Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Turkey for a two-day visit on Thursday, accepting an invitation from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Khan’s itinerary included a visit to the mausoleum of 13th-century Sufi Islamic scholar and poet Jalaluddin Rumi, who is almost invariably identified by his honorific “Maulana” and described as a “saint” in Pakistani media accounts. The tomb is located near the Turkish city of Konya and includes a memorial to Muhammad Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan, active at the beginning of the 20th Century and seen as a spiritual disciple of Rumi.
“In his brief meeting with the governor of Konya, Imran Khan said the people of Pakistan have great love for the people of Konya and hold Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi in great reverence. He said the spiritual message of Maulana Rumi has served to unite humanity from all religions and all walks of life,” Radio Pakistan reported.
Khan also talked business during his first trip to Turkey as prime minister, meeting with Turkey’s trade minister and making plans to address a business forum on Friday.
Pakistan’s Dawn.com described Khan’s trip to Turkey as an important part of his mission to improve relations with Pakistan’s partners and bring in more foreign investment:
The prime minister has visited several countries – including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, China, and Malaysia – after his election to the top office in an effort to strengthen bilateral and economic relations and secure foreign investment for the country.
Pakistan and Turkey have enjoyed close ties over the years. In February, during the vote on US’s motion to ‘grey list’ Pakistan at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) plenary meeting, the only country left opposing the motion was Turkey. In August, even before he had taken the oath of the prime ministerial office, Imran Khan had extended his support to Ankara, which at the time was embroiled in an intense trade dispute with the United States.
In October, President Arif Alvi and his Turkish counterpart Erdogan had agreed to further strengthen mutual cooperation between the two “brotherly countries” during the former’s visit to Turkey.
TRTWorld notes that Khan promised to refrain from overseas visits and work on Pakistan’s problems from Islamabad before he was elected, but he has now taken five trips out of the country as he “looks to traditional allies to shore up Pakistan’s debt.”
Turkey is a somewhat delicate case for Khan because he claims Erdogan as a political inspiration, but Erdogan had very close personal ties to his predecessor Nawaz Sharif, who is currently jailed on corruption charges and unsuccessfully demanding a servant to clean up his cell.
Erdogan promised to develop a comparably close relationship with Khan and is likely pleased by gestures such as Pakistan inviting the Turkish education ministry to take over a number of schools in Pakistan formerly administered by the followers of Erdogan’s nemesis, exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Khan is looking for alternatives to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to fix Pakistan’s tottering finances, in part because of the reforms demanded by the IMF in its bailout packages, and is nervous about the amount of debt Sharif racked up with China. Turkey and Pakistan have acted to protect each other from U.S. sanctions and have comparably nasty predilections toward Islamic supremacy and courting dangerous non-state allies in neighboring countries. Unfortunately for Khan, Turkey’s economy is showing fragile signs of perking up at best and could be headed for another crash in the worst-case scenario.