By Sarp Ozer and Muhammed Nazim Tasci
KARACHI, Pakistan ( AA) - The keel of the third MILGEM-class corvette that Turkey sold to Pakistan was laid on Sunday in a ceremony attended by top defense officials on both sides.
The MILGEM project, undertaken by Turkish National Defense Ministry firm ASFAT, to build four vessels is continuing as planned. The project represents the single largest export of the flourishing Turkish defense industry.
The keel-laying ceremony was held in the shipyard of Pakistan's economic hub Karachi on the Arabian Sea coast, with Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Pakistani Defense Production Minister Zubaida Jalal Khan in attendance.
Speaking at the ceremony, Akar expressed his pleasure at being in Pakistan and underlined that the two countries' "excellent" relations were unique due to their long history.
Ankara and Islamabad cooperate in many different domains, said Akar, adding: "Pakistani people, because of their invaluable support during our war of independence, have a special place in our hearts and minds. Turkish people will never forget the generosity of the Pakistani people with whom we're always together both in good and bad times.
"It is very meaningful and valuable for us to see that, today, you are also standing beside the Azerbaijani Turks. Turkey has always stood beside Pakistan's rightful cause for Kashmir and will continue to do so."
For her part, Khan thanked Akar, as well as ASFAT, and all other contributors to the MILGEM project.
The MILGEM project will always be remembered as a symbol of Turkish-Pakistani friendship, she said, praising the brotherhood between the two countries.
The corvettes from the project will feature start-of-the-art sensors and the most advanced weapon platforms, the Pakistani Navy said on Twitter.
They will contribute to "maintaining peace, security & balance of power" in the Indian Ocean Region, it underlined.
- Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict
Stressing that the region and broader Islamic world was passing through hard times, Akar denounced what he said was hypocrisy and double standards by some countries for suffering and humanitarian crises in Muslim regions.
"Pakistan and Turkey did not ignore the human tragedies in their regions and around the world. They did not remain silent now in the face of the current developments in Azerbaijan. I want to express once again that, until the end, we support Azerbaijan's struggle to regain its own territories which were under occupation for more than 30 years."
Praising and thanking Pakistan for its support for Azerbaijan, Akar said Armenia would be responsible in front of history and international law for the crimes against humanity and war crimes it committed.
"International mechanisms [...] should understand that lasting peace and stability can only be achieved with Armenia's withdrawal from the territories of Azerbaijan, which it is occupying," he said.
Armenia occupied Upper Karabakh, or Nagorno-Karabakh, an internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan, in 1991.
Some 20% of Azerbaijan's territory has remained under illegal Armenian occupation for nearly three decades, despite multiple UN resolutions, as well as international organizations, demanding the withdrawal of the occupying forces.
- Sharing knowledge
The most recent developments have proved the need for strong solidarity among Muslims, Akar said, stressing the importance of effective and deterrent armed forces.
Noting the Turkish defense industry's improving capabilities, he said Turkey has made significant progress in many domains, thanks to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's leadership.
Akar reiterated that seven Turkish companies were among the biggest 100 defense companies in the world, adding that Turkey was happy to share its knowledge with Pakistan.
The Pakistan Navy signed a contract with ASFAT in July 2018 to acquire four MILGEM-class ships.
In October 2019, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with Pakistan Navy chief Adm. Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, cut the first metal plate of the first corvette during a ceremony in Istanbul.
Turkey is one of the 10 countries that can build, design and maintain warships using domestic capabilities.
Following the ceremony, Akar and his Pakistani counterpart held a meeting to discuss further cooperation possibilities in the defense industry and bilateral and regional matters.
* Writing by Ahmet Gencturk in Ankara