Turkey Supports Pakistan in Opposing U.S. Cross-Border Strikes

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 212

Many analysts have commented on Turkey’s increasingly innovative and confident foreign policy initiatives, most recently its Caucasian Stability and Cooperation Platform to defuse tension in a region recently torn by armed conflict between Georgia and Russia. Ankara is now using its good offices in an attempt to quell violence in another volatile region, the Pakistani-Afghan border, where recent U.S. aerial attacks into Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering on the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) have led to rising tension between Islamabad and Washington. The raids have killed dozens of Pakistanis whom Islamabad claims were civilians, adding stress to the two allies in the war on terror.

On October 27 Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani began a four-day official visit to Turkey. In Ankara Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Gilani with full military honors at the Prime Ministry (Hurriyet, October 28). During meetings with Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, Gilani discussed myriad matters of mutual interest, agreeing to sign framework agreements for cooperation in science and technology. Economic issues were also high on the agenda; the two prime ministers agreed to increase bilateral trade from its current level of around $700 million to $1 billion as soon as possible and to fast-track negotiations for a Preferential Trade Agreement. After three days Gilani flew to Istanbul to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) (www.pakwatan.com, October 30).

Economic issues aside, however, Gilani’s greatest accomplishment was to persuade Erdogan to agree to use the Turkish government’s good offices to endeavor to rein in U.S. aerial raids into Pakistani territory. Gilani’s press secretary, Zahid Bashir, confirmed to the Pakistani media that Turkey had informed Pakistan that it would use its “influence” as a NATO member and U.S. ally to attempt to persuade Washington to stop the U.S. incursions into Pakistan’s territory (The News International, November 2).

Not wanting to lose momentum from the commitment, Gilani dispatched Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to Turkey for further discussions. According to the Pakistani Armed Forces (PAF) Inter Services Public Relations, on November 4 Kayani flew from the PAF’s Chaklala Base, where he was seen off by the Turkish ambassador Engin Soysal, for an official visit to Turkey and Saudi Arabia (Inter Services Public Relations Press Release, No/2008-ISPR, November 4).

While attending the WEF in Istanbul, Gilani used the occasion to press home the fact that Pakistan was, in fact, deeply committed to combating terrorism. He told journalists, “We have the will and ability to control and fight extremist terrorism, but the world should also understand that although it is fighting under NATO with very sophisticated weaponry, in Afghanistan they have not achieved desired results” (Turkish Daily News, Oct.31).

Gilani also continued his discussions in Istanbul with Erdogan, where they joined Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Following the discussions, the three leaders subsequently issued a joint declaration that lauded “their comprehensive, cordial, and useful meeting on regional and international issues” and “reiterated their pledge to cooperate towards promoting peace, security, stability and economic development in the region” as it reinforced their commitment to cooperation in counterterrorism efforts (ARY OneWorld, October 31).

As the three leaders conferred, Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted the 17-article Turkiye-Pakistan Ortak Bildirisi, Ankara, 27-31 Ekim 2008 (“Pakistan-Turkey Joint Statement, Ankara, 27-31 October 2008”) on its website (www.mfa.gov.tr/turkiye-pakistan-ortak-bildirisi_-ankara_-27-31-ekim-2008.tr.mfa). Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also posted the Pakistan-Turkey Joint Statement on its website (“Pakistan-Turkey Joint Statement,” October 31, www.mofa.gov.pk/).

While the joint statement does not explicitly mention the Turkish commitment, Article 12 underlined Turkish support for Pakistani territorial integrity, stating:

Turkey expressed full solidarity and support for Pakistan’s sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity. Turkey also expressed support for the efforts of Pakistan to combat the menace of terrorism and extremism. Both sides decided to increase their cooperation in security and counterterrorism (www.mfa.gov.tr/turkiye-pakistan-ortak-bildirisi_-ankara_-27-31-ekim-2008.tr.mfa).

Both Turkey and Pakistan have had significant disagreements with the Bush administration about its actions in the war on terror, while the United States’ NATO allies have been under pressure to accede to U.S. wishes on everything from increasing their troop commitments in Afghanistan to Washington’s insistence during the April NATO summit in Bucharest on admitting Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance.

Ankara’s discreet criticism of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan would carry some weight, inasmuch as Turkey has been involved in efforts to pacify Afghanistan since November 2001, when it sent about 100 troops for International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations. Turkey currently has approximately 750 peacekeepers stationed in and around Kabul.

Nor is Ankara’s intention to use its influence with Washington to ameliorate its “hot pursuit” policy of targeting terrorists in FATA the only international support that Islamabad has received. Another high profile U.S. NATO ally has also recently expressed mounting concern over the U.S. strikes into Pakistan. Britain’s Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw said in an interview with Pakistan’s ARY OneWorld on October 31 that his government opposed any strikes inside Pakistan that did not have the government’s consent, and he urged the U.S. to respect the sovereignty of its allies (Associated Press of Pakistan, October 31).

In the first seven months of this year there were five aerial violations of Pakistani territory by U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Predator aircraft equipped with missiles. It is clear that the tempo has been increasing, as there have been 14 more since July.

In the most recent incident, on October 31, 17 people died and several others were injured in two missile attacks by U.S. UAVs in the North and South Waziristan agencies. Pakistani private television channels put the death toll far higher at 32 (The News International, November 1). The encounters are not without risk: on September 24 Pakistani forces reportedly fired on two U.S. American Kiowa OH-58 reconnaissance helicopters, forcing them away from the frontier. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari strove to downplay the incident, saying that his forces had only fired flares as a way “to make sure that they know that they crossed the border line,” adding, “Sometimes the border is so mixed that they don’t realize they have crossed the border” (Dawn, Sept. 25).

Pakistani objections to the raids have been unavailing. In a recent BBC interview, security correspondent Frank Gardner asked U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates whether Islamabad had authorized the cross-border air strikes. Gates replied, “I wouldn’t go in that direction,” adding, “I would just say that we will take whatever action necessary to protect our troops” (BBC, September 18).

The issue of U.S. military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq will doubtless be deeply affected by the election of Barack Obama as America’s next President. In contrast to the current administration’s “go it alone” policy, Obama pointedly referred in his victory speech to “alliances to repair.” Such an environment will doubtless allow the concerns of vital allies such as Pakistan and Turkey, as well as NATO, to receive a more sympathetic hearing. Its attempts to promote peace in the NWFP adds another element to Turkey’s efforts to promote diplomacy over conflict, in keeping with the dictum of its first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who said, “Yurtta Sulh, Cihanda Sulh” (“Peace at Home, Peace in the World”).