While Saudi Arabia has been the traditional middleman involved in brokering deals between Pakistan’s opposition and government, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s recent visit to Islamabad has firmly established Istanbul’s ability to fill Riyadh’s shoes.
The visit, according to sources, played a successful role in bringing both the coalition government and the opposition to the negotiating table just as tensions had reached a boiling point. Sources add that Premier Erdogan’s visit was in response to a special request from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the army itself.
A number of issues were discussed and agreed upon during the visit, including the smooth transition to a caretaker government, the stepping down of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and letting the court decide the premier’s fate without undue interference.
In addition, Turkey will negotiate with the US and convince Washington to pay $5,000 per Nato container. Istanbul will also provide financial support worth $100 million to the coalition government for various projects so that it may decrease its budget deficit.
The deal brokered by Erdogan between the opposition and government includes providing a guarantee that the prime minister will step down smoothly and that a caretaker government will be set up. In exchange, the opposition has been asked to wait on a court decision on Gilani’s appeal and support the government in passing the upcoming budget.
The sources added that whether the court accepts or rejects the prime minister’s appeal, it has been decided that Gilani will step down. However, if the court lingers over the appeal, the opposition will have to wait and tone down its ‘Go Gilani’ campaign until the caretaker setup is announced.
While an interim setup has not yet been chalked out, the opposition and government have exchanged some names through Erdogan which are to be finalised at a later date. Erdogan has also provided a guarantee to the opposition that the interim government, which is to overlook the next elections, will be neutral.
It’s not merely the domestic political landscape that has caught Istanbul’s attention, however. As a key Nato player, Turkey will play its part in lobbying amongst Nato countries to ensure Pakistan received $5000 per Nato container. “Turkey can use its influence to convince Nato and the US to accept Pakistan’s terms which may pay the way for the restoration of Nato supply routes,” a well-placed source said. Erdogan has also made efforts to pacify Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and other religious parties over their determination to keep Nato routes blocked.
Turkey’s unique position
Although PML-N President Nawaz Sharif’s exile from Pakistan in 1999 was facilitated and guaranteed by the Saudis, both the PPP and Nawaz are now tilting towards Turkey. According to sources, Sharif has distanced himself from Saudi Arabia for personal “family-related” reasons. The PPP, on the other hand, has always been close to Istanbul – so both the opposition and the government felt comfortable negotiation in Erdogan’s presence.
Another emerging political player who has attempted to strengthen his ties with Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party is Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, who recently visited Turkey. Sources say Imran is also onboard regarding the negotiations with Turkey.
However, there was no official confirmation on this from either PPP Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira or any senior PML-N leader.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2012.