behind this turnaround and lessons for economies like Pakistan and other developing countries who are aspiring self-reliance.
Ans: Turkey is an upper middle-income country with a population of 83 million and a GDP of US$ 750 billion. As such, in 2019, it ranked as the 19th largest economy in terms of nominal GDP and 13th largest in terms of PPP. As you stated, Turkish economy grew by an average of 5% in the 2003-2019 period.
This was largely due to prudent monetary and fiscal policies, uninterrupted structural reforms, and political stability in our country. Key reforms and legislative efforts were also put in place to improve Turkey's investment environment and increase direct investments needed for Turkey's sustainable development. As a result, we made gradual progress in the World Bank’s Global Ease of Doing Business Index, from 84th place among 155 countries in 2006, to 33rd among 190 countries in 2020. While our total FDI inflows stood at USD 15 billion in the early 2000s, we were able to attract a total FDI of USD 218 billion in 2019.
Trade has also been a priority area. We managed to transform our export base from textiles to more sophisticated and higher value-added products. Today, machinery, motor vehicles and electronics constitute our top export goods. From a mere USD 32 billion in 2001, Turkey exported USD 180 billion in 2019. Even in the shade of Covid-19, our country managed to export USD 169,5 billion worth of goods in 2020. (2020 FDI inflow neared to USD 4 billion.)
On the services front, tourism receipts made an annual contribution of USD 35 billion in 2019. In 2019, Turkey was the 6th most visited country with 52 million international arrivals. (14,5 million in the 11 months of 2020)
Defense industry, which is an R&D intensive sector that nurtures other industries, was another area that we focused on in terms of high value-added production and exports. We consider Turkish defense industry as the showcase of our utmost technical capability. At the same time, it is a good indicator of our self-reliance, which is a product of our decades-long efforts to that end.
Turkey is a candidate country in accession negotiations with the European Union. Our economic ties with the EU based on the EU-Turkey Customs Union are quite advanced. EU accounts for more than 40% of our total trade. But it is not limited to this. Through 21 FTAs we managed to expand our economic relations well beyond the EU.
Of course, following the Covid-19 outbreak, we all faced a multitude of major challenges. According to the World Bank surveys, two-thirds of global companies in developing countries are encountering problems such as supply chain disruptions, drops in revenues, and in production. As a result, economic indicators have declined to levels unprecedented for generations.
However, the resiliency of our economy, combined with steps taken in a timely and effective manner by our Government, helped us emerge from this crisis with the least damage. The numbers are not out yet, but Turkish economy is expected to display positive growth in 2020, despite the challenges.
As always, we stand ready to further strengthen our economic cooperation with Pakistan and assist Pakistan in any way we can on its path to becoming a global economic powerhouse building on its vast potential.
Q 4. Please share the potential of Pakistan-Turkey economic cooperation, follow up of economic cooperation framework signed between both countries, opening of Pakistan, Iran and Turkey Railway link and Pakistan’s importance as an important member of Chinese Belt and Road Project.
Ans: We are in favor of enhancing regional and interregional uninterrupted connectivity through cooperation with partner countries.
Increasing transport and energy connections is a driver for growth and jobs, and helps attract investments. Improving connectivity between our countries will bring clear benefits for our economies. This represents a strategic interest as well. We are always open to explore and work on concrete regional infrastructure investment projects in transport and energy networks.
In this regard, our Trans-Caspian East-West Middle Corridor Initiative has become prominent. Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway as an important component revitalizing the Historical Silk Road has not only united the East and West, but also has strengthened the interregional communication, ensured cultural exchange and increased the trade volume.
Turkey approaches BRI as a win-win project for all parties and considers it as a useful incentive for the revival of the historical Silk Road. Pakistan is also located at a very central position along this Road. As such, we see Pakistan as an indispensable part of the BRI. Given the close ties between Turkey and Pakistan, we believe BRI is another chance of furthering this cooperation.
The idea of opening an experimental train route between Turkey and Pakistan first raised during the Economic Cooperation Organization’s (ECO) Ministerial Meeting held in Antalya on 15-17 April 2008. This first experimental journey which started from Islamabad on 14 August 2009, was completed in Istanbul in 13 days. The return journey on the Istanbul-Ankara-Van-Teheran-Zahedan-Islamabad route that started on 2 August 2010 reached Islamabad in 11 days. (The route of ITI train is 6.443 km. in total, of which 1.850 km. is in Turkey, 2.603 km. is in Iran and 1.990 km. is in Pakistan.)
Since the beginning, 14 trains have travelled on the route, 6 from Pakistan to Turkey, 8 from Turkey to Pakistan. Last of these trains ran on 25 November 2011 and unfortunately ITI trains were stopped after that due to the lack of sufficient demand.
However, to revive the ITI route, Turkish Railways Directorate General (TCDD) hosted an ECO High Level Working Group Meeting in Ankara on 20-21 August 2020, during which it was decided to determine a new train schedule and fee tariff. As a follow-up, TCDD, Iran Railways, Pakistan Railways and ECO Secretariat came together on a video-conference of the ECO High Level Working Group Meeting on 27 November 2020. During the meeting, it was decided that the ITI train would resume operations in January 2021 and the TCDD’s proposal to add conventional railcars to container railcars was accepted. Lastly, on 11 January 2021, the tariffs and train parameters were finalized. It is my pleasure to inform that the ITI train is proposed to be running again from January-February 2021.
Q5. Pakistan and Turkey both have a very young population bound by shared religious, cultural and historic ties. How can our heritage and value lead to greater cultural and people to people interaction and growth of tourism?
Ans: The people to people affinity between our two nations goes way back, all the way to the glorious Mughal Empire. Turkish people, in their collective memory, always cherish how their Muslim brethren in the sub-continent came to their help in their darkest hour, during our War of Independence in 1920’s. The unique bonds between our peoples is a fundamental asset in terms of our relationship. On the other hand, thanks to remarkable investments in recent decades, Turkey is now one of the leading destinations in global tourism. Before the pandemic we were welcoming more than 40 million tourists, ranking 6th in the World. Pakistan also offers significant opportunities, with its natural beauties, its unspoiled nature, scenic regions, picturesque heights and its warm people.
The exchange of tourists between our countries remains low. Having said that, thanks to the enormous success that Turkish dramas, such as Dirilis-Ertugrul enjoyed in Pakistan, I am pleased to see that more and more Pakistani tourists are showing interest in visiting Turkey. Similarly, as the current cooperation between our two national flag carriers, Turkish Airlines and PIA developed further, I believe Pakistan will figure highly among the choices of Turkish tourists looking for alternative destinations.