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Will Turkey become a nuclear weapon power with covert support from Pakistan?

Will Turkey become a nuclear weapon power with covert support from Pakistan?

A rogue nexus involving Pakistan and Turkey, with China looking the other way, maybe taking root to fulfil Ankara’s ambition to emerge as the world’s next nuclear weapon power.

Suspicions about Pakistan’s covert support for Turkish nukes has been aroused by a recent meeting of the Turkey-Pakistan High-Level Military Dialogue Group (HLMDG). The assemblage took place on December 22-23. Pakistan's Defence Secretary Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Mian Muhammad Hilal Hussain led the delegation from Islamabad, while Deputy Chief of Turkish Army General Selcuk Bayraktaroglu headed the Turkish team, says an article published by the website zeenews.india.com.

There are other indications that collaboration on nuclear delivery systems was the hot topic discussed during the meeting. The visitors from Islamabad met top Turkish Army generals and bureaucrats dealing with missile production and aerial military hardware. The hosts included Prof. Ismail Demir head of Presidency of Turkish Defence Industries and Dr. Temil Kotil, CEO of Turkish Aerospace Limited (TAI). The Pakistani defence delegation also visited top Turkish defence companies including Bakyar (UAV OEM), TAI, HAVELSAN and ASELSAN.

Analysts say that the insider meetings in Turkey took place within a rapidly evolving geopolitical context. Islamabad and Ankara have become staunch strategic allies—a partnership sealed by personal bonds between Turkey’s ambitious President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistan’s military backed Prime Minister, Imran Khan. It is no secret that Erdogan hopes to emerge as the pre-eminent Islamic leader, marginalising established heavyweights such as Mohamed bin Sultan, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

The rifts within the Islamic nations are visible inside the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) where Saudi-led camp is at loggerheads with an emerging grouping comprising Turkey, Pakistan, and Malaysia.

Apart from the HLMDG conclave, on December 21, Lt. Gen. Sahir Shamshad of Pakistani Army also met Lt. Gen. Wali Turkchi of Turkish Army in Ankara for the Second Round of Turkish-Pakistani Military Talks. Sources said that transfer of missile technology and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) were the focus of these discussions.

Apart from ideological reasons, there is a clear quid pro quo in the Turkey-Pakistan alliance. The International Institute of Strategic Studies, points out that Turkish companies have backed Pakistan to covertly import materials from Europe, and export the finished products to players like Libya and North Korea. There have been some media reports that have spotlighted that Turkey might be possessing a considerable number of centrifuges—spinning machines that purify uranium to higher grades– made by Pakistan.

On his part, Erdogan has made no secret about his nuclear ambitions—a gateway for the fulfilment of his self-espoused dream of elevating Turkey’s status to the heights of the Ottoman empire.

In September 2019, he said: “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. I, however, am not supposed to have missiles with nuclear warheads. This, I cannot accept… And right next to us, there is Israel, right? With everything, it is frightening."

It was therefore natural that Turkey, in its quest for atomic weapons, narrowed its focus on Pakistan, which has a well-established record of nuclear smuggling. For decades, Pakistan has been a kingpin of the ‘nuclear black market,” with the disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan helping numerous countries, especially in the production of centrifuges, through his infamous AQ Khan network.

Behind the Turkey-Pakistan secret collaboration on weapons of mass destruction, China’s shadow also looms large. Suspicion of Beijing’s collaboration is raised on account of the murky history of nuclear proliferation involving China and Pakistan.

The Hindustan Times reported last year the seizure of an industrial autoclave from the Chinese ship Dai Cui Yun. Experts from India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) confirmed that the contraption could be used for the manufacture of very long-range ballistic missiles or satellite launch rockets. The ship was detained by Customs at Kandla Port while en-route to Port Qasim, Karachi, on February 3. China has been known to have supplied M-9 and M-11 missiles to help Pakistan develop its nuclear missile delivery platforms.

The next meeting of HLMDG is scheduled in 2021 and observers say that that both the countries have set the following targets before their next meeting: fast tracking of missile technology transfer, capacity building of Turkey in producing centrifuges, purchase of small armed Turkish drones by Pakistan, acquisition of high-range Turkish mini drones by Pakistani Army.