Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman said he spoke to his opposite number in Ankara the day after the failed coup orchestrated by the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) to pledge Pakistan’s support.
“Nobody better than us can understand this… Honestly, not only that we understand, we fully support and that is why we come up with all kinds of help,” Aman said.
The PAF chief was speaking to Anadolu Agency’s Deputy Director General and Editor-in-Chief Metin Mutanoglu, Foreign Languages Director Mehmet Ozturk and International News Editor-in-Chief Faruk Tokat at the Pakistan embassy in Ankara on Wednesday.
Aman said that he spoke to Gen. Abidin Unal, head of the Turkish Air Force (TAF), on July 16 to demonstrate his “complete commitment and solidarity to him”.
FETO, led by U.S.-based Fetullah Gulen, orchestrated the defeated coup that left 250 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Following the attempt, Ankara launched a diplomatic drive to close FETO-related schools and colleges around the world.
Aman, who was awarded the Legion of Merit by Turkey on Tuesday, said Islamabad was close cooperating with Turkey to hand over this institutions to the Turkish authorities.
“Yes, it took a bit of time because there were thousands of children who were already studying there,” he said. “We can’t tell everybody that you just go out and these schools are closed. But we did make that effort. We stop the extending visas of those people.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Aman highlighted the similarities between Pakistan and Turkey. Both have provided shelter to a large number of refugees while facing problems in neighboring countries and cross-border terror threats.
“The counter-terrorism effort which has been done by both countries in terms of air operations and also land [operations] is same,” he said.
“Other than military aspects that we talk about, what’s really important is that, at the intellectual level, both the countries should move towards [each other].”
The air force chief described relations between the countries as deeper than Pakistan’s ties to other states.
“I have seen that the support that you get from your so-called friends is a timely support,” he said.
“As long as you are serving their interests, it goes fine. But then, Turkey is different. With Turkey, the kind of deep relations that we have we can share a lot and there is a lot of commonality.”
Turkey and Pakistan conduct regular military exercises together, which helps cement ties between the two nations’ armed services. In October, the TAF will take part in a drill held in Pakistan.
“So, doing a lot of operational exercises together has been a big hallmark,” Aman said. “I mean, they [PAF personnel] have been coming here to Konya and doing operational exercises.”
Commenting on his personal ties, Aman described his close relationship with Unal. He is “not a friend, he is a brother,” he said.
However, he added there was always room to extend ties between the countries’ military branches.
“The trust, the friendship, those are all very much fair,” he told Anadolu Agency.
“But when it comes to really translating these two practical steps, I think we have a lot of space still there.”
He cited the possible relaxation of visa regulations for civilians as one area where the countries could improve links.
Business in defense industry
Aman also recognized the potential for defense industry cooperation. “The kind of potential that both the countries have, there is a lot of space in the defense industry,” he said.
“There is collaboration which has already begun.”
Pakistan recently agreed to export Super Mushshak training aircraft to Turkey while Ankara said it would help provide Pakistan with four corvettes.
“We’ll explore more into different things,” he said. “But a lot of military hardware from ASELSAN and HAVELSAN [Turkish defense contractors] has already began coming to Pakistan.”
He added that Turkey has become the first country to use the Aviation City at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex.
Turning to Pakistan’s relations with its northern neighbour, Aman said Pakistan wanted stability in Afghanistan. “A stable Afghanistan is to our benefit,” he said.
Pakistan also performs an important role in providing logistics support to international troops in Afghanistan, the air chief marshal said.
“If Pakistan had not supported logistically the United States and rest of the 43 counties, they would have not existed there. Four hundred aircraft are moving up and down and taking logistics in Afghanistan a day.
“Our support to the U.S. will continue in terms of supplying logistics. We are friends with them and we like to have them. We like the region to be stabilized.”
Aman also condemned plots to sabotage the $51 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
“The CPEC is not China. The CPEC is not Pakistan. The CPEC is a region,” he said.
“If it connects the Chinese to the port [of Gwadar, Pakistan] it is 100 percent business and a trade route and we should get that confusion out in anybody else’s mind… If somebody is trying to sabotage this, we will not let it happen. It’s very simple.”