Pakistan-Turkey-Azerbaijan Trilateral Partnership Emerges As A Big Threat To Armenia

Pakistan has augmented its ties with both Turkey and Azerbaijan in recent years. At the same time, the process of the establishment of trilateral cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan and Pakistan commenced sometime in 2017.

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The article attempts to assess Pakistan–Turkey, Pakistan–Azerbaijan and Pakistan–Turkey–Azerbaijan cooperation and the possible impact of that partnership on the Karabakh conflict settlement process.

Pakistan – Turkey

Pakistan and Turkey established a high-level military dialogue mechanism in 2003. Adding a brand new chapter to their relations, in May 2019, they upgraded their military and strategic relationship. And since Pakistani PM Imran Khan’s visit to Ankara in January 2019, the two countries’ defence relations have been getting stronger and are firmly on an upward trajectory.

Facing constraints in updating the F-16s provided by the US for its air force, Pakistan asked Turkey for help. Filling the vacuum left by Washington, Istanbul came to the rescue and helped upgrade a batch of 41 F-16 fighter jets for the Pakistan Air Force and has become Pakistan’s second-biggest arms supplier after China.

Up until now, the most important defence deal between Islamabad and Ankara has been the procurement of four MILGEM Ada-Class Corvettes for the Pakistani Navy, while the largest-ever defence contract has been the sale of 30 Turkish T129 ATAK helicopters to Pakistan for $1.5 billion. In 2017, Turkey had purchased 52 MFI-17 Super Mushshak training planes from Pakistan.

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From being Islamabad’s lone supporter when Pakistan was being put on the “grey list” by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 2018, to being one of the main and most regular participants in Pakistan’s International Defense Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), Ankara remains one of Islamabad’s most reliable ally.

With efforts from both sides, Turkey’s export to Pakistan increased from US$ 155 million in 2008 to a whopping US$ 352 million in 2017. Turkey has always stood beside Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir on all possible forums. Pakistan has supported the Turkish stance on tensions with Greece and Cyprus.

Not limited to products and defence capabilities, Turkey and Pakistan are also training their troops to meet any unforeseen challenge together. With regards to this, six-day exercises between Turkish, Pakistani and Uzbek armies were conducted in April last year in eastern Uzbekistan. Called the Partnership Shield 2019, these drills simulated terrorist infiltrations in a country.

One of the most serious issues faced by Pakistan-Turkey relations ensuing from the 2016 military coup attempt in Turkey was Pak-Turk schools which were set up as part of a global network by Fetullah Gülen.

In early 2019, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the Gülenists a terrorist outfit and ordered that Pak-Turk schools be handed over to the Maarif Foundation – an Islamic school organization established by the Turkish government to counter Gülenist influence.

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Pakistan – Azerbaijan

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 had inked a defence agreement in May 2003. As a part of the agreement, Azerbaijan’s naval personnel participated in the biggest Pakistan-led multinational exercise, AMAN-2013, held in March 2013 in the Arabian Sea. Beyond this, the two countries have engaged in continuous dialogue at 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 “fully supports the settlement of the Kashmir problem based on the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council,” as President Ilham Aliyev stated during his meeting with the then PM of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif in Azerbaijan in October 2016.

In October 2018, a delegation of the Pakistani Armed Forces visited Azerbaijan to discuss bilateral military cooperation. This growing defence cooperation between the two states is based on a protocol on bi-lateral military cooperation signed on March 31st, 2015, which finally led to the signing of the “Book of Honour” on November 24th, 2017.

Baku is interested in the growing expansion of military ties with Islamabad. Pakistan can offer Azerbaijan Anza-II anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles, Mushak aircraft, and related hardware. Azerbaijan is actively discussing the possibilities of buying the JF-17 Thunder (also known as the FC-1 Xiaolong), a multi-functional aircraft that was jointly developed by Pakistan and China.

The mutual defence ties were discussed during March 2019 Azerbaijani defence Minister Colonel-General Zakir Hasanov’s visit to Pakistan. The parties focused on the development of cooperation in the field of security, as well as military, military-technical, military-educational and other spheres.

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Pakistan – Turkey – Azerbaijan Trilateral Cooperation

Pakistan – Turkey – Azerbaijan trilateral cooperation was officially launched in November 2017 when Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov held a meeting with his counterparts from Turkey and Pakistan, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Muhammad Asif, in Baku.

According to Mammadyarov, sides agreed to increase trade turnover, support each other in international organizations and intended to multiply partnership in the defence sphere. The three countries have all had defence-related agreements in the past with each other, and now looking towards creating a trilateral format of defence cooperation.

In the declaration adopted after the meeting, the ministers expressed their contentment with the existing bilateral cooperation among their countries based on the strategic partnership, mutual respect, and trust and reconfirmed their mutual respect and strong support for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of international borders of states.

The declaration also underscored the significance of trilateral cooperation in energy and trade among three countries, as well as the development of transport infrastructure highlighting the importance of trilateral cooperation to enhance rail, road and air connectivity.

Ramifications for Armenia

Since the end of the hostilities in Nagorno Karabakh in May 1994 Armenian game plan on the Karabakh conflict has been based on two key pillars – Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic should be able to deter Azerbaijan by itself.

Simultaneously, Armenia should develop a strategic partnership, including guarantees on mutual defence, with Russia to prevent Turkey from any direct involvement in the potential new war over Karabakh.

The deployment of the Russian military base in Armenia, Armenia’s membership into the Collective Security Treaty Organization and later into the Eurasian Economic Union is based on this logic. This policy justified itself in 1993, during the active phase of hostilities in Karabakh when Turkey made a public threat to attack Armenia. However, there was a strong warning from Russia that this might spark World War III.

However, the defence partnership between Azerbaijan and Turkey including the acquisition of military hardware and the education and training of Azerbaijani officers in Turkish military universities is the source of permanent concern for Armenia. During their education, Azerbaijani officers participate in the operations against Kurdish PKK forces which gave them combat experience.

Armenia seeks to counterbalance it through membership into the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) which gives Armenia the advantage to buy Russian weapons by “significantly reduced prices”. Meanwhile, it should be mentioned that in recent years the key provider of modern assault armament to Azerbaijan was not Turkey, but Israel and Russia.

Israel has provided approximately US$ 1.5-2 billion weapons to Azerbaijan including drones and anti-tank guided missiles, while Russia sold Azerbaijan multiple launch rocket systems such as Smerch and Hurricane (Uragan), modern T-90 tanks, S–300 air defence systems worth of US$ 5 billion.

However, the key task for Yerevan is not to prevent the sales of weapons from Turkey, Israel or Russia to Azerbaijan but to keep military balance with Baku, simultaneously using its strategic alliance with Russia as an effective tool to prevent Turkey’s direct military involvement in case of a new wave of hostilities in Karabakh.

There is no widespread debate in Armenia at both state and expert levels regarding the possible direct or indirect participation of Pakistan in the revival of hostilities in Karabakh or in general concerning Pakistan’s negative impact.

Nor Azerbaijan–Turkey–Pakistan trilateral neither Azerbaijan–Pakistan bilateral defence partnership is among the key topics discussed in Armenia. The fact that Pakistan is the only state which does not recognize Armenia as an independent state definitely creates enmity towards Pakistan.

However, in Armenian strategic thinking, Pakistan is not perceived as a significant threat worthy of deterrence. There can be no comparison between the perception of the threat level of Turkey and Pakistan.

Islamabad is not viewed as an actor involved in the South Caucasus geopolitics. Pakistan is perceived as a hostile state but with little real capacity to harm Armenia.

Edited By Kiran Gujar. Penned By Benyamin Poghosyan