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Why Pakistan Loves Turkey: Saim Saeed

December 12, 2012

Guest post by SAIM SAEED

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Reuters photo

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Reuters photo

Everybody loves Turkey. It’s where Pakistani families go for holidays, where students now go for education, where laborers go for work, where clerics go for counsel, and where both civilian and military officials and dignitaries go to find inspiration. Due to Turkey’s momentous economic and political rise, especially in the last decade, it is being held up to the rest of the Muslim world as a country worth emulating, and experts from everywhere have been referring to the “Turkish model” – an Islamic democracy with a robust economy – as the blueprint for a strong and stable (and still Muslim) country.

The ‘model’ and its applicability has been credited and discredited at length, and my focus is not its feasibility, but its foundations. Turkey has just emphatically elected Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his mildly Islamist AK Party (Justice and Development) for a third consecutive term, as it oversaw the banishment of the Turkish military from politics, a massive economic rise, and a vital role to play in Middle Eastern politics, especially after the Arab Spring. But the truth is that whatever Turkey’s political or socio-economic climate may look like today, it has little resemblance, not just to its Pakistani counterpart, but also to the imagination of the different segments of the Pakistani populace today.

Mohammed Ilyas Khan, the secretary of the Islamic Ideological Council of Pakistan (IIC), the legal body that determines whether Pakistan’s laws adhere to Shari’ah law or not, believes Turkey is a “role model” for Pakistan and that Pakistani madrassas should look more like Turkey’s. More broadly, the religious right loves that Turkey has a ruling Islamist party unafraid to highlight its ideological character. That the Pakistani religious right believes that the 97% Muslim population of Turkey is devout is also inspirational, since they believe that the social malaise in Pakistan is because of an abandonment of Islamic principles. Political parties like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) are nowhere near as Islamic in principle, and that is the sort of ideological shift that they seek.

Speaking of parties, not only do the PPP and the PML-N, but also Imran Khan’s PTI, all profess to aspire to become Turkey. In Erdogan’s Turkey, there is something inspiring about the rise and supremacy of political parties over an entrenched army. To them, Turkey has been able to vanquish its military demons under the guidance of a civilian, democratically elected party. Moreover, this party has been able to lead Turkey to become the sixth largest economy in Europe, while being instrumental in NATO, and negotiations in the Middle East. Imran Khan would particularly admire the balance that Turkey has struck in its alliance with the United States, while still supporting the Palestinian cause.

At the same time, the Pakistani military has had an enduring love affair with Turkey. Musharraf saw himself as a modern-day Pakistani Attaturk who would reaffirm the role the military plays in the secularization and modernization of Pakistan and its political processes. The Pakistani military has taken a leaf from the Turkish military’s book in assuming itself to be the supreme political institution in the country.

And liberals like Nadeem F. Paracha marvel at its secularism.  Pakistani liberals extol how alcohol flows in Turkey’s bars right across mosques, that women are not required veils or headscarves (quite the opposite). They characterize Turkish political parties – even the AK Party, with firm Islamic roots – as essentially secular.

The contradictions in these characterizations are apparent. The religious right and segments of the military loves Turkey’s religiosity, while liberals and other segments of the military love its secularism. The truth is that every image of Turkey that its respective Pakistani perceiver holds is monolithic. None of these respective images allow for the existence of others. A religious Turkey with a religious party, in the minds of the religious right in Pakistan, cannot allow for a secular Turkey with secular people. This is why one does not hear of Turkish wines and raki, their national (alcoholic) drink, being condemned by the right in Pakistan – because it is ignored.

The military must be trying desperately hard to ignore the mass arrests and trials of generals in Turkish court these days, as the Erdogan government continues to become more and more powerful, at the expense of the Turkish military.

While the Pakistani political parties must be ignoring the actual work that the AK party has done in economic development, foreign policy, and public relations that has resulted in the attention that everyone now pays to Turkey, something they are loath to do in Pakistan.

It is marvelous how Turkey can render itself to such diverse entities as successfully as it does, and not just in Pakistan. Erdogan can call Israel a “terrorist state” and still have trade and open borders with it. It can be friends with Iran and still be in NATO. The multiple, and often contradictory, characters and relations it has, seems to be official policy. These interpretations lead to everybody wanting to talk to, if not be, Turkey.

