‘Islamabad Declaration’ of Pakistan-Turkey-Azerbaijan: Geopolitical Significance
Brigadier (Retd.) Ahsan ur Rahman Khan
The news that the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan jointly signed the ‘Islamabad Declaration’ on 13th of this month (January 2021) in Islamabad (Pakistan) made only brief showing in media. That brief media coverage reflected it as a diplomatic event of some importance. In actual fact however, ‘Islamabad Declaration’ is of much noteworthy geopolitical significance. That aspect needs proper reckoning by those interested in geopolitical world affairs.
(In this context, while analysing ‘Islamabad Declaration’, it is of high significance to bear in mind the markedly sincere mutual cordiality of the people of Pakistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan. That aspect was clearly reflected during the Azerbaijan–Armenia war last year. Very briefly: Azerbaijan and Armenia were Soviet republics during the days of USSR. After dissolution of USSR, Armenia militarily occupied Nogorno Karabakh and its seven adjoining districts, despite the fact that even then all these territories were internationally recognised as de–jure part of Azerbaijan. In the last year’s Azerbaijan–Armenia war, Azerbaijan military, with military assistance from Turkey, has liberated most part of these territories after defeating the occupying Armenian military. Pakistan also fully supported Azerbaijan.)
Background of Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan Relations
The fact about the deep-rooted mutual affection for each other of people of Pakistan and Turkey is well-known. People of Turkey still remember with gratitude the much needed massive help, during their time of distress in the last century, by Muslim masses of the subcontinent despite being then under the colonial rule of Britain. People of Pakistan on their part revere people of Turkey for their glorious deeds during the days of Ottoman Caliphate. Relations between the governments of Pakistan and Turkey have therefore always been extremely cordial and mutually supporting.
As for the major developments in Pakistan–Turkey relations in the fields of defence etc, Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan, Chairman Center for Political and Strategic Studies (Armenia), has provided information about those developments in his article published last year (21 January 2020).
In his article Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan has mentioned about Turkey’s assistance to Pakistan in upgrading the F-16 aircrafts, Turkey’s purchase of Mushak aircrafts from Pakistan, purchase of Turkey’s corvettes for Pakistan Navy, contract for Turkey’s attack helicopters, as also the volume of trade between the two countries, etc.
In that context he has also highlighted that, “Pakistan and Turkey established a high–level military dialogue mechanism in 2003. Adding a fresh chapter to their relations, in May 209, they upgraded their military and strategic relationship. And since Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Ankara in January 2019, the two countries’ defense relations have been getting stronger and are now on a decidedly upward trajectory”. (1)
Azerbaijan is a Turkic state with 97% Muslim majority. About the relations of Pakistan and Azerbaijan Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan has mentioned [clarification inserted in bracket]: “Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognize Azerbaijan as an independent state in December 1991. The bilateral strategic cooperation between two states embraces the economic, cultural, political, and especially defence fields. The two countries have signed a dense agreement in May 2003”. ———“Beyond joint exercises, military and defense cooperation between Azerbaijan–Pakistan have taken the form of continuous dialogue in high level meetings. Pakistan is the only state in the world that does not recognize Armenia as an independent state because of the Karabakh conflict and fully supports the Azerbaijani position. Meanwhile Baku [capital of Azerbaijan] fully supports settlement of the Kashmir issue based on the relevant resolutions of UN Security Council”. (2)
List of Pakistan–Azerbaijan agreements, MoUs, etc. is also available in a document of Ministry of Foreign affairs Govt. of Pakistan (3).
Formulation of the Joint Trilateral Accord
Thus, Pakistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan already had defence related and other agreements, besides their mutually very supportive role in all aspects of international affairs. However, the idea of formalising their trilateral defence pact came to the fore in 2017. The Emirati–funded news website Ahval reported on 18 December 2017 [clarification inserted in bracket]: “The three counties [Pakistan-Turkey-Azerbaijan] held their first meeting in Baku on November 30  with the aim of creating a trilateral format of defence cooperation which could become crucial given the strategic location of each country”. (4) Other media outlets also similarly published this report (5) & (6).
