Pakistan-Turkey-Azerbaijan Triangle: Emerging New Partnership in the Greater Middle East
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Pakistan-Turkey-Azerbaijan Triangle: Emerging New Partnership in the Greater Middle East

By Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan
Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies, Yerevan, Armenia

Pakistan-Turkey-Azerbaijan Triangle: Emerging New Partnership in the Greater Middle East

In recent years Pakistan has intensified its strategic partnership with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. Simultaneously, the process of the establishment of trilateral cooperation was launched in 2017. This brief assesses 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 fresh chapter to their relations, in May 2019, they upgraded their military and strategic relationship. And since Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Ankara in January 2019, the two countries’ defense relations have been getting stronger and are now on a decidedly 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 defense deal between Islamabad and Ankara has been the procurement of four MILGEM Ada Corvettes for the Pakistani navy, while the largest-ever defense 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.

From being Islamabad’s only 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 dependable ally. With efforts from both sides, Turkey's export to Pakistan increased from US$ 155 million in 2008 to 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.

After the 2016 military coup attempt in Turkey, one of the most pressing issues faced by Pakistani-Turkish relations was PakTurk 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 organization and ordered that PakTurk schools be handed over to the Maarif Foundation – an Islamic school organization established by the Turkish government to counter Gülenist influence.

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 defense fields. The two countries have signed a defense agreement in May 2003. As a part of the agreement, Azerbaijan’s naval personnel have participated in the biggest Pakistan-led multinational exercise, AMAN-2013, held in March 2013 in the Arabian Sea. Beyond joint exercises, military and defense cooperation between Azerbaijan-Pakistan have taken the form of continuous dialogue in high-level meetings. 

In October 2018, a delegation of Pakistani Armed Forces visited Azerbaijan to discuss bilateral military cooperation. This growing military cooperation between the two states is premised on a protocol on bi-lateral military cooperation signed on March 31st, 2015, which subsequently led to the signing of the “Book of Honour” on November 24th, 2017. Azerbaijan is interested in the growing expansion of military ties with Pakistan. 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 defense ties were discussed during March 2019 Azerbaijani defense 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. 

The launch of trilateral cooperation

Pakistan – Turkey – Azerbaijan trilateral cooperation officially has been launched in November 2017 when Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov held 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 intensify cooperation in the defense sphere. The three countries have all had defense-related agreements in the past with each other, and now looking towards creating a trilateral format of defense cooperation.

In the declaration adopted after the meeting, the ministers expressed their satisfaction 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 emphasized 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.

Implications for Armenia

Since the end of the hostilities in Nagorno Karabakh in May 1994 Armenian strategy on Karabakh conflict has been based on two key pillars – Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic should be able to deter Azerbaijan himself, and in the case of deterrence failure, should defeat Azerbaijan militarily. Simultaneously, Armenia should develop a strategic alliance, including guarantees on mutual defense, with Russia to prevent Turkey from any direct involvement in the possible new war over the 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 trigger World War III.

However, the defense partnership between Azerbaijan and Turkey including the procurement 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 defense systems worth of US$ 5 billion. 

However, the key task for Armenia 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 deter 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 resumption of hostilities in Karabakh or in general concerning Pakistan’s negative influence. Nor Azerbaijan–Turkey–Pakistan trilateral neither Azerbaijan–Pakistan bilateral defense cooperation 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 antipathy 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 a little real capacity to harm Armenia.

About the Author:

Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan
Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is Founder and Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies and also, Executive Director, Political Science Association of Armenia since 2011. He was Vice President for Research – Head of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense Research University in Armenia in August 2016 – February 2019. He joined Institute for National Strategic Studies (predecessor of NDRU) in March 2009 as a Research Fellow and was appointed as INSS Deputy Director for research in November 2010. Before this, he was the Foreign Policy Adviser of the Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia. Dr. Poghosyan has also served as a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences and was an adjunct professor at Yerevan State University and in the European Regional Educational Academy.

His primary research areas are the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and the Middle East, US – Russian relations and their implications for the region. He is the author of more than 70 Academic papers and OP-EDs in different leading Armenian and international journals. In 2013, Dr. Poghosyan was appointed as a Distinguished Research Fellow" at the US National Defense University - College of International Security Affairs and also, he is a graduate from the US State Department's Study of the US Institutes for Scholars 2012 Program on US National Security policymaking. He holds a Ph.D. in History and is a graduate from the 2006 Tavitian Program on International Relations at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Cite this Article:

Poghosyan, B., "Pakistan-Turkey-Azerbaijan Triangle: Emerging New Partnership in the Greater Middle East", IndraStra Global Vol. 06, Issue No: 01 (2020), 0041,, ISSN 2381-3652

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.