As Madiha Tahir writes, Imran Khan’s rise in popularity has been because he has said everything that different electorates wanted to hear. By being moderate, cosmopolitan, and eloquent, he appeals to the urban middle classes; by being a born-again Muslim, anti-American and anti-drone, he appeases the religious and anti-Western segments of society; and by enough rhetoric on the strengthening of democracy, anti-corruption and other vague enough terms, he appeals to everybody else. In doing so, candidates like Imran Khan tell us more about the people who vote for them than the candidates themselves. In fact, Imran Khan himself is susceptible to the charms of the newest mirror to Pakistani society – Turkey.

All of this of course has nothing to do with the real political realities and machinations taking place in Turkey itself. The AK Party is far from perfect; its spotty record on negotiations over Cyprus, its stubbornness over accepting the Armenian genocide, and its woeful human rights record vis-à-vis the Kurds is there for everyone to see. Turkey also has the highest amount of journalists incarcerated, which puts Erdogan’s commitment to a free media in doubt, while questions regarding his autocratic ambitions continue to linger, especially with the AK Party’s attempts to redraft the constitution. Of course, like other facts, Pakistanis pick and choose which of these they wish to ignore, and which to lionize. Oddly enough, condemnation is something nobody in Pakistan does much of.

(Saim Saeed is a Pakistani student at Bard College, New York.)

18 Comments leave one →
  1. malaydeb permalink
    December 12, 2012 10:32 AM

    An incisive analysis of the modern Turkish state.
    Very well articulated too.

  2. anoop permalink
    December 12, 2012 5:27 PM

    “… Islamic democracy with a robust economy – as the blueprint for a strong and stable (and still Muslim) country…..”
    can’t understand anything. Turkey is neither a islamic democracy nor a muslim country.
    Turkey is a secular democratic republic. Before branding a nation just check its constitution.
    You can’t call India a hindu nation while bjp was in power. Same applies to Turkey also

    • December 12, 2012 11:03 PM

      I think Anoop, you missed the point. The author was saying more about how Turkey is perceived in Pakistan. what Turkey really is, he pretty much clarifies while nearing the end.

    • Art permalink
      December 12, 2012 11:30 PM

      I believe the writer is getting to that point. It is ironical to call Turkey such names considering it has diverse contradictions coexisting together. However, the common ground in Pakistan (again ironical) is the rhetoric that “…Turkey is an Islamic democracy with a robust economy…”.

  3. December 12, 2012 6:07 PM

    For some reason Turkey has been popular in India too.. the Nizams of Hyderabad married to turkish princesses…. and still have close ties with Turkey..

    • meral permalink
      March 24, 2013 10:55 PM

      Because they have Turkish roots

    • May 3, 2015 10:56 PM

      it was because they themselves were muslims of Turkish origin …. and so were many royal muslim families in india

  4. Ozgur Karahn permalink
    December 12, 2012 10:44 PM

    What a native analysis, in fact it bunch of white lies, everyone loves Turkey, AKP is mildly Islamist party and much other, who told you that. Infact every sensible person hates Turkey for its hypocritical policies, on one hand they denounce Israel and other hand are their great supporter, they support freedom of Syrian people from tyrant Bashar but on the other hand suppress their own Kurdish people, deny their democratic rights of language, culture and use F16s on them. They sit with tyrant Saudi & Qatri regimes and talk about freedom, justice and democracy. They are not soft or mild Islamist infact AKP & Erdgan is the Zia of Turkey, what he is sowing now of SaudISNG of Tureky surely their future generation will reap it and mark my words these hypocratic thugs can never decieive people that they are good with imprleist tyrants and people at the same time.

