Before we discuss Pakistan’s current foreign policy changes vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia and Turkey, we need to trace back historical roots leading to the current situation.
Pakistan, with its caesarean birth from united India, inherited many fault-lines, the first of it was ideology.
Further, its military size is disproportionately large. Generally, countries with larger areas require proportionate army size for defence. Pakistan, with 881,913 km² is the world’s 34th largest country by area, has the 11th largest army and 9th largest world importer of arms. If you discount the area of Baluchistan which is 40 per cent of Pakistan’s landmass and only 3.6 per cent of its population, it would be at the 50th position (between Yemen and France) in area.
Remember that Baluchistan was an independent country on August 15, 1947, and remained so for 17 months till it was illegally occupied by Pakistan Army on March 28, 1948.
Pakistan’s foreign policy has been, since its inception, guided by the Kashmir conflict which gave Pakistan’s Army the moral justification to exist. Militaries require resources and justifications to exist. Pakistan lacks resources. Further, Pakistan’s military has never won a war because it is not a fighting force. It has always relied on mercenaries and jihadi proxies to infiltrate against India.
Pakistan never had an uninterrupted reign of democracy. The military always governed Pakistan covertly or overtly. Nobody is ever allowed in Pakistan to question the moral or strategic requirements to have such a huge Army.
The official narrative was always Kashmir, which was described as the jugular vein of Pakistan. Well, the abrogation of Article 370A proved that Kashmir was not the jugular vein of Pakistan, but of the Pakistan Army which, since its inception, has been the custodian of its ideology more than of its borders.
Almost 95 per cent area of Kashmir was the Indian part. POK (excluding Gilgit-Baltistan) is a narrow western strip 250 miles long, 10-40 miles wide which is about 13,297 km vs 222,236 sq km of state of J&K, now a Union Territory. It would be naive to expect that any military solution of Kashmir was ever possible. The Pakistan military knew that any peacefully-brokered solution would raise existential questions for the Pakistan Army, so their strategy was to keep this so called conflict alive.
Had Article 370 stayed, the Pakistan Army would have been beating the dead horse of Kashmir forever. The BJP government indeed hit the Pakistani Army very hard.
Pakistan has a malignant narcissistic personality disorder. Immediately after the abrogation of Article 370, it looked towards its shrinking camp of friends which included long-standing benefactor, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia was the main benefactor of Pakistan when Mujahideen were created to fight the USSR.
Recently, however, Saudi Arabia refused to put its weight for Pakistan’s side on Kashmir, whereas Turkish President Erdogan supported Pakistan openly. In February 2020, relations between Turkey and India deteriorated due to Erdogan’s open support for Pakistan and the Kashmiri militants, as well as a pledge of the Turkish leadership to help Islamabad in the conflict with the Financial Action Task Force or FATF.
The President of Turkey said on February 15, 2020: “The state and people of Turkey are in solidarity with the people of Kashmir, which is subjected to various forms of persecution. We are seriously concerned about the situation in the state, which has worsened despite the steps taken in the recent period. Turkey stands for the settlement of the Kashmir dispute through dialogue between Pakistan and India, based on UN resolutions and in accordance with the expectations of our Kashmir brothers.”
In August 2020, the Pakistan government got a rebuke from Saudi Arabia on its demand to support Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. Pakistan said it would seek support from other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Riyadh demanded Islamabad immediately pay $1 billion for oil deliveries and ended the loan and oil supplies agreement between the two countries, making clear how economically dependent Pakistan is.
This rebuke came against the backdrop of Pakistan and Turkish overtures. Both countries have long held each other in reverence and called each other “brother countries.” Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Pakistan; it also lobbied for Pakistan’s membership in the United Nations.
Even before Pakistan’s independence, Muslims of the British Raj banded together under the Khilafat Movement of 1919-1922. It aimed to prevent the division of the Ottoman Empire by Great Britain and defending the very idea of the Islamic Caliphate.
The Khilafat Movement was founded by noted Muslims leaders Shaukat Ali, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Hakim Ajmal Khan, and Abul Kalam Azad. The objective was to restore the Ottoman Caliphate, which was considered the leader of Sunni Muslims as an effective political authority. The movement was backed by Mahatma Gandhi.
Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize the state of Pakistan. Both countries provide continuous support to each other at the international level. In 1974 Pakistan was the only country to support the Turkish operation in Cyprus.
Pakistan since its birth has been swinging wildly in different directions, from modern to militant Islam. It has always been a banana republic with a military establishment that had always the final word in the course of the country regardless of whichever prime minister is in office or what the people want.
Pakistan is a nation which is confused over just what it means to be Pakistani. In the 73 years of the nation’s life, there has been no consensus over how modern or Islamic it ought to be. The nation has desired to be modern as well at the same time Islamic. It always remained uncertain which version of Islam it should follow; the Sufi brand of Islam of the subcontinent or the intolerant orthodoxy of Saudi Wahhabism.
In the 1980s it flirted with Mujahideen and jihad in Afghanistan. That gave rise to terrorism and Taliban in Pakistan. Pakistan has recently become fond of the Turkish brand of Islam-inspired modernity, which is different from the harsher alternative of Saudi Wahhabism.
Pakistan’s economy is in tatters, yet it has the narcissistic desire to be the leader of the Muslim world. It tries to ignore the reality of military rule, systemic corruption, inept institutions, humiliating loans from the IMF, environmental degradation, water scarcity, population explosion, dwindling output and terrorism.
When the United Arab Emirates, a key Saudi ally, announced its recognition of Israel in August, Erdogan threatened to cut diplomatic ties and recall Turkey’s ambassador to Abu Dhabi. Speaking in Pakistan’s parliament in February 2020, Erdogan lambasted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s communications siege of Kashmir. “There is no difference between Gallipoli and Kashmir,” Erdogan thundered, comparing the struggle of Kashmiris to the Ottoman Empire’s fight against Allied powers during World War I.
From time to time, Turkey and Pakistan have held joint military exercises. In the early 1990s, Pakistani F-16 jets were modernized in Turkey. In addition, over the past two years, Turkey has become the second-largest supplier of weapons for the Pakistan Army after China. In 2018, Pakistan purchased 30 Turkish T-129 helicopters worth $ 1.5 billion.
With shifting of deterioration of relationship with the US and the EU, Erdogan has changed its position on the Uyghur issue of Chinese Muslims in a bid to strengthen economic ties with China, including through the CPEC. It seems that China and Russia are going to make one block which Pakistan and Turkey are going to be part of.
In recent years, Turkey has been clamoring for the leadership of the Islamic world. The transformation of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque shows that Turkey no longer looks towards joining the European Union but has decisively moved towards pan-Islamism. Pakistan is going to be squeezed between China and Turley.
Turkey, with the backing of China and Pakistan, aims to achieve leadership role in the Islamic world and oust Saudi Arabia from this place. It shows that Saudi Arabia and its allied in the Gulf have taken a clear stance favoring India.