Joint Military Drills Between Pakistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan Reflect Growing Partnership
The Turkish, Uzbek, and Pakistani armies held joint military drills from April 20-26 in Jizzakh, in eastern Uzbekistan. The exercise, named Partnership Shield 2019, was the first held between the three countries. The three nations hope to coordinate on further drills, possibly including similar exercises in Pakistan and Turkey, according to Uzbek armed forces deputy chief of staff Shuhrat Ikramov.
The exercise staged a fight against a terrorist organization trying to infiltrate the country, a realistic concern for all three. Uzbekistan and Pakistan both share a border with Afghanistan. Pakistan has suffered several attacks from Afghan-based terrorist organizations, primarily the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP). ISKP has claimed an attack on the Pakistani consulate in Afghanistan and a deadly suicide bombing at the Shah Noorani Shrine in Balochistan, among others. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) operates out of Afghanistan as well.
Meanwhile, Turkey shares a long border with Syria and has been a transit point for fighters moving in and out of the region. Turkey also considers the Kurdish YPG members of the Syrian resistance forces an existential threat, claiming that they are tied to the PKK.
All three groups — ISKP, IMU and PKK — have designs against Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkey, respectively. However, the drill has significant diplomatic repercussions in addition to its security ones. Partnership Shield marks the first military exercise between these three states and reflects growing levels of cooperation between them.
Turkey and Uzbekistan have been increasing their collaboration ever since Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power, ending a long policy of isolation under the country’s previous leader. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a historic trip to Uzbekistan last May and signed agreements on 23 agreements on cooperation in economy, trade, transport and logistics, energy, science, education, and tourism. This week’s military cooperation is a continuation and augmentation of that trend.
Turkey and Pakistan are traditional allies, and their cooperation has been at a peak in the last few years. The two concluded a defense deal last year that allowed Pakistan to purchase thirty Turkish helicopters. Bilateral exchanges of military officers for training and education has also become more common.
Uzbekistan and Pakistan are also working to strengthen their bilateral ties. Like Turkey and Uzbekistan, the two have a track record of collaboration on economic initiatives and multiple high-level visits have reinforced the desire of both sides to enhance the connection. Politically, Afghanistan has been an important area of overlap, as Uzbekistan is trying to mediate a peace deal between the government and the Taliban and Pakistan is instrumental to such a deal’s success. The joint military drill takes these collaborative efforts one step farther.
Overall, the historic exercise demonstrates a deeper level of engagement between the three parties involved. All have worked together on economic and diplomatic fronts, and all have expressed commitment to combatting terrorism. However, military cooperation on that front is a significant next step on their road to a closer relationship.