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Pakistan/Turkey: Musharraf Visit Focuses On Antiterrorism, Economic Issues

Turkey and Pakistan agreed today to cooperate and exchange information in the fight against international terrorism. On a visit to Ankara, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf joined his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, at the signing of five agreements, including one that paves the way for sharing information on fighting terrorism and organized crime.

Prague, 20 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf today examined with Turkish leaders ways to enhance bilateral ties and boost cooperation against terrorism.

Musharraf is on a three-day visit to Ankara in his first official trip to the Turkish capital since he became president in June 2001. The Pakistani leader -- who last month survived two assassination attempts in his own country -- arrived last night at Ankara's Esenboga airport amid tight security measures.
The 60-year-old Pakistani leader, who reportedly speaks Turkish, spent his early childhood in Ankara, where his father was posted as a diplomat in the 1950s.

In November 2003, Turkey was the target of a series of deadly suicide bombings that have been blamed on Pakistani-trained radical Islamic groups affiliated with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The joint fight against terrorism and organized crime was one of the three main topics Musharraf discussed with the Turkish leadership today.
In a short address made before entering the Cankaya presidential palace, Musharraf said both sides have agreed to join forces against terrorism.
"During this process, we are going to sign a number of agreements and protocols, especially on fighting terrorism, and we will articulate a common understanding and stance on [this] issue," Musharraf said.

Addressing reporters later during a joint press conference with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Musharraf said the antiterror agreement covered the exchange of information and experts between the two countries.

The Pakistani leader also held separate talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish government officials. He was due to address the Turkish Grand National Assembly, or parliament, later today.

Musharraf's Ankara talks come seven months after Erdogan's visit to Pakistan last June.

Although both countries have enjoyed traditionally close economic and political ties, bilateral relations got a significant boost after Musharraf became Pakistan's de facto ruler in October 1999.

Pakistan's top defense official at the time the military took power in Islamabad, Musharraf has never concealed his admiration for the influential role the Turkish military has traditionally played in domestic policy. He also claims a profound admiration for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, whom he sees as a model statesman.

The 60-year-old Pakistani leader, who reportedly speaks Turkish, spent his early childhood in Ankara, where his father was posted as a diplomat in the 1950s.

As director of military operations of Pakistan's Army General Staff, he has also developed a close relationship with the Turkish military and boosted defense ties between the two countries in the 1990s.

In comments to the Ankara-based "Turkish Daily News" newspaper published yesterday, Pakistan's ambassador to Ankara, Sher Afgan Khan, said he expected this week's talks -- which follow a recent visit to Islamabad by Turkish Deputy Army Chief of Staff General Ilker Basbug -- to pave the way for even closer bilateral defense ties. Khan, in particular, mentioned weapons production as a possible area of cooperation.

But it is in the security area that stronger ties are expected to develop in the short term. Sher Afgan Khan said Musharraf and his Turkish hosts were expected to review in detail the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ankara and Islamabad are both seen as key players in the region and have been requested by the United States to back stabilization efforts in those two countries.

Turkey has been contributing troops to the international peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, and Pakistan -- which actively supported the Taliban in the 1990s -- has now vowed to fight Al-Qaeda-affiliated armed groups in its northwestern provinces.Both countries were asked by Washington to join coalition forces in Iraq. Turkey initially agreed, but subsequently withdrew its offer in the face of Iraqi opposition.

In his interview with the "Turkish Daily News," Pakistani envoy Afgan Khan cited domestic opposition in both Islamabad and Baghdad to justify his country's refusal to send troops to Iraq. Khan insisted Pakistan would stick to its decision unless the United Nations authorizes the deployment of foreign soldiers in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Turkish and Pakistani intelligence agencies have been maintaining a close working relationship with the U.S., both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan, which claims it fully supports Washington's antiterror drive, is apparently keen to trace any possible links between radical Turkish Islamic groups and Al-Qaeda. Turkey, in return, is actively investigating possible ties between the perpetrators of the recent Istanbul bombings and Pakistani-based terrorist cells.

Pakistani media have reported in recent weeks that Washington is also pushing Islamabad to imitate Ankara and normalize relations with Israel. There has even been speculation in Pakistan that the recent assassination attempts against Musharraf were prompted by discreet steps he has taken to explore a possible rapprochement with the Jewish state.

Neither side provided any details on the security aspect of today's talks. Sezer contented himself with stressing that Ankara and Islamabad have similar views on regional issues and agree that "overcoming the problems of Iraq and Afghanistan" is of "vital importance" for their stability.
Delegations from both countries signed agreements in the health and banking sectors, as well as accords on economic partnership and preferential trade.

Musharraf today said Ankara and Islamabad -- who are both founding members of the Economic Cooperation Organization, a 10-member regional forum that promotes trade in Central Asia and the Caspian area -- would strive to boost bilateral trade volume to $1 billion a year by 2005. Annual trade volume between the two countries currently stands at around $170 million.

Tomorrow, the Pakistani leader will meet representatives of the business community in Istanbul, Turkey's economic capital, before heading to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan yesterday said Musharraf would speak before the plenary session of the international assembly, which is expected to focus this year on global security and growth issues. The Pakistani leader will also address a forum dedicated to promoting ties between the West and Muslim countries.