Ankara comes to Islamabad's aid for floods (but with weapons as a dowry)
by Marta Ottaviani

The humanitarian emergency has become an opportunity to relaunch partnership. Ankara is ready to build thousands of housing units for affected Pakistani families. Armaments, construction and agriculture are the sectors of greatest interest. In the background a sahred ideology marked by nationalism and a vision of Islam as well as the (possible) tensions with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Milan (AsiaNews) - Turkey is once again using solidarity as a weapon of geopolitical influence. This time, the recipient of its attentions is Pakistan. The violent rains that have fallen in recent days have caused over 1200 deaths and submerged a third of the territory.

In addition to mourning, there are billions of dollars of damage and a nation to rebuild and the Turkish president did not let this opportunity slip through his fingers. Last week, still in the midst of the emergency, he sent a large delegation to Islamabad, led by the Ministry of the Interior, Suleyman Soylu, and the Ministry for the Environment and Climate Change, Murat Kurum. They were accompanied by a task force from Afad, the Turkish civil defence, but above all from Toki, the powerful urban planning and construction authority. The latter will build 4,620 emergency shelters for the families affected by the disaster.

The humanitarian effort is no accident. Relations between Turkey and Pakistan have become increasingly close in recent years, thanks in part to Recep Tayyip Erdogan's constant emphasis on common Muslim roots. This synergy is strongly desired by Ankara, for which Pakistan represents a major asset to insinuate itself into a complex and strategic region, but also by Islamabad, for which Turkey represents an important conduit to open up to new markets and acquire valuable know-how in sectors such as agriculture and construction to push domestic development.

Above all, weapons. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), between 2016 and 2019, Turkey supplied Pakistan with 112 million weapons, to which must be added the three billion dollars for the purchase of four corvettes and 30 helicopters 129 Atak.

A "mutual strategic understanding", as the Pakistani president, Arif Alvi, called it, has led to the signing of 13 strategic agreements in 2020 alone and Erdogan will soon be paying an official visit. These two countries have traits in common that also attract the attention, and in some cases the concern, of the international community. They are in fact two medium-sized powers, but they aspire to autonomy in the defence industry and to influence macro-regional balances. Turkey's ambitions are greater and more motivated than Pakistan's; it is a fact that this alliance can be particularly useful in influencing particularly complex situations. The great test case for this synergy is Afghanistan.

But there are also other open fronts to consider, involving 'neighbours' who could help to strengthen this understanding. This is why in January, shortly before the start of the war in Ukraine, Ankara and Islamabad signed a joint declaration in which they essentially said they had found a common platform on certain international issues that, to different degrees and in different ways, are of interest to both nations. Specifically the island of Cyprus, Kashmir and Nagorno-Karabakh.

This 'mutual strategic understanding', however, also has very specific ideological and cultural contours. Turkey and Pakistan are expressions of the attempt to give birth to an Islamic nationalism, by all means available, even television. In a world whose consciences are now forged by fiction, Ankara dubbed the TV series Dirilis: Ertugul, about the father of one of the founders of the Ottoman Empire, which was watched by millions of viewers in Pakistan.

It was such a huge success that the two countries decided to produce a second series, entitled Turk Lala, about a Pakistani man who is catapulted into the past, to Turkey in 1920 to be precise, and goes to fight in the ranks of the Ottoman Empire, coincidentally against the West. Islamic nationalism, then, but extremely pragmatic and oriented towards building a common and shared vision, where, however, Ankara must be careful not to upset other great powers in the Islamic world, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia, which, for different reasons, pay Islamabad as much special attention as Turkey.