MURAT MUSTAFA ONART - Tête-à-Tête with Turkish Chargé d'affaires

The Al Bayrak is mounted on a flag pole close to his desk. A desk that has a local English daily lying crisp as the founder of modern day Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's monochrome picture frame looks intently on all those who set foot in the office of the Consul General of Turkey's office. Murat Mustafa Onart, is the Consul General of the Republic of Turkey in Karachi since September 2011 and the Dean of the Consul Corps in Karachi since August 2015.

Born in Ankara, Turkey, Mr Onart was exposed to different cultures since an early age. “As my father was in the foreign services I got to move all the time and experience new cultures and people. Some children of diplomats don't like it so much while others have the virus of moving around,” and he puts it across, “I had the virus and wanted to continue doing the same.”

Mr Onart's early days were spent in Africa. “My childhood was spent mostly in Ghana where I had friends but mostly I was on my own, which made me feel lonely at times,” shares the ‘introvert’. “My mother tells me I was a calm child and an introvert who spent time with books,” he recalls.

Before taking the office of the Consul General, Mr Onart worked in State Protocol. “It was in 2010 that our President was visiting Islamabad and Lahore, and I was in charge of his visit to Lahore for which I was coordinating with the local authority and I received a warm welcome from them,” and that is what made him opt to represent his country of birth in Karachi. “One can ask for a relocation after two years whilst in Karachi, but I really liked the place so I extended my stay for two more years,” he reveals the affinity he has for the place.

Mr Onart points out that the cultures of Turkey and Pakistan are very similar. “The way our families are constructed and how closely we are attached to our families and friends is what I appreciate a lot,” says the foodie who enjoys haleem and nihari, but not biryani. “All the Turks here love biryani, but I don't know why I'm not too fond of it,” he quips.

The strong relations the two nations with the crescent and star have, go a long way, as Mr Onart points out. “Turkey and Pakistan have a big heritage from the past. During World War I we were occupied by Britain, France, Italy and Greece. It was at that time the Muslims in the subcontinent realised that the last independent Muslim state was about to fall, and assisted us financially to help our resistance movement, the Khilafat Movement,” he trudges along the historical path. “The women especially sacrificed a lot by selling their jewellery and sent it to the Ottoman Empire at that time. Large amounts of money was sent; it was so much that even after we won our war of liberation there was still some left but we couldn’t send it back because of the British Raj. So with that amount, Attaturk founded two institutions, one is a glass factory and the other is a bank, isbank which is the first private bank in Turkey and the glass factory is number two in the world producing glass products that shows how huge those amounts were,” he shares how the Turks never forget this episode.

And similarly when Pakistan emerged on the map of the world, Turkey was “one of the first countries to recognise it and since then our relations are really close.”

Turkey and Pakistan share two sister cities – Lahore/ Istanbul and Islamabad/ Ankara. Mr Onart marks out how there is an exchange of delegations on both sides. “Mr Shahbaz Sharif has travelled a lot to Istanbul, and he saw the bus system which is now in Lahore too. Seeing our waste management capabilities too, now there is a company that has employed I think more than 10,000 people creating a lot of jobs locally,” he shares, adding, “we are trying to do the same for Karachi too, but which city it will be paired with, that has not been decided yet.”

An area in which the two nations fall weak, as Mr Onart says, is economics. “Our mutual trade is only about half a billion dollars which is very small for countries that are so close politically. We are trying to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) like Pakistan has one with China, and if it is signed, then everything will be better,” says the diplomat.

Turkey has invested in Pakistan’s wind corridor which is one of the world's largest. “Turkey has investments in the 56 MW Jhimpir wind energy farm along with a lot of cooperation in defence too.”

“A Turkish company is building a logistics ship which has a hospital and a helipad, which may extend the range of the current local fleet far beyond than what it is today, and that project will be completed very soon. The design of the ship is completely Turkish and it’s completely built in Karachi’s shipyard,” he declares. The same company will also upgrade the French-made Agosta submarines. And that's not all in defence cooperation as Mr Onart remarks. “A letter of intent has been signed between the two countries for four Turkish-made corvette warships,” but he adds, the cooperation isn't one way. “In the defence industry, you can't grow locally only, and you have to export; Turkey is buying Super Mushshak training planes from Pakistan.”

This Turk asserts his people have a lot to learn from Pakistan. “I have seen well-established family businesses in Karachi which are five-six generations old, and this is something we need to learn,” he states. Mr Onart has come across many youngsters who love their country. “They (the youth) are very patriotic and are doing a lot for their country. I’m very hopeful of them and what they will bring to Pakistan for this country really has everything in its hands. It has a beautiful geography and people are up to date with the happenings of the world which makes me extremely hopeful about the future of this country.”

Mr Onart claims there are lots of conspiracy theories revolving at the moment, but he is one who tries to analyze things. “Each nation has their own interests, and each uses its intelligence and sometimes brute force to extend it, but if you have a democratic state where people are happy, like Turkey, your people protect you, and not your armed or security forces or your intelligence, but really your people. If you have a strong democracy, nothing can happen because nobody can fight the power of the people,” he asserts.

Mr Onart praises Pakistan for it was one of the first countries that supported Turkey after July 15, 2016 coup d'état. “Unfortunately, the western media is very much criticising of our president. After the coup, very few countries supported us, and Pakistan was one of the first few. An All Parties Parliamentary delegation was also sent which was a symbolic move.”

He is one who is fond of board games. “When you’re playing them you forget everything and are concentrated on the little world that’s created. I have a very nice group of friends and we come together every week,” Mr Onart shares how he has given a few from his collection to an eatery here. A supporter of Be•ikta•, one of the top Turkish football teams, he enjoys football. “I don’t play it anymore but do watch it,” he tells me.

The extent of the two nations’ strong ties have another proof, the root of which lies in Konya. “You can see an honourary tomb of Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal in Mevlana Rumi’s mausoleum; he’s buried now in Lahore, but this was pre-partition for at that time Muslims of the subcontinent may have thought he won’t be able to be buried in a Muslim land so they prepared a tomb for him there.”

Mr Onart is one who tries approaching every task with a fresh mind, and lives by Aristotle’s quote: “The more you know, the more you know you don't know.” And he emphasizes, “The more I live, the more I’m surprised. Through living one discovers oneself,” voices the individual who also believes one cannot discover oneself completely.”

As for you reading this, he has a message, “Pakistan zabardast hai!”