On the invitation of President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif visited Istanbul from 25-27 August to attend the opening ceremony of Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge.

The bridge, connecting Asian & European sides of Turkey across the Bosphorous, is highly significant in geographical and strategic terms since the Bosphorous strait is a crucial international waterway especially for the passage of goods coming in from Russia.

The 322 meters high bridge, built for rail and motor vehicle transit, was characterised by CM as ‘an engineering marvel’. Designed to withstand winds up to 300 km/ hour, Sultan Selim Bridge is the world's tallest and widest suspension bridge.

Also, it is the world's second tallest bridge on any type after the Millau Viaduct (a cable-stayed bridge) spanning over the valley of the River Tarn in France. The budgeted cost for the 2.164 km bridge was $2.5 billion.

The launching ceremony of the bridge was held on August 26. The amazing event, attended by more than 20,000 people and heads of states and dignitaries from Balkan and Central Asian states, clearly sent a strong message to all and sundry.

CM's visit also had a historical significance since it was the first after the recently failed coup attempt in Turkey. Therefore, during the historic visit, CM also met with Turkey's highest leadership so as to congratulate them on the momentous and decisive victory in, most probably, the Turkish nation's final battle for democracy.

During his two-day stay in Turkey, the CM also made sure to explore avenues to further enhance bilateral cooperation and trade.

On arrival at the Attaturk Airport in Istanbul, CM had a brief meeting with Governor of Istanbul Mehmet Ali Ulutash and member Turkish parliament Burhan Kayaturk at the airport lounge.

Besides exchanging views on bilateral relations between the two brotherly countries, ‘fatiha’ was offered for the martyrs of July15 failed coup.

From the airport, the CM, accompanied by his delegation, headed straight to the Culinary School and Hotel Management Institute. The institute brings up chefs who are well-equipped in both the global and local cuisine. On reaching there, visibly mesmerised by the sweet aroma of fresh coffee, CM was pleased to have a cup of Cappuccino and desired to have a similar setup in Punjab under the auspices of Technical & Vocational training institutes of Punjab.

From the Culinary School, CM and his delegation left for Hotel Conrad where arrangements had been made their stay. Next engagement on the schedule was a meeting with the Mayor of Istanbul, Dr Kadir Topbas.

So, 40 minutes later, the CM along with his delegation, left for the historic restaurant, Beyti. Having reached at Beyti on boat via Bosphorus, the CM and his delegation were warmly welcomed by the Mayor.

The CM paid homage to the Turk leadership and the people for safeguarding their right to rule and foiling the mutiny in a valiant fashion. CM also shared that on the night of the failed coup attempt, he was not only following all developments but was also constantly in contact with the Pakistani ambassador in Turkey.

Dr. Topbas, in a thankful tone, recalled that Pakistan was the first country to have extended resolute support to Turkey in the testing times.

While sitting on the dinner table, Dr Topbas amusingly showed to the CM a CCTV video on his cell phone. Each frame of the video was worth a thousand legends! The video showed a column of tanks crossing over the Bosphorus Bridge, with a single man standing in front of them so as to halt their advance and later laying down when tanks tried to bypass that single man standing. He was a single man...but not the last man standing! Within a few minutes, the video showed a large number of people gathered and barred the whole column of tanks from moving any further.

The CM was so moved by this exceptional act of heroism that he urged his whole delegation to see the video.

Leaving from the restaurant after the dinner-meeting, the CM noticed a wall decorated with photographs of various celebrities who ever visited the place. Those historically remarkable photos included, amongst others, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as well.

On August 26, at the Hotel Conrad, CM had an early morning meeting scheduled with a delegation of the General Electric Company at 7:30 AM. The company is already working on some energy projects in Punjab, including Bhikki Power Plant. The meeting continued for over an hour.

The next scheduled engagement of the CM was with the Health Minister of Turkey, Dr Recep Akdag. The main agenda of the meeting was health sector reforms in Punjab. Discussion also focused on ways to manage the load of patients in major hospitals.

The Turkish health minister, a very humble and observant person, happily extended cooperation in the health sector and assured that a team would soon be sent to Pakistan. An MoU was also signed in this regard. On the occasion, the CM also expressed his gratitude to the Turkish leaders for setting up the Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital in Muzaffargarh. The CM, calling the hospital a gift of Turkey to Pakistan, vowed that it would prove to be an exemplary hospital.

Later in the day, at a press talk, remarking about the failed coup, the CM said some very moving words: “In the past, tanks would roll in to stop the Azaan. This time around, the sound of Azaan drowned the tanks.”