Salient Features of ‘Islamabad Declaration’
‘Islamabad Declaration’, jointly signed on 13th of this month (January 2021) by the foreign misters of Pakistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan, include a long list of mutual cooperation fields/areas in which joint actions will be taken through proper plans. Brief details of this Trilateral Agreement conveyed through ‘Islamabad Declaration’ have been published by the Ministry of Foreign affairs Government of Pakistan.
Very briefly, ‘Islamabad Declaration’ mentioned that “The Ministers Emphasizing the existing cordial ties among the three countries, based on fraternity, historic and cultural bonds, mutual respect and trust” agreed upon the trilateral joint actions in the fields/areas of cooperation which included: Promoting cooperation in defence and security fields, including through sharing best practices, capacity building, new and emerging technologies and regular exchange of visits; Enhancing trilateral trade & investment; Meeting the far–reaching implications for economic growth and public health due to COVID 19 pandemic; Deepening further cooperation in all areas of mutual interest, including political, strategic, trade, economic, peace and security, science and technology and cultural fields; Meeting the myriad challenges and emerging threats confronting their countries including but not limited to threats of foreign sponsored acts of terrorism, cyber-attacks, hybrid forms of warfare, targeted disinformation campaigns, and escalating trends of Islamophobia affecting the peaceful co-existence of Muslim communities in many countries; Enhancing cooperation on regional connectivity in transport, trade, energy, people-to-people contacts, education, social and cultural exchange, tourism, and ICT, including through improving and strengthening air, rail and road links and regional connectivity initiatives at various regional fora; Intensifying cooperation for food and energy security, environment, sustainable development and climate change; and, Promotion of peace, stability and development in their respective regions, etc. (7)
Significance of ‘Islamabad Declaration’
There are a number of aspects of high significance of ‘Islamabad Declaration’. These are briefly enumerated as following.
First, the most important factor which ensures operational strength and sustainability of any country’s national policy is the aspirational support of the masses of that country for that policy. In this case, the mutual reverence, respect and trust of the people of Pakistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan provide that strength for the success and sustainability of the (joint) national policy of these three countries, as reflected in the agreements contained in the ‘Islamabad Declaration’.
Second, out of the seven or eight elements of national power potential of any nation, the two most important elements are the Economic potential and Military potential. Incidentally, both of these are also complementary. And, the contents of ‘Islamabad Declaration’ clearly show that the comprehensive cooperation in these two aspects has been accorded high priority by the three countries.
Third, in the field of Economic potential according to international institutions Pakistan is showing marked recovery from Covid-19 pandemic; Turkey’s economy is defined by IMF as emerging market economy; and Azerbaijan’s major oil–based economy is also reflecting upward trend. And, in the field of Military potential, high–tech military research and production capabilities of Pakistan and Turkey are well–known. Mutual cooperation/collaboration in the fields of Economic and Military potentials is therefore most likely to pay rich dividends in enhancing the national power potential of the three countries.
Fourth, challenges faced by these countries mostly relate to their geostrategic locations. And, these challenges are somewhat similar. Pakistan faces the perennial threat of military aggression, state–sponsored terrorism, fifth generation war etc from India. India mostly launches its sponsored terrorists from Afghanistan in collaboration with Afghanistan government’s premier intelligence service (NDS); and has also used Iran’s territory to launch its mastermind terrorist for terrorist acts in Pakistan. Besides that, US and India, along with their collaborating countries are also trying to destabilise Pakistan to disrupt and uproot the now developing China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistan has also longstanding disputes with India regarding India’s military occupation of Kashmir in contravention of UNSC resolutions; and India’s illegal diversion of river waters. Turkey too faces the challenges of destabilisation including the attempted coup led by US–based cleric. Turkey also faces serious terrorist threat from the US–supported YPG group linked with the declared terrorist group PKK. That US’ support for YPG/PKK was also admitted by former US’ military commander in Europe General Ben Hodges (8). Besides that, Turkey has its problems in European Union, mostly from ‘Islamophobic’ countries, in relation to the Cyprus Issue, as well as the issues in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. Challenges faced by Azerbaijan are mostly related to the threats posed by Armenia. With their vast experience of generally similar challenges (military, terrorism, fifth generation war, Islamophobia, etc), these three countries will be able to amply assist each other by providing material support, sharing expertise/experience, and supporting in the international fora, etc.
