Turkey, a member of the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), has thrown its weight behind Pakistan’s demand for an unconditional US apology over last year’s deadly Nato air strike.
The air raid on the Salala border post in Mohmand Agency had killed over two dozen Pakistani soldiers and plunged the fragile Pakistan-US counter-terrorism alliance into a deep crisis.
Appearing at a joint news conference with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that his country respects Islamabad’s decision to reconfigure ties with the US.
However, he sought to distance himself from the controversy generated by the blockade of Nato supply routes, saying that it was a prerogative of the Pakistan government.
He made these remarks amidst speculation that Ankara was pushing Islamabad to lift the six-month-old blockade of supplies for US-led foreign forces in Afghanistan at the earliest. Turkey is part of the US-led international coalition fighting the decade-old Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
“As a member of Nato, Turkey believes that such issues should be resolved through mutual dialogue,” Erdogan said in response to a question about the lingering deadlock between Pakistan and the US.
In his remarks, Prime Minister Gilani said that the Salala incident had prompted the shutdown of the Nato supply routes and eviction of US troops from Shamsi Airbase. He added the final decision on Nato routes would be in line with new foreign policy guidelines approved by parliament last month.
The Turkish leader was however sceptical about the Nato/Isaf plans to pull out their troops from Afghanistan by 2014 – the deadline set by US President Barack Obama.
“The drawdown plan might be delayed,” he said. “But I can only tell you my country’s perspective. We will pull out troops only after all other troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan.”
On Afghanistan, Gilani reiterated that his country would support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation. “The world should understand Pakistan’s sacrifices,” he insisted.
For a second day running, the Turkish prime minister addressed simmering tensions between the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
“If the government and the opposition keep fighting among themselves, the people will suffer profoundly,” he said. “We should put the people first. The state is secondary. The purpose of the state is to serve the people, and not anything else.”
If the parties in Pakistan demonstrate shoulder-to-shoulder politics, Pakistan will be able to take its deserving place in the world, Erdogan said.
Reminiscing about the ‘solidarity and cooperation’ which the government and the opposition had when he last visited Pakistan four years back, Erdogan said he wished to see the same cooperation back at home. “I never enjoyed such cooperation in Turkey.”
“If I say this ceiling is white, our opposition would say it is black. But the opposition should always be constructive to serve the common benefits of the people,” he said.
Asked whether he was willing to play the role of a mediator between Pakistan’s government and opposition, Erdogan said he believed that the government and opposition need to stand united to serve the country.
Pak-Turkey ink accords to boost ties
Pakistan and Turkey also signed nine agreements to promote cooperation in different fields, including trade, investment, energy and communications.
The accords included an agreement on bilateral investment, five Memoranda of Understandings (MoUs) mainly on energy, education and communication and two protocols on a joint ministerial commission and cooperation on archives.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2012.