A taste of Turkish delights

Published: June 17, 2011

By the end of a week-long trip through Istanbul, Cappadocia and Ankara, we were overwhelmed with the way Turks felt about our country.

“I wish I did not know what I know,” was how Zulkof Ajer had me speechless for a while, after I 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, India and Pakistan.

The waiter at the Monet Restaurant, an extremely pleasant personality, was curious about our nationality, and was all of a sudden warm and sweet the moment we revealed it. However, 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 from of Pakistan every day.

Our economic conditions were the same ten years ago, he said.

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.

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.

It was a very humbling, though reassuring, experience – a very senior Turkish official wanting to give a ride to a Pakistani delegate – a privilege indeed.

We came across this sentiment all over Istanbul. Most people guess us to be Indians but when told about our real identity, most brighten 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 them, Halit Cevak, Under Secretary of state, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, resonated similar feelings for Pakistan. During a cruise through the famous Bosphorous waters, he said:

“For us, the Turks, friendship with Pakistan, as you have rightly observed, is inherent in our souls. I always considered it as something unique between nations. You cannot explain it just by history, culture or anything else. It is just, simply there. That’s the beauty of it.”

Two days later, almost 750km from Istanbul, another Turk almost shocked us with his concern for Pakistan. This time it was Mustafa Cevik, a carpet dealer in the famous Ihlara Valley in Central Anatolia. He said something that left us wondering about the strong feelings Turks have about Pakistan:

“I am very unhappy about Pakistan, I hear about violence, bombs, it is very bad, I wish it gets better… Muslim countries don’t have brains, and are thus suffering.”

By the end of a week-long trip through Istanbul, Cappadocia and Ankara, we were overwhelmed with the way Turks felt about our country. Their quick and effective relief and rehabilitation response after two devastating calamities, the October 2005 earthquake and the super floods of 2010, are also examples of Turkish sentiment for Pakistan and its people.

There is however a remarkable difference between the people of the two countries – the Turks are full of national pride and self-confidence.

Almost a century ago, in 1923, Kemal Ataturk defined and chose a path that has seen the country of 72 million people emerge as a vibrant democracy and a strong economy with almost an eight per cent growth rate.

In Pakistan, our ruling elite, with the predominance of the military establishment, has 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.

Imtiaz Gul

Imtiaz Gul

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad and is author of The Al Qaeda Connection: The Taliban and Terror in the Tribal Areas (Penguin India, 2009)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Türk from Europe

    We love our brothers in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, no matter what religion or family…
    This is not something to explain. This is simple a fact. They shall live in peace and prosperty.Recommend

  • Talha

    Jinnah wanted to incorporate elements of the Turkish model in Pakistan.

    He even stated that he wished he was Ataturk, Turkey is our model and we should follow in teir footsteps.Recommend

  • http://na deep

    “Most people guess us to be Indians but when told about our real identity, most brighten up with affection.”

    Wow – must be the only country in the world that brightens up to know that you are pakistanis and not Indians. No offence, but I suppose not sending the LET cadre to recce the Blue Mosque or the Hagia Sophia has helped. Recommend

  • Fooz

    I love Turkey!! and its People…

    from a Pakistani..Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/asad84 Asad

    I don’t why but after reading your article, I am feeling as if I was desparately waiting to hear such sentiments from any of the country in the world. With unpleasant events in the country, poor governance of government and bad reputation of Pakistanis around the globe, I seriously started wondering if there is any country in the world who still love us and possess any sympathy with us.

    From the article if I pick what is the key similarity and difference between the people of two countries, then affection towards the brother country is the similarity, while pride and self confidence is the difference. Their this characterstics can be matched with the Iranians. Pakistan on the opposite side isn’t bothered to take pride from whatever positive thing left and also are very much suffering from inferiority complexRecommend

  • Maria

    Does this mean that Pakistan has to take a secular path in order to be successful like Turkey? Religion has been actively kept in the background. After all, we know that head covering is banned in universities and parliament there. As for democracy, Turkey was a sham democracy until only a few years ago with a powerful military which ran the country like a dictatorship. The military there has had to be careful since anything they do or interfere with has repercussions for their EU membership. And you know that Europe has always turned down Turkey after 50 years of asking to be part of EU on some pretext or another. Most of my Turkish friends have complained about the dominant role of the military there that only recently has been brought under control because of fears of what Europe will do if they take over directly. We don’t have any such pressure off our military to not interfere with politics. Yes many things are better in Turkey but would we be able to make these choices like they have?Recommend