Fifth, the current intense geopolitical power tussle of major world powers is clearly changing the previous ‘unipolar world order to ’multipolar world order’. In view of this evolving change, these three countries have bright chance of expanding their now formed strong alliance by developing ‘strategic alliance–links’ with the major world powers. In that context, keeping in view the geographical contiguity and proximity with these three countries, China, Russia and European Union (EU) are the relevant world powers: (a) Pakistan is contiguous to China, and has proximity with Russia; (b) Turkey is contiguous to Russia and Europe; and (c) Azerbaijan is contiguous to Russia and has proximity with Europe (Map below).
(Map: Courtesy nuclearstreet.com) (9)
Incidentally, these three countries already have various levels of partnerships or cooperation in different fields, at least with China and Russia: (a) Pakistan already has deep–rooted and time–tested strategic partnership with China; and has also reached quite an advanced stage in the process of developing closer relationship (including military) with Russia; (b) Turkey’s relations with China had picked up to quite an extent after signing of the joint communiqué in 2000, which was followed by a flurry of high level reciprocal visits – relations are developing since then; and as for relations with Russia, both Turkey and Russia are now in the process of mending their rivalry/competition into pragmatic cooperation – and now their close cooperation in Syria, Turkey’s signing of S–400 missile agreement with Russia despite strong NATO objections, joint plans to build TurkStream to allow Moscow to strengthen its position in the European gas market, and Turkey’s unwillingness to join EU sanctions against Russia on Crimea issuue, are all signs of that rapprochement (10); and (c) in the case of Azerbaijan, the recent ‘indirect’ assistance by Russia through its mediation intervention to allow Azerbaijan in retaining its territory liberated from Armenia after the recent Nogorno Karabakh War, despite the fact that Armenia has strategic partnership with Russia, is a clear indicator of Russia’s developing ‘balanced diplomatic tilt’ towards Azerbaijan.
As for the relations with EU, Turkey has certain problems with EU, particularly by the ‘Islamophobic’ countries like France. However a counterbalancing role can be played in that context by the China–EU economic/investment relations which are developing despite US’ dislike – of particular mention is last month’s (30th December 2020) EU–China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), which according to European Commission’s document “will be the most ambitious agreement China has ever concluded with a third country” (11). These EU–China relations are more likely to keep European Commission, and hence EU, in a favourable mode for relations with this newly formed alliance.
This newly formed Pakistan–Turkey–Azerbaijan strategic partnership, when linked with the emerging China–Russia Axis, will therefore surely be part of a formidable geopolitical alliance in the multipolar world order.
(1). Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan’s article Pakistan-Turkey-Azerbaijan Triangle: Emerging New Partnership in the Greater Middle East
https://www.indrastra.com/2020/01/Pakistan-Turkey-Azerbaijan-Triangle-006-01-2020-0041.html (Hereinafter cited as Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan’s Article).
(3). Ministry of Foreign affairs Govt. of Pakistan document
(4). Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey looking for Trilateral Defence Agreement https://ahvalnews.com/defence/pakistan-azerbaijan-and-turkey-looking-trilateral-defence-agreement
(6). Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan’s Article. op.cit.
(10). From Geopolitical Competition to Strategic Partnership; Turkey and Russia after The Cold War. p.p. 85-86.