Pakistan’s relationship with the United States since 1947 has followed a tortuous and unpredictable course. The relationship had always been transactional – focusing on immediate goals dictated by how each party perceived the realities on the ground during a particular time period. In its relations with the United States, has Pakistan played its cards carefully?
Pakistan and Turkey have equally important strategic assets. Both control or overlap important land corridors and sea communication routes linking the regional hub of the Eurasian landmass. Turkey controls the Dardanelles – the strait that connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. On the other hand, the land corridor linking the Pakistani port of Gwadar to China and Central Asia can be likened to a land Suez Canal. Gwadar is located close to the Strait of Hormuz, which controls around 35% of the world’s maritime oil shipments and 20% of the world’s traded oil.
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Pakistan and Turkey
Pakistan and Turkey also have almost the same challenges: during the Cold War, Pakistan was promoted by the United States as “the most ally of allies”. With a backward industrial base and, according to Chester Bowles, “divided into two halves and divided by 1,000 miles of Indian territory”, entry into US-sponsored military alliances was a good stopgap measure for Pakistan, a respite until the country became autonomous.
As Pakistan joined US-sponsored military pacts to achieve a balance of power with India, the US saw it as Pakistan’s will to fight communism. So, from the start, it was a marriage of convenience for both parties. In the past, the United States has provided economic and military aid to Pakistan despite the latter’s refusal to join the American war effort in Korea and Vietnam. This could be attributed to Pakistan’s willingness to allow US bases on its soil.
In October 1917, six years before the proclamation of the Turkish Republic, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia overthrew the Tsar and proclaimed the formation of the Soviet Union. Fearing the expansionist policies of the Soviet Union, Turkey in 1956 joined the US-sponsored NATO alliance and became a bulwark against the perceived threat of communist expansionism.
Turkey is the anchor of NATO’s southeastern flank and home to its second-largest army. It has stood, until recently, as a bulwark against growing threats to Western interests. Located just 60 miles from the Syrian border, Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey was the crucial staging ground for US strikes during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iraq and the struggle against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
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Throughout the Cold War, Turkey remained a staunch ally of the United States. During the Korean War, he sent a brigade to the Korean Peninsula which fought alongside American forces and was nearly wiped out by the Communists. During all the upheavals that have characterized the tension between the two superpowers, Turkey has aligned itself completely with American interests. Due to the bitterness that engulfed its relations with Arab states, Turkey was the only Muslim country that, in March 1949, established full diplomatic relations with Israel. Israeli airspace, due to the tiny size of this country, is very small. Turkey even allowed Israel to use its airspace to conduct Israeli Air Force exercises.
Like its relationship with Pakistan, the United States has redrawn the parameters of its relationship with Turkey. Driven by Erdogan’s independent posture, including not following the US bandwagon in Syria and Iraq, strategic interests now call for clipping Turkey’s wings by encouraging the long-running Kurdish insurgency that aims to create a Kurdish state from Kurdish populated areas in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
However, due to its intrinsic strength, Turkey will not be intimidated like Pakistan.
In 1973 Turkey invaded Cyprus over the Cyprus problem with Greece and proved that it had the military strength and political will to seek the resolution of its territorial disputes with its neighbors. Currently, Turkey is deploying an armored brigade to Qatar to protect the postage stamp-sized state against Saudi ambitions. Turkey has also established safe zones in Iraq and Syria and its forces are fighting ISIS in these two countries. Here, readers recall Hamid Karzai, the former Prime Minister of Afghanistan, when he said the United States had airlifted ISIS elements into Iraq and Syria and planted them on Afghan soil. . By fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Turkey directly confronts the United States.
By comparing Turkey to Pakistan, the latter has the added advantage of being a nuclear power. Pakistan and Turkey have almost the same geostrategic assets. Why, then, has Pakistan failed to project its power and safeguard its national interests as Turkey has?
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Unlike Pakistan, whose leaders deliberately kept the country terribly dependent on American charity (most of which lined their pockets), Turkey developed three of the four pillars of its national power – 1) the economy; 2) military force and; 3) Scientific research. However, Turkey has been unable to have lasting internal security – the fourth fulcrum of national power. It’s because of the simmering Kurdish insurgency. Despite its internal weaknesses, Turkey is currently the most powerful state in the Middle East, followed by Israel.
Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistani military veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defence, military history, and military technology. He tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.