Ties between Turkey and Pakistan are founded on the commonality of religion and strategic animosity towards India. From a strategic perspective, both countries have a robust defence cooperation in place. Additionally, Turkey echoes Pakistan’s diplomatic stance on Kashmir, which is a thorn issue in the bilateral relationship with New Delhi and has been unchanged despite Islamabad’s recent National Security Policy of “no hostility” with India for the next 100 years.
Under Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan wanted to develop stronger ties with Ankara. However, the reality of bilateral relations was recently exposed at the level of people-to-people contacts when Turkey was confronted with reports of illegal activities of Pakistani nationals seeking refuge in the country. Several illegal migrants from Pakistan have been arrested in recent months by Turkish authority for involvement in acts of kidnapping, gang wars and other illegal crimes. The attention on the issue has been risen by reports from Western intelligence agencies, aware that Pakistani citizens are involved in such activities in Turkey as well as in other countries.
Illegal migrants come to Turkey via Iran in search for a better life in Europe. According to Turkish authorities, there are between 3,000 and 6,000 illegal Pakistani nationals in detention at any given time, while many others stay in Turkey until they will find a way to go to Europe. According to some journalistic reports, several young Pakistanis decide to sell sweets or any other merchandise to visitors outside the shrine of Hazrat Abu Ayub Ansari in Istanbul, in the hope that their prayers offered at the shrine are answered by the close companion (sahaba) of the Prophet who was a great supporter of Islamic migrants at the time of Hijrat-e-Madina (Migration to Madina). On account of his services towards the earliest migrants, these youth mostly from the Barlevi sect see him as a custodian and well-wisher of all migrants, thus hoping to succeed in their journey to Europe.
According to Turkish police, there has been a significant increase in illegal immigrants from Pakistan in the last four years, an influx that has created large-scale unrest in Turkey, which is already under the strain of refugees coming from Syria and Afghanistan. Turkey has traditionally welcomed migrants from countries as diverse as Syria and Xinjiang in China. However, there have been some greater concerns with recent Pakistani immigrants. Last April, a wave of anti-Pakistani feeling developed on social-media outlets with the trending hashtag “Pakistan Get Out”, following accusations of misbehaviour and misconduct towards local social behaviour in some areas of Istanbul.
Intelligence reports claim that illegal Pakistan immigrants have also been found indulging in gang wars and other illegal crimes, including human and narco- trafficking and ransom kidnapping of tourists visiting Turkey. This is a major challenge as Turkey is a favourite destination and tourism is an important revenue- generating source for the economy. As a matter of facts, there has been a spate of crimes and kidnapping wherein the involvement of Pakistani immigrants/refugees has been confirmed. The most recent incident was the kidnapping in late April of a small group of Nepali tourists in Istanbul. Luckily, swift police action made it possible to free the 4 Nepalis and, at the same time, arrest the six Pakistanis who had committed the crime and asked for ransom of 10.000 euros. According to some reports, the Pakistani group abducted the Nepalis at gunpoint while they were wandering in Taksim Square, one of the significant landmarks of the metropolis. To add fuel to the fire, the head of Turkish Radio Television Corporation, Furcian Hameed, of Urdu-Pakistani origin said the “frustration of Turkish youth due to unemployment and other problems sometimes biased their behaviour towards foreigners”.
However, the problem is that over the years Pakistan has failed to institute measures to check the flow of illegal migrants and assuage Turkish sentiments. Successive Turkish governments have repeatedly appealed to Islamabad to put in place measures to curb the illegal inflow of Pakistan’s illegal migrant population. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts to work out a legally efficient system, but to no avail. After the incident involving the kidnapping of Nepali citizens, the Turkish government tightened its visa policy for Pakistanis, among other measures stopping the issuing of temporary residence permits for Pakistanis. More recently, the FIA’s cyber-crime wing arrested two Pakistani illegal immigrants allegedly involved in human smuggling and secretly filming women in Turkey. Both suspects were arrested and deported immediately to Pakistan.What is of greater concern is that large numbers of Pakistan immigrants are working illegally in Turkey. Instead of adapting and integrating to the local reality, they reportedly detest Turkish customs and traditions and tend to insulate themselves.
More in general, however, Turkey has expressed its displeasure towards recent events and developments, despite bilateral cooperation has improved in areas including defence. A sign of this displeasure was the absence of the Turkish President, Recep Erdogan, from the launching ceremony of Pakistan Navy Frigate PNS Badron last May. Ideally, Pakistan would like to brush such incidents under the carpet, but Turkey has realised the cost and has clearly indicated that it is not willing to put up with it.