I wish I did not know what I know.” This was how Zulkof Ajer surprised us, and in fact had us speechless for a while after we had asked him what he knew about Pakistan. It was dinner time at the Conrad Hotel in Istanbul on June 4, where we had gathered for a pre-consultation of the International Contact Group (ICG) on Afghanistan. Turkey and Norway hosted this meeting that was followed by a similar consultation among the officials from members of ICG i.e. USA, Japan, Germany, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan and India.
Zulkov, the waiter at the Monet Restaurant, is an extremely pleasant personality with good knowledge of what is happening in Pakistan. Once he drew closer to our table to place the menu card before us, and also asked us about our nationality. He was all of a sudden warm and sweet the moment we revealed our identity. But for us the discussion soon turned sour as he, with a visible tinge of discomfort, spoke of the “bombs and violence and bad economy” that dominate the news out of Pakistan.
He also tried to console us by pointing to the bad economic conditions and political upheaval a decade ago. “I hope and pray that Pakistan will also survive these terrible times; we will keep praying,” Zulkof said before moving on to attend to another guest.
For a while, we struggled to recover from the shock that this friendly Turk had given us. Not that it was a revelation. What moved us was the concern that Zulkof’s words carried; one could discern his anxiety about Pakistan, and this is what pinned us down, emotionally.
The Turk love for Pakistan is not restricted to this stratum of the society either. A day earlier, as we came out of the hotel, one of the foreign ministry officials surprised us by pointing us to the car of another senior official. He has requested you to accompany him in the car, she said before boarding the bus with guests from other countries.
The offer certainly overwhelmed us, a very humbling, though reassuring experience; imagine a very senior Turkish official wanting to give a separate ride to a Pakistani delegate. That amounted to a privilege indeed. And we came across this sentiment all over Istanbul. Most people guess us as Indians, but when told about the real identity, most would lighten up with affection. Two young boys at the Sultanahmet Square, for instance, went out of their way to explain to us the location, and also recount some of the historical facts about the grand area.
Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara also view developments in Pakistan with great concern. One of these officials, Halit Cevak, the under-secretary of state, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, resonated similar feelings for Pakistan. “For us Turks, friendship with Pakistan, as you have rightly observed, is inherent in our souls. I always considered it as something unique between nations. You can not explain it just by history, culture or anything else. It is just, simply there. That’s the beauty of it,” Mr. Cevak told us during a cruise through famous Bosphorous waters.
A couple of days later, almost 300 kilometers from Ankara, another Turk almost shocked us with his concern for Pakistan. This time it was Mustafa Cevik, a young carpet dealer in the famous Ihlara Valley in Central Anatolia.
“We had hardly envisioned a Turk carpet dealer possessing some knowledge of the present day Pakistan; “I am very unhappy about Pakistan, I hear about violence, bombs; it is very bad; I wish it gets better,” Mustafa said with a tinge of concern and sympathy for his Pakistani guests.
“Muslim countries don’t have brains, and are thus suffering,” Mustafa observed, leaving us wonder about the strong feelings the Turks have about Pakistan.
As a whole, by the end of a week-long trip through Istanbul to Cappadocia to the Capital Ankara, we were overwhelmed with the Turkish feelings about our country. Their quick and effective relief and rehabilitation response after two devastating calamities – the October 2005 earthquake and the super floods in 2010 – probably also explain the Turkish sentiment for Pakistan and its people. There is, however, a remarkable difference between the two peoples: the Turks are full of national pride and self-confidence. Almost a century ago, in 1923, Kemal Ata Turk defined and chose a path that has seen the 72 million country emerge as a vibrant democracy and a strong economy with almost eight percent growth rate. In Pakistan, our ruling elite, with the predominance of the military establishment, confused nation-building with religious indoctrination and a perpetual propagation of anti-India sentiments that even today form the bedrock of a skewed notion of security. While clarity of vision and purpose of sincerity has helped Turkey flourish, Pakistan continues to suffer because of confusion, indifference of the ruling elite and a tactical mindset.
Under prime minister Ardogan, Turkey may be redefining the secular ideals that Kamal Ataturk had raised modern Turkey on, but what comes through is a sense of national pride and clear political direction – both shaped by Turkey’s central position in the region. But the Turkish leadership has used this position to shore up international political support and goodwill, and with that come economic dividends. In Pakistan, unfortunately, the geo-strategic location has become a noose around our neck – a blood-sucker. The notion of security state, and too much emphasis on political security instead of human security, has in fact pushed Pakistan into an entirely unenviable situation. The leadership does need to learn a lot from the friends in Turkey.