  • safir

    Pakistan will be strong leader of mideast soon dont underestimate us anybody. this is my
    feeling nomater what somebody say i know we were nothing in 1947 then indian nehru enen says in less than six months they will come back to india we lived and will live the
    world will see. inshallaRecommend

  • MK

    Well said Maria. Turkey is rising and gaining respect recently because they have reduced the role of military in politics, strengthning their civilian leadership and are reconciling with their minorities. Wiping out 3000 Kurdish villages by Kemalists and many other racist policies are legacy of Kemal’s Turkey. They still have long ways to go, but they are on right track.Recommend

  • Talha

    @ deep

    Your shameless attitude and pointless posts are a nuisance.

    You made an unnecessary and offensive remark when it wasn’t required.

    You, much like your countrymen reek of insecurity

    Now please leave us to discuss this excellent post, there are other places where you can spread your hatred.Recommend

  • safir

    u need knowledge & no one is angel if u talking make sure to see your kneck too
    what happening in all over the world specialy in kashmir and palestine who is doing
    its not pakistan.Recommend

  • Arslan

    Go to Australia, and say them that you’re Indian, not Pakistani, and you’ll have the greatest welcome – better than the one offered to a Lebanese.
    Have fun.Recommend

  • Hassaan Warsi

    Pakistan right now as a civilian government @MK and @Maria, where is the prosperity? Where is the progress? Stop imposing false ideologies, just for the sake of typing something.Recommend

  • Maria

    @Asad: Maybe you don’t know it but Iranians and Arabs have a worse reputation in the US compared to Pakistanis. That’s why so many Iranians in the US try to downplay their background. As for how Turks are treated in Germany and Europe that too is a problem that the Europeans have with their own racism. Why does it bother you what others may or may not think? We have to better ourselves and our nation- period.Recommend

  • parvez

    Turkey has managed to get it right, as opposed to us and I hope they prosper for they are a great nation.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/asad84 Asad

    @Maria. I dont want to make US and Europe as yardstick. I don’t care who thinks what but when it comes to treating me in a disgraceful manner, thats the time I should be start worrying and ask the reason for being blamed for something I haven’t committed. Pakistanis have started facing difficulties in other countries, even in the Middle East. I am living in UAE for 3 years now, even in this short period I can can feel the change in the way Pakistanis are being treated. People simply laugh at our government labelling them as the idiots. You cannot keep silent when somebody counters you. Whatever happens in Pakistan is perceived as a mentality of Pakistanis, irrespective of whatever place they live in. And I made the same point as u made that Pakistanis should take pride from their achievements but the face it they aren’t doing it and the main reason for that is the sense of unnecessary inferiority (which is driven by the series of failures by our government). We are absolutely not behind any other nation, looking at the skills we have and the contribution we are making in other countries, I just feel frustrated on the level of inferiority we have. We have assumed in our mind that if the tag label is “made in (any other country except Pakistan)” it is definitly better than Pakistan.Recommend

  • Arshad Khan

    For those you admire Turkey, consider this quotation from Ataturk the founder of modern Turkey. It is clear Ataturk is hater of Islam

    “For nearly five hundred years, these rules and theories of an Arab Shaikh and the interpretations of generations of lazy and good-for-nothing priests have decided the civil and criminal law of Turkey. They have decided the form of the Constitution, the details of the lives of each Turk, his food, his hours of rising and sleeping the shape of his clothes, the routine of the midwife who produced his children, what he learned in his schools, his customs, his thoughts-even his most intimate habits. Islam – this theology of an immoral Arab – is a dead thing. Possibly it might have suited tribes in the desert. It is no good for modern, progressive state. God’s revelation! There is no God! These are only the chains by which the priests and bad rulers bound the people down. A ruler who needs religion is a weakling. No weaklings should rule!”Recommend

  • MKD


    Thanks a lot for the quote from Ataturk. I am not so sure if he was a hater of Islam. He was a social reformer. Will be greatful if you can refer to some of his writings and where can I buy them.Recommend

  • http://blog.ale.com.pk ALE Xpressed

    The author has got it right there and the response of the Turkish friends is apt and precise – the friendship and affection for Pakistan is obvious in Turks, its there but understanding it goes beyond history, culture or economic ties. That’s what made me call it “the curious case of Pakistan”.

    I happened to go for a two week trip to Turkey last year and travelled some 2000 KM. Here is an account of my Turk-Pak interpersonal relations:

    The curious case of Pakistan