The accumulated death toll from the devastating earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria continues to climb, making it critical for rescue teams and emergency response units to support both governments’ scramble for relief.
The sense of urgency arrives at a time when Martin Griffiths, the United Nations relief chief, estimated that the combined quake death toll will top 50,000. Harrowing scenes and miracle escapes continue to emerge as prominent, and so does the underlying strength of Turkiye’s treasured ties with key powers in the Muslim world. That includes Pakistan.
Consider the fact that a punishing cold and hard-hit infrastructure has drawn attention to Turkiye’s delicate crisis management phase, and still Islamabad’s ironclad friendship manifests itself as a resilient fixture from the day of the quake to date. A multi-layered relief fund procurement drive, dispatched Pakistani rescue teams, and planes packed with urgent relief goods have led Pakistan’s quake response so far to put complete solidarity with Turkiye and Syria into action.
Pakistan’s urgent relief assistance for Turkiye identifies closely with the motivations of a wide range of international relief actors on-ground. Several of them demonstrate extraordinary sensitivity to the value of each passing day, and hence, press to avoid lax action by searching for life and resolve under the rubble. For years, Turkiye and Pakistan have also treated the scale and pace of their emergency support efforts as major priorities. This was recently captured by the turbulent aftermath of Pakistan’s catastrophic floods, where Turkiye’s humanitarian assistance operations graced swathes of populations, lands, and intersecting localities, drawing widespread admiration and respect.
As such, Pakistan’s utilisation of expert labour and targeted relief supplies at present comes across as a valuable pursuit, both on bilateral grounds and in relation to the crisis itself. Prior memory of engaging in delicate relief operations makes it likely that Pakistan’s on-ground support will score genuine gains with locals, and spare them the cost of discontent as faced at the hands of some foreign units. The growing understanding within Turkiye is that the humanitarian agencies would soon be occupying centre stage as rehabilitation and shelter operations gather steam. This is where Islamabad’s collaborative approach to relief engagement merits attention, because it is complete with a desire to exercise damage control in a phase-by-phase approach with Turkiye.
Look no further than planeloads of relief goods reportedly supplied to quake-hit Turkiye and Syria, accompanied by special dispatches and a dedicated relief fund that enjoys public traction. Top international aid agencies continue to employ a similar mix of prompt disaster assistance as Turkiye prepares to transition from rescue relief to a soft rehabilitation phase. Going forward, closer, on-ground coordination between Pakistan and its Turkish counterparts may prove critical to extending meaningful forms of logistical support that are chief to Ankara’s disaster relief advantage.
On the diplomatic front, Islamabad is well aware of the role that responsible statesmanship plays in weathering a crisis of this magnitude. Time-tested symbolism is likely to strengthen further as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif draws on the value of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s leadership. He sent a message of confidence to the people of Turkiye: that you will emerge out of the crisis based on present priorities. That sense of assurance stems in part from Ankara’s demonstrated crisis leadership during Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake devastation, prompting Islamabad to look beyond its present domestic economic crisis to prioritise the arrival of all that matters – more medical teams, rescue assistance and aid dispatches in quake-hit regions.
Exploration of new supply routes to high exposure areas should form the core of Pakistan’s long-term relief support for Turkiye. Early signs include a stated government position to move in that direction, reflective of Turkish resolve to see Pakistan through in the early phases of its cataclysmic floods.
Ankara’s recent decision to open up more routes into quake-hit Syrian regions supports a growing desire in the international community, including Pakistan, to attend and accommodate distant survivors in Turkiye’s neighbourhood as well. Insights on key natural devastations suggest that prolonged financial relief, such as the $780 million in World Bank infrastructure-building, is better positioned to deliver once nations resort to swift, short-term assistance in target areas. To that end, Islamabad’s modest economic profile hasn’t kept it from playing an outsized role in Turkiye’s damage control prospects. In fact, it is at the centre of a growing chorus of regional and international stakeholders that are keen to see these opportunities through.
Finally, scores of volunteers coordinated through mega relief charities in Pakistan make for a heartening sight. After all, the aftermath of the earthquake gave way to accelerated involvement of rescue volunteers and manpower in delicate relief operations in hard-hit areas. All this should be seen as the result of robust public diplomacy that continues to bind the Pakistani masses with its Turkish counterparts, making it clear that the pains and trials of their iron-brothers are shared in entirety and without exception.
The writer is a foreign affairs commentator and recipient of the Fulbright Award