The Turkish health minister exclaimed that in the face of attempted failed coup, Pakistanis showed great solidarity with the people of Turkey. Relating Pakistanis solidarity in the present times to the historic role Muslims of the Subcontinent had played during the Khilafat Movement days, Akdag remarked:

“The hearts of the Turkish and the Pakistani people beat in sync.”

CM Shahbaz Sharif, mincing no words, explicitly vowed: “Turkey’s enemy is Pakistan’s enemy, and Erdogan’s enemy is my enemy!”

Although the schedule for the 2-day visit was packed to capacity, with back to back engagements, CM did manage to hold a meeting with the cabinet committee for flood control in Pakistan via video-link.

Addressing the participants, the CM inquired about the situation arising out of floods and issued directions to take all necessary pre-emptive measures to avert any damages.

Later, after having attended the Friday prayers at Dolmabahce Mosque, the CM, along with his delegation, left for Dolmabahce Palace where the Speaker of the Grand National Assembly, Mr Ismail Kahraman, joined him. The CM lauded the role played by Ismail in upholding the sanctity of the Parliament during the failed coup attempt. The honourable speaker thanked the Parliament of Pakistan for their iron-clad support.

From the palace, CM’s delegation, accompanied by speaker Grand National Assembly, left for the inaugural ceremony of the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge. After attending a vivid and lively ceremony, the CM headed towards the President’s House for a dinner meeting that continued for around three hours.

Early morning on 27th, the CM had a breakfast meeting with ‘TOKI’, a Turkish housing development company. They showed great interest in developing quality housing schemes for low income households. Although now the pre-scheduled engagements were over, and it was the time to fly back home, Shahbaz Sharif’s meetings got scheduled with the honourable president and the prime minister of Turkey.

When the CM, accompanied by his delegation, reached at the Prime Minister House for a meeting with Prime Minister Binali Y?ld?r?m, the latter welcomed him in a brotherly way, saying “Merhaba! Merhaba! Brother Shehbaz, welcome to your own home.”

CM highly appreciated the role of PM Y?ld?r?m in defeating the failed coup attempt, especially the way he led from the front – appealing the Turkish people to come out for putting up resistance. PM Y?ld?r?m thanked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and expressed his gratitude for standing by Turkey in the hour of need. Sounding resolute and firm, the Prime Minister remarked, "We lost our brothers and sisters, but we saved our country!”.

PM Y?ld?r?m also remarked: "Fatih Gullen is not only Turkey’s enemy, but also the enemy of the whole Muslim Ummah.", to which the CM agreed.

CM Punjab shared with the PM Y?ld?r?m details of his meeting with the Turkish Health Minister. Y?ld?r?m instantly spoke to the health minister on phone and asked him to ensure timely measures, saying that “Shehbaz is my younger brother and Pakistan is my second home”.

Later, PM Y?ld?r?m took the CM and all accompanying delegation members out on the PM House's terrace and described how the rogue elements had tried to enter the House, and how the brave Turkish people had stood like a wall between the PM House and the attackers. Before leaving the PM house, Shahbaz Sharif formally invited the Turkish Prime Minister to visit Pakistan which he graciously accepted.

Lastly, the CM had a one-on-one meeting with President Erdogan which continued for over an hour. As a gesture of brotherhood, Erdogan was wearing a green tie over a white dress shirt. Likewise, CM Sharif had the flags of both Pakistan and Turkey pinned on his coat's collar.

The CM paid rich tributes to the dynamic and visionary leadership of President Erdogan, which, to him, was the decisive factor in preserving the will of the people and safeguarding democracy.

The CM also praised the people of Turkey for the exemplary display of courage, their commitment to democracy and the great sacrifices they offered on the streets and squares of Turkey in defeating the coup attempt.

Following the meeting with Erdogan, it was now the time to fly back to Pakistan. In the concluding minutes, the CM received a message from the Bosnian Ambassador in Turkey that the Bosnian President, who was also present in Turkey for the opening ceremony of Bosphorous Bridge, had desired to meet the CM.

Since the CM and his delegation were already ready to leave, CM's meeting with the Bosnian president took place at the airport's lounge. While both the leaders agreed to further strengthen the bilateral ties, the CM laid emphasis on translating the brotherly relations between Pakistan and Bosnia into stronger, multi-fold economic ties.

After the meeting was over, the day was over for the delegation accompanying the CM, but not for the CM himself. While on flight from Pakistan to Turkey as well as flying back home, CM kept busy browsing through heaps of papers and files.