Turkic influence on Pakistan

While Turkey's military has been playing an increasingly invisible role, reflecting the maturation of its polity, Pakistan's military continues to be very visible, reflecting the weakness of its political institutions

Speaking at an iftar organized by the Turkish business community for the earthquake victims in Pakistan, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan noted, "Pakistan has held a very special place for us since the days of the Dardanelles Wars (World War I). They did not abandon us and we cannot leave them in such times as these either." 

Turkey's rapid response to the earthquake underscores the close ties between the two countries. Within a day, Turkey had rushed to Islamabad nine planes loaded with tents and blankets. Subsequently, Turkish rescue and health teams arrived to assist in search and rescue efforts. On October 22 Mr Erdogan became the first foreign leader to tour Pakistan after the earthquake and pledged $150 million for relief and rehabilitation, making Turkey the single largest donor nation.

This was Erdogan's second visit to Pakistan, the first one having taken place shortly after he was sworn into office in 2003. There is much that is common between the two countries. Both countries trace their evolution over the last millennium to Turkic people who migrated from Central Asia to Persia and set up empires that lasted for centuries, giving them a rich imperial legacy. While their languages are not alike, there are several Turkish words in Urdu. Urdu itself is a Turkish word meaning army. This refers to the manner in which Urdu evolved - it was a means of communication between the multi-ethnic Muslim armies that ventured into India several hundred years ago.

There is a strong Turkic influence on Pakistani culture. The shared history goes back to the time when the Seljuks, a Turkic people from Central Asia, poured southward into Persia in 1037 and established the Empire of the Great Seljuks. One branch of the Seljuks took over Ghazni in Afghanistan, ruled by Sultan Mahmud from 997-1030. Mahmud's grandfather was a Turkic general from Turkestan who had crossed the Hindu Kush mountains to seize Ghazni, located strategically on the road between Kabul and Kandahar. At its peak, his empire included all of Afghanistan, most of modern Iran and parts of Pakistan and northern India. During his time, Ferdausi wrote the Shahnamah and Al Beruni his classic treatise on India.

In 1071, another branch of the Seljuk family moved west from Persia. It engaged the armies of the Byzantine emperor in what is now eastern Turkey and defeated them decisively. After that, the Seljuk Turks flooded into Anatolia, taking control of most of eastern and central Anatolia. They established their capital at Konya around 1150 and created the western (Rum) Seljuk sultanate. During their reign, Maulana Rumi penned his Masnavi and established a Sufi order that has a large global following.

Over time, the Seljuks in Turkey were succeeded by the Ottomans who went on to establish an empire that lasted for six centuries, from 1299 to 1922. In the subcontinent meanwhile Mahmud Ghazni had been succeeded by other Muslim rulers including the Mughals. The movement to revive the Khilafat after the defeat of the Ottomans in World War I received a boost from the Muslims of the subcontinent. Even though the movement failed in its political objectives, it did underscore the desire of the two peoples to work together, as was noted by Erdogan. 

The two countries were established as modern republics in the aftermath of world wars in the last century, Turkey after the first and Pakistan after the second. The military has played a crucial role in the political evolution of both and to this day regards itself as the guarantor of national security. Both countries have had a difficult time dealing with their minorities and have often used military force to suppress their rights to prevent secession. Both partnered with the US in the Cold War against the Soviet Union and are active in the current fight against terrorists. Most recently, Turkey's foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, helped broker the first official contact between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Israel. 

But they differ in significant ways. Pakistan's founder, an attorney turned politician, passed away within a year of its birth but Turkey's founder, a war hero turned politician, lived on for 15 years after its birth. Thus, Turkey experienced more stability and continuity than did Pakistan in its early years. And while Turkey's military has been playing an increasingly invisible role, reflecting the maturation of its polity, Pakistan's military continues to be very visible, reflecting the weakness of its political institutions. A final difference is that while Pakistan's military has a history of associating with radical Muslim groups, Turkey's military does not. 

Today, Turkey has a population half as large as Pakistan's but an economy that is three times larger. So, even though the average Turk earns a third of his European counterpart, he still makes seven times more than the average Pakistani. Seeking to improve the standard of living of both countries, Erdogan expressed a desire at the 8th ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) summit to increase bilateral trade with Pakistan from its current level of $200 million to $1 billion.

Between 1964 and 1979, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey formed an economic bloc called the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD). It became dysfunctional with the fall of the Shah of Iran. However, in 1985 the RCD was reborn as the ECO. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was expanded to include several Central Asian states. It now includes Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The ECO is aimed at boosting economic cooperation, trade and communication links in three important regions of the Asian continent - Central, West and South Asia. Six summits of the heads of member states have been held but the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan-Iran differences have prevented the ECO from realizing its potential.

Turkey, an increasingly confident democracy and a stable Muslim country, is being upheld by the US as a role model for the Muslim world. But General Musharraf's attempts to import the Kemalist model soon after he seized power six years ago backfired. To his credit, he has changed his position and feels that the Turkish model will have to be modified before it can be applied to Pakistan. 

To understand what changes may need to be made in this model, one has to first understand Turkey's strategic culture. This requires examining the historical evolution of Turkey, exploring the fault-lines that permeate its body politic and assessing its future prospects. These topics will be discussed in future columns.

Dr Ahmad Faruqui is director of research at the American Institute of International Studies and can be reached at [email protected]

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Older Comments:
Article looks like an interesting description of joint histories, but then falls apart on the history of Turkey and Pakistan this century. Giving undue credit to Mustafa Kemal is ridiculous, far from providing stability, the man stripped away as much of Islam as he could, the joint heritage of having the same Arabic script for their languages was eliminated, so much for his contribution to a "joint history".

Panning Pakistan's military for alleged links with radical Muslim groups (nurtured by the US in Afghanistan up to the early 90's) and implying praise of Turkey's military by stating that it's military does not associate with such groups is absurd. Obviously a secular fundamentalist military will not associate with radical Muslim groups, far from it, the Turkish army will not even take new recruits who have a slightly scuffed right foot as it is evidence that he has prayed at some time during his life.

Referring to the Turkish military's invisible role is utter rubbish, it took over once, and it bundled out an elected Islamic leaning government only a few years ago. It would readily do it again, if it wasn't for their concern that such a move will do its vehemently anti-Islamic, pro-secular, self appointed stewardship of the country irreparable damage, as their application to join the European Union would be thrown out the instant it acted with the impunity it has done so with in the past.

Quite how 'helping' Pakistan have contact with Israel is somehow praiseworthy beggars belief. The fact that Turkey (the government i.e. military, at least) is friend of Israel shows how callous it is towards the plight of the Palestinians.

Finally if Turkey is so economically powerful, how come a there are 60 Pakistani Rupees to the US Dollar and 1.3 Million Turkish Lira to a Dollar?

Perhaps these are the reasons why the present Military Ruler Gen. Musharraf wants to go down in the history as "Ata Turk" of Pakistan!

Perhaps these are the reasons why the commando General Mush. wants to become Pakastan's 'Ata Turk". All he has to do to save Pakistan from the clerics and enemies of the country, is to smash them hard and start reconstruction of Pakistan. He might succeed if he were to last another 50 years and of course a bit of divine help.