Today the global competition shifting to the Asia-Pacific and Pakistan becomes an important ally for international actors. Islamabad, a key actor in relations with India, China, Russia, Turkey and US, has strengthened its position in the international competition with the growing geopolitical importance of South Asia. Taking a decisive position against the USA’s containment policy to China in the region, Pakistan is also taking various steps to resolve the Kashmir crisis. On the one hand Turkey is an important ally of Islamabad, on the other hand is developing its relations with Russia in the military field. Pakistan, which plays a role in the negotiations between Afghans, aims to be a powerful actor in solving regional problems.
We spoke about Pakistan’s position and role in the resolution of crisis in Asia with Samran Ali, a Research Assistant at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad.
Cooperation with Turkey in the defense industry
Turkey and Pakistan have adopted a road map for joint steps in the defense industry. The US has blocked the export of ATAK helicopters from Turkey to Pakistan, and Islamabad agreed to extend the treaty for 6 months. On the other hand, if defense cooperation deepens, then Turkey would get the chance to access Chinese defense technology through Pakistan, according to a report by Bloomberg last week. Beyond that, you also discuss the cooperation between the two countries in the field of nuclear weapons in one of your articles. To what extent can the two countries advance defense cooperation, overcoming United States sanctions?
Pakistan and Turkey are committed to cooperating in the defense industry. Be it the ATAK helicopter deal or the MILGEM Class Corvettes for Pakistan Navy, we can see that both countries continue defense cooperation backed by their strong relations and strategic needs. Both countries hope for the ATAK deal to materialize despite all the hurdles. Either the improvement of relations between Turkey and the US in the future or the successful development of the local engine for the T129 helicopters can get the helicopters delivered to Pakistan. Defense cooperation between the two countries is progressing well where the US is not involved or has little stakes.
Regarding the Turkish access to the Chinese technology through Pakistan, Turkey may want to diversify its defense procurement after being sanctioned the sanctions by the US. One area of interest with China and Pakistan can be the development of fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Pakistan and Turkey can benefit from China in this area.
I objected in my article to the debate in the international media that Turkey was developing a nuclear bomb with Pakistan’s help. This type of commentary is being done to malign the close cooperation between the two countries and has other political motives.
Stance of Islamabad on the Cyprus issue
The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Pakistan and Azerbaijan gathered in Islamabad on January 13, 2021. They raised the issue of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Eastern Mediterranean on this summit, as well. Which steps can Pakistan take regarding the Cyprus question in these times when the Turkey-Pakistan relation has gained a strategical dimension?
Pakistan has a firm stance on the issue of Cyprus and supports Turkey’s position, and the same goes for the Turkish position on the issue of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K). Pakistan will continue expressing its support for the Turkish position on international forums and call for the resolution of the dispute by protecting Turkish national interests.
Solving the Kashmir issue
There have been new developments on the Kashmir crisis between Pakistan and India. “It’s time to bury the past and move forward”, the Chief of Army Staff Bajwa said in regard to the relation with India. Do you think this is an important call to open the way for dialogue between the two countries? Can the two countries solve this crisis together? How will the results be reflected in Asia?
Pakistan has a clear stance on peace with India. It wants to address all the outstanding issues including the issue of Kashmir with India through dialogue. Gen. Qamar J. Bajwa has echoed the same sentiments for peace again. The Kashmir issue remains the heart of the problem. He has called India to create a “conducive environment” in IOJ&K for the resumption of meaningful dialogue. The statement is important because it comes after the February 2019 Crisis and the Indian revocation of the special status of IOJ&K on August 5, 2019. Pakistan has made a peace overture to India, now we should see how India reciprocates Pakistan’s call for peace in the region. Settlement of disputes between the two countries can bring not only peace to the region but also economic prosperity through trade and connectivity.
Role of Pakistan in intra-Afghan talks
There was no result from the negotiation among Afghans that started in Doha under the leadership of the USA. Right after the talks in Moscow, Russia, the US, China, and Pakistan called the sides to immediately start negotiations. What do you think about the course of the negotiations? What will be the role of Pakistan during these negotiations?
Pakistan has played an important role in the negotiations between the US government and the Taliban and also in the intra-Afghan peace talks. Progress on intra-Afghan talks is linked with the development between the US and the Taliban. We may see some development after the Biden Administration decides on the 2020 Peace Deal and its implementation. Pakistan hopes to see progress on both fronts as it is closely working with the Biden Administration on the issue. However, Pakistan has also warned about the spoilers and does not want Afghan soil to be used against it by any third party.
Importance of China-Pakistan economic corridor
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is one of the key factors of the Belt and Road Initiative. How is the infrastructure work going? How will the project reflect on Pakistan and the region?
Pakistan has formed a special CPEC Authority to monitor the implementation of the project. The first phase of CPEC has been completed and the second phase is well under development now despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Several road and energy projects have been completed or near completion, while industrial cooperation, agricultural development, and trade promotion are the key aspects of the second phase.
CPEC will increase local employment opportunities through industrial and agricultural growth. It will also bring regional connectivity with more routes in South and Central Asia.
The two routes of the project will reach from China to Pakistan, and then to Myanmar. Do you think the developments in Myanmar have something to do with the Belt and Road Initiative? How does instability there affect the project?
Political instability in Myanmar is not good for the development of Belt and Road initiative projects in the country. China may not be happy with the sudden regime change in the neighboring country where it has invested billions of dollars. Therefore, it is taking careful moves after the coup. China had good ties with Myanmar’s government. It will also not antagonize the country’s military after the coup. China will likely not take sides in the country’s political crisis and try to maintain a balanced approach seeking normalization of the situation in Myanmar.
Relations with Russia
Pakistan signed a deal with Russia for antitank systems, air defense vehicles and rifle shipment last month. They highlighted that the relations would be further enhanced within the context of Shanghai Cooperation Organization. How does the military cooperation reflect on the other areas? Which could be the new areas of cooperation?
After decades of low, Pakistan-Russia will grow gradually over the next years both economically and militarily. Pakistan is used to operate mostly American, Western European, and Chinese defense equipment. Pakistan has now purchased Russian Mi-35 attack helicopters from Russia and signed a couple of other agreements. The common factors of SCO and China are helping to end past mistrust between the two countries.
Additionally, military cooperation will impact positively the other areas of cooperation. The energy sector is one of them, where we will see growth in the coming years. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is likely to visit Pakistan during April 2021, a high-level visit in years, where both sides will sign agreements for cooperation, especially in the defense and energy sectors. Interestingly, Afghanistan has also emerged as an area of cooperation between the two countries as both were on the opposing sides in the country during the Cold War Era.