    • serhat permalink
      March 24, 2014 2:01 AM

      in 2001 when Erdogan came to power goverment was paying around 84 % of all the taxes for depths and its interest and the remaining 16 % for salaries and investments
      but in 2012 goverment pays less than 14% of all collected tax for depth and interst and theremaining 84% now for investments, education, health and salries.
      high speed trains, motorways through the country, and earlier it was military was taking the biggest part from the national budget but today it is education and health system
      universities now free for all – it was not before erdogan
      18 parties run in the last elections and Erdogans AKP got 49 % of all…
      nation loves him…
      who does not love him is;
      the people who had all types of privilegiums eventhough majority of those people were state employed such as in military, judicail system or busines men but they earn money not from free market but due to monopols they had or special relations they had with burokrats.

      now nations sources being spent for all the nation but not only for them who had the control over the country before akp….

      Youtube was not payin tax in TUrkey but in europe, america and many other countries… when it was turned off, there was an international campaign that erdogan searching for diktator power… but he did not gave up and now youtube paying nearly 50 million dolar yearly…

  5. December 17, 2012 9:35 PM

    Over the last nearly 100-years, after WWI, after the Ottoman Empire was dismantled, the Islamic world has been under the thumb of Western powers.

    Turkey (begging to be incliuded in the EU), Saudi Arabia, Iran under Shah, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt are significantly or practically influenced by Pax Americana..

    The probable model for the Islamic world can be China – authoritarian, reasonably liberal, economically and technologically progressive.

    Is there a huge difference between 1-party democracy and 2-party democracy?

  6. December 18, 2012 4:09 AM

    Those Pakistanis who admire Turkey would do well to remember that the architect of modern Turkey was Kamal Efendi Ataturk, whose views on religious diktats or rather on religion itself was far from flattering. The following quote appears quite revealing.

    “For nearly five hundred years, these rules and theories of an Arab Shaikh and the interpretations of generations of lazy and good-for-nothing priests have decided the civil and criminal law of Turkey. They have decided the form of the Constitution, the details of the lives of each Turk, his food, his hours of rising and sleeping the shape of his clothes, the routine of the midwife who produced his children, what he learned in his schools, his customs, his thoughts-even his most intimate habits. Islam – this theology of an immoral Arab – is a dead thing. Possibly it might have suited tribes in the desert. It is no good for modern, progressive state. God’s revelation! There is no God! These are only the chains by which the priests and bad rulers bound the people down. A ruler who needs religion is a weakling. No weaklings should rule!

  7. Sharmishtha permalink
    December 23, 2012 9:37 AM

    To follow up @Sceptic’s observations above, Turkophilic Pakistanis should also keep in mind that Mustafa Kemal had taken on the western occupying armies, had physically thrown them out of Turkey. The Ottomans, Caliphs of Islam, would always be associated with defeat and craven surrender to the invaders. Much like Nehru’s stature in the freedom movement enabled him to push through the Hindu Code Bill in independent India, Ataturk’s prestige as victor against the west gave him the needed legitimacy to carry out his anti-religious, secularizing drive (some of which I find rather extreme but not surprising given his hatred of the Ottoman system). If Pakistan wants to follow in Turkey’s footsteps, it needs to first recast itself from client state to sovereign nation.

  8. December 23, 2012 1:57 PM

    You make a very pertinent point. It’s hard to imagine Ataturk’s success in carrying out the kind of reforms that he envisaged without the image of a victor against the west.

  9. Mete V permalink
    December 26, 2012 8:52 PM

    This article is about Pakistan. If it were about Turkey, we would have to call it ‘very shallow’.

  10. Farhan Mirza permalink
    February 2, 2013 1:17 PM

    be a pakistani and be a muslim i love turkey and i love turkey plays and music love from pak :)

    • serhat permalink
      March 24, 2014 2:08 AM

      In Turkey everyone loves Pakistan… actually if anyone you ask who is the most trustable for Turkey, no doubt that it would be Pakistan poeple would be saying.
      We are hoping that Pakistan with its huge poulation and potential will develop speedly its economy and democracy. for Turkey this means a strong brother and support in world scene.

  11. May 5, 2015 10:33 AM

    I guess India & not Pakistan is a closer analogue to Turkey . Both India & Turkey have on one hand a large growing section of stauchly anti-Religion (anti-Hindu or anti-Islam) esp. in the civil society & at the same time they are ruled by parties & men (Erdogan & Modi) who play the Development card to not-so-religious (quasi-liberal) middle class & Religion card to the utterly religious Conservatives .

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