Foreign interference in elections is the most dangerous challenge to democracy and a threat to national security. Among others, the United States, Russia, and Turkey have a long history of interference in foreign elections. The United States and Turkey have deep roots in Pakistani society, in the last few years, Tayyip Erdogan has emerged as an influential foreign leader in Pakistan and gain popularity in millions of Pakistani citizens. He has close relations with the Sharif family that leads largest political of Pakistan. Hundreds of Turkish companies and NGOs are working in Pakistan having thousands of employees. On social media websites, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a popular figure in the Pakistani community. Only on Facebook dozens of fan pages with the name of Tayyip Erdogan has more than 24.489 million Pakistani followers. These fan pages involve in political activities and showing favor towards Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and right-wing religious political parties.
Erdogan has a habit of interfering in internal matters of foreign countries. Recep Tayyip Erdogan interfere in the 2017 German Federal elections he called on ethnic Turks living in Germany not to vote Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), or Greens whose co-leader Cem Ozdemir has been critical of Tayyip Erdogan and having Turkish origin. He called them enemies of Turkey.
Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz condemned the Erdogan’s interference in German internal affairs and said this is something that is not just taking place only in Germany. Austria ordered to expel up to 60 Turkish funded imams and close seven mosques. Approximately 600000 Muslims are living in Austria and most of them are Turkish, who just began casting their votes for June 24 presidential elections of Turkey.
In November 2013 Recep Tayyip Erdogan the than prime minister called for the release of ousted president Mohammed Morsi. After Erdogan’s comments, Egypt expelled Turkey’s ambassador and accused Ankara of continues interference and attempts to influence public opinion.
Tayyip Erdogan announced snap pools June 24, 2018, parliamentary and presidential elections in an ongoing state of emergency. This election is originally planned for November 3, 2018. The last year’s referendum gives extensive powers to President Erdogan.
On May 3, 2018, in the last month of the government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Turkey ’s chief of the general staff Hulusi Akar visits Pakistan and meet with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. He also visited military headquarters and held a meeting with top military leadership. More than 100 Turkish firms are operating in Pakistan. Between 2004 and 2013 Turkey provides $724.48 million development aid to Pakistan. Turkish firm’s investment in Pakistan reaches $599.7 million in the first quarter of 2017.
In August 2016 after the visit of Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu (few months before Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Pakistan), Pakistan removed Turkish principals of 28 schools located in different cities of the country, however, Tayyip Erdogan wants to shut down these schools. These schools and colleges have more than 11000 students these were working under the international NGO (PakTurk International Education Foundation and allegedly links with Fethullah Gulen. Currently, these institutes are working under the PakTurk Education Foundation which has links with Tayyip Erdogan. Although Fethullah Gulen is an opponent of Erdogan his unnecessary actions against the PakTurk International Education Foundation can explain his intentions and can be said President Erdogan has deep interests in the public opinion in Pakistan. Pakistan was fought President Erdogan’s personal war with Fethullah Gulen on her own land without having any threat from Gulen.
It seems Tayyip Erdogan offers Muslims around the world as third options after Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran have their roots in Muslim populations around the globe through the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. As the sectarianism in Islam is old fashioned Muslims see Turkey as an alternate. Historically, Turkish rulers, have their influence among Muslims and in case of Pakistan Turkish leader has greatly respected pre-partition and post-partition dated back to the Ottoman Empire and Khilafat Movement.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the only foreign dignitary who addressed the joint session of Pakistani parliament thrice. But Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan decided to boycott the joint session of parliament in which Tayyip Erdogan addressed to the lawmakers in 2016. However, Imran Khan admires Tayyip Erdogan as the moderate Islamist Turkish prime minister back in 2012.
President Tayyip Erdogan is very popular among the millions of Pakistani citizens due to his bold statements on the issues of Muslims around the world. But it is interesting that he using religious sentiments, Ottoman Empire (Khilafat-e-Usmania) and fake news to gain popularity in the country. These may damage the interests of voters of Pakistan’s liberal and progressive political parties such as Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), Awami National Party (ANP), and other small liberal political parties directly or indirectly.
On the largest social media plate forum Facebook we observe seven fan pages with the name of Recep Tayyip Erdogan having more than 11.58 million followers and six other Facebook fan pages with names like Pakistan-Turkey brotherhood or similar, these six fan pages have more than 12.9 million followers. These 13 Facebook fan pages have combined followers more than 24.489 million on June 10, 2018. However, it is not clear that these fan pages having direct or indirect links with Erodgan.
Sharif family and Erdogan has various similarities both the families are more than decade in power, they want more and more power in their own hands, both the families are facing mega corruption charges and use of public office for their private family business, both are famous in branding their political opponents as traitors or terrorists, both are undemocratic mindset and pushing their respective countries towards autocracy, they want to put military under their own control and having a history of confrontational attitudes towards the military of their counties. The most interesting fact is that when Sharif family in trouble at home for the bailout they show reliance on foreign leaders. As they did in Panama papers case they submitted a letter from Qatari prince in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Unarguably Tayyip Erdogan and Shahbaz Sharif have very close personal relations and undoubtedly Tayyip Erdogan has the potential to intervene and help PML-N in upcoming general elections of Pakistan.
After the claim of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) officials that international powers could interfere in upcoming general election, On June 21, 2018, the senate standing committee on interior held an in-camera briefing from Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and intelligence agencies of the country to discuss the issue of international powers interference in upcoming general election of Pakistan in July.
Pakistan should establish a cyber-force to combat the threat of foreign intervention on an emergency basis and ensure the cybersecurity of election and democratic process. The government should form a strict mechanism of check and balance on social media and the internet. Put a close eye on companies and individuals who are dealing with public relations business and those who provide internet marketing, and social media marketing.
In Pakistan currently, anyone from anywhere can run political ads through Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms. But in Western countries, everyone from the outside world can’t able to run political ads on the mentioned above online platforms. In US only her citizens with a verified physical address can run political ads on Facebook. The government of Pakistan should ask Google, Facebook, and Twitter to not run political ads from outside the country to ensure free and fair elections.
Waseem Akhtar is a researcher and editor at The World Politics. His research focuses on cyberpolitics, international governance, emerging technologies, and global security.