Pakistan and Turkey have strengthened their diplomatic and military relations over recent years to an unprecedented level. The initiative of joint military exercise between Pakistan and Turkey is considered among the key factors which have a significant impact on military ties between the two states. Since 1998, this joint military exercise has been conducted alternatively by these countries. This joint military exercise will not only further strengthen the bond of two brotherly nations and but will also help in adapting to the emerging trends in military modernization and cooperation.
ATATURK-XI 2021, a three-week-long joint military exercise, commenced on 9th February 2021 in which Turkish Special Forces and Pakistan’s SSG troops have participated. In this exercise, counter-terrorism, close quarter battle, cordon and search, rappelling, fire and move techniques, helicopter rappelling, compound clearance, hostage and rescue, and free-fall operations are included. Both Pakistan and Turkey have been fighting similar security threats to their territorial integrity and national security e.g. terrorism. Therefore, the exercise holds significant importance for sharing experiences and learning from each other’s planning and strategies.
Both Pakistan and Turkey have used different strategies to fight against the menace of terrorism. For example, Turkey has employed drones against PKK terrorists. A number of terrorists drop under 500 after armed unmanned aerial vehicle comes into use by Turkish forces. Moreover, Turkish drone power was also displayed in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Pakistan can use Turkish drone technology to neutralize the terror threats on its soil.
Moreover, India kept a close watch on the joint military exercise between Turkish and Pakistani Special Forces as the exercise is expected to create a strategic alliance that will have implications for India. India has already shown concerns over Turkey’s stance on the issue of Kashmir. The increasing military-to-military between Pakistan and Turkey cooperation will help Pakistan’s forces to further enhance their capacity and capability and to adopt modern technology in the security domains which is disturbing for India as it will contribute to Pakistan’s struggle for invincible defence.
Pakistan and Turkey have been conducting the joint exercises since 1998, alternately. The exercises held in Turkey are named ‘JINNAH’, while those held in Pakistan are named ‘ATATURK’. The joint exercise is aimed at improving friendship, cooperation, and coordination between the two brotherly countries. The exercise also intends to share knowledge and experience and to develop the capability of initiating joint operations between the Special Forces of the two countries. The military exercise between Pakistan and Turkey is the eleventh exercise that has been held in Pakistan.
The military ties between these brotherly countries have witnessed unprecedented developments in recent years. Although the armed forces training exchange program, which was inaugurated in 2000, has been often seen as an important factor to enhance military-to-military ties, the recent defence deals in 2018 have boosted the defence and security cooperation between Pakistan and Turkey.
Specifically speaking, in October 2018, the Pakistan Navy commissioned a 17,000-tonne fleet tanker, built-in in collaboration with Turkish defence company STM in the southern port city of Karachi. It was the largest warship ever constructed in the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works, according to Pakistani military sources. Turkey is also upgrading three Pakistani submarines. In July 2018, Turkey won a multibillion-dollar tender to supply four corvettes to the Pakistan Navy – which then-defence minister Nurettin Canikli said was the largest contract ever granted to the Turkish defence industry.
Moreover, in 2016, Turkey gave 34 T-37 aircraft (with spares) to Pakistan. Turkey also agreed to purchase the MFI-17 Super Mushshak trainer aircraft from Pakistan. In October 2019, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan along with then Pakistan Navy Chief Adm. Zafar Mahmood Abbasi had cut the first metal plate of the first MILGEM Ada class corvette during a ceremony in Istanbul. While addressing the ceremony, President Erdogan highlighted the deep-rooted relationship between the two strategically-aligned nations. He underscored the defence collaboration for the construction of Milgem class warships as a major milestone in Pakistan-Turkey defence ties.
Turkish arms transfers to Pakistan totalled $112 million from 2016-2019, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). During this period, Turkey was Pakistan’s fourth-largest source of arms, surpassing the United States, and Pakistan was Turkey’s third-largest arms export market, according to SIPRI. These numbers will grow as Turkey fulfils recent orders from Pakistan exceeding $3 billion, including the purchase of four MILGEM Ada-class corvettes, two of which will be built in Pakistan, and 30 T-129 Atak helicopters.
Pakistani and Turkish aspirations for defence autarky were both born from bitter experiences of being sanctioned by the West. Continued Western compellence also drives — and problematizes — Pakistan-Turkey defence cooperation. The T-129 helicopter deal has been in limbo as Congress has blocked export licenses to Turkey for its American-British designed LHTEC T800-4A turboshaft engine. Turkey is developing a replacement for the T800-4A, the TEI TS1400, which could salvage the deal should U.S.-Turkey relations remain cold. But the TS1400 is currently in the prototype stage — years away from service.
Furthermore, In February 2020, President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Imran Khan co-chaired the sixth meeting of the Turkey-Pakistan High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, where the two countries signed a series of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) aimed at boosting the existing bilateral trade, economic engagement, and cultural and communication ties. The MoUs included “cooperation between two countries’ state-run broadcasters – TRT and PTV – education and overseas diaspora, culture and tourism development and facilitation, halal accreditation and conformity assessment and trade facilitation. They also intend to cooperate in areas like customs, postal services, railway, and military training and e-commerce.”
While meeting with National Defence of Turkey General Hulusi Akar (Retired) on 26th October 2020, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa stated that countries share a great history of brotherly relations which is being transformed into an enduring partnership. Furthermore, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar visited Turkey on 15th January 2021. While addressing a meeting, comprising board members of the Association of Justice Defenders and Strategic Studies Center (ASSAM) in Turkey, Chief Marshal said that Pakistan, Turkey have similar interests and challenges.
Pakistan-Turkey defence relations go beyond purchases of Turkish arms by Islamabad. Ankara has procured training aircraft, drone parts, and bombs from Islamabad. And the two countries are also increasingly pursuing technological cooperation. The MILGEM Ada-class ship deal, for example, involves the transfer of technology. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has also secured an agreement with Pakistan’s premier engineering school, the National University of Science and Technology, for research and development cooperation and faculty and student exchanges. TAI has also agreed to set up a shop at Pakistan’s National Science and Technology Park, a section of which will focus on defence projects, including cyberwarfare, drones, and radar technology.
The growing closeness is also reflected in the diplomatic sphere. Pakistani senior officials have expressed support for Turkey in its disputes over gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean. A series of joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean, involving the navies of both countries and including violations of Cypriot and Greek territorial waters and airspace, took place over the last year. Similar joint exercises have also been held in the Indian Ocean.
Turkey, in turn, in development causing concern in New Delhi, has begun to support vocally Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in February 2020 that the issue was as important to Turkey as it is to Pakistan. Referencing the events of the Turkish War of Independence, Erdogan said, “And now, we feel the same about Kashmir today. It was Çanakkale yesterday and Kashmir today; there is no difference between the two.”
In a nutshell, Pakistan and Turkey have emerged as strong strategic allies in recent years and military-to-military cooperation has been a determining element in this regard. Pakistan and Turkey have facing similar security threats such as terrorism, therefore, the exercise ATATURK-XI 2021 will help both countries to learn from each other’s experience in counter-terrorism. Moreover, it will further strengthen the brotherly relations between Pakistan and Turkey and importantly enhance cooperation in the military domain.