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Pakistan and the lack of soft power in Turkish foreign policy

It would be fair to say that for the past 10 or so years, Pakistan has not really been on Turkey’s radar screen. But those who are familiar with both countries know that there is a special bond between them.

Turkey and Pakistan enjoy a particular relationship based on the mutual affection of the two nations toward each other. Public-opinion polls in Turkey always indicate that Pakistan ranks at the top of the list for Turks when they are asked about which nation they like the most.

Third parties can also testify to the positive sentiments of Pakistani people towards Turks. Pakistani people take pride in Turkey’s accomplishments and you can hear Pakistani officials say that they use Turkey as an example.

But when we look at Pakistan today, one cannot help but be puzzled by the irony of the situation. Pakistan, a country that Turkey says is its closest friend, is about to fall from the precipice. Can Turkey take pride in a country that it calls its brother? Can Turkey say proudly that it served as a model to Pakistan?

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was in Pakistan this week, where he proudly told the journalists accompanying him that Turkey is in touch with all the factions in Pakistan, be they secular, religious or tribal. Davutoğlu also went to Pakistan with a $10 million check and a cargo plane full of humanitarian aid.

I have no doubt that Turkey holds tremendous respect among different factions in Pakistan. I am sure that there has been plenty of humanitarian assistance provided to Pakistan. But apparently that has not sufficed to keep Pakistan from potentially earning the status of a failed state. Turkey obviously failed to amplify its prominent and influential position within the political, military and economic elites to the country’s overall society.

The problem stems from the absence of a very important element in Turkish foreign policy: soft power. One of the best examples of the use of soft power is the European Union. The 27-nation bloc uses its soft power over its neighbors to create a region of stability and welfare. Individual European countries also use their soft power on different countries.

For years, Turkish opinion-makers have lamented why Turkey does not have foundations and associations similar to Great Britain’s British Council, Germany’s Goethe Institute or France’s Institute Français. Political foundations affiliated with different parties in Germany are active all over the world, including Turkey. Can you imagine a foundation affiliated with the Republican People’s Party, or the CHP, being active in the Middle East? Looking at the miserable performance of the CHP as the opposition party, the question becomes rather irrelevant. While I was discussing the role of soft power with a Turkish official, he first reminded me of a famous English saying: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." He then continued: "Soft power is about others willing to be like you. It is about provoking others to be like you. But for that, you need to be in a situation where everyone should be envious of you.

Look at Turkey. Can we say that we are a country that others will aspire to be like? A country where the political class is filled with short-sighted people, where wealth is not equally distributed, a country that has not succeeded to reconcile with its Kurdish population?"

It is impossible not to share this pessimism. Turkey needs to solve its internal problems before trying to become a regional or an international player.

Turkey really does have the potential of assuming a leadership role and being a role model to the countries in its region.

However, if, like in Pakistan, we go around bragging that Turkey is in dialogue with all the factions in the society, then someone might come up and say "so what?"