Turkey-India Relations and the Need for Calculated Outreach

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CNBC-TV18 columnist and former diplomat Anil Trigunayat writes that Ankara must understand the economic imperative of India-Turkey bilateral relations to build a mutually beneficial relationship. A nuanced change is visible on both sides.

Overlooking distrust, especially when the writing on the wall has yet to be erased, is a difficult proposition. But then the entrenchment principle of discourse and international diplomacy is that there are no permanent friends or enemies but only national interests. It also implies that having a transactional exchange, to begin with, is desirable to break the ice for good before moving to a higher orbit in the collaborative matrix. This is also evident in recent high-level interactions between Indian and Turkish leaders.

Recently, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, the capital of Uzbekistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met, followed by a meeting between the India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and his Turkish counterpart on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), showing a conscious effort by both sides to repair barriers and move forward .
Prime Minister Modi had traveled to Turkey to attend the G20 summit and next year we expect President Erdogan to be in India for the next G20 summit. Ankara is expanding its footprints in the Eurasian region and wants to become a full member of the SCO as well as being part of the BRICS in addition to NATO, which could give it additional leverage to balance the geopolitical spectrum.

Although there is great potential and a perceived commonality of approaches and opportunities for mutually beneficial goals and undertakings between the two countries, the relationship has been marred by the “Pak factor” for decades, particularly in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) context.

Moreover, Ankara overlooked Pakistani complicity with extremist groups in cross-border terrorism against India. He not only raked in the inappropriate reference to J&K in international forums like UNGA and OIC etc. They must not forget that extremism and terrorism will turn against them too, whether in the so-called Kurdish revolt or for the Chinese in Xinjiang against the Uyghurs.
There is no disjunction as terrorist and extremist groups are well-oiled syndicates operating in all geographies and adept at exploiting societal fissures to their advantage. The recent crackdown by the People’s Front of India (PFI) – a terrorist group in India also indicates the direction and complicity of various Middle Eastern countries, several of which have closer strategic relations with India.

It was expected that after the Samarkand meeting between the two principals, President Erdogan could refrain from his rhetoric on Kashmir at the UNGA. But old habits die hard. He couldn’t resist the temptation even though it was lightly voiced compared to previous times when New Delhi condemned and rejected them or was disturbed.

Erdogan apparently wanted to be the paragon of peace, despite the militarization of his own foreign policy from Syria to Libya to Nagorno-Karabakh and the Mediterranean, when he uttered “India and Pakistan, after having established their sovereignty and independence 75 years ago, they have always ‘t established peace and solidarity among themselves. This is very unfortunate. We hope and pray that a just and permanent peace and prosperity will be established in the Cashmere”.

If they were really interested in peace, they could have convinced Islamabad to give up the affliction of a destructive syndrome. Of course, his penchant for Islamic leadership and the Ummah often skips school on the hidden agenda. India rejected Erdogan’s comment saying “the reference to Kashmir by other countries in the UNGA does not matter”.

A nuanced change is visible on both sides. Many would say the two should go a bilateral route, but foreign policy is a holistic and serious matter. The joint working group on counter-terrorism and India-Turkey policy planning dialogue needs to meet more so that the threshold of trust tolerance can be lowered.

But today’s India is quick and nimble in delivering a ‘tick for tat’ in a spirit of reciprocity and disdain. During his meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister, Dr S Jaishankar also raised the issue of Cyprus (which has been simmering since 1974) to be resolved in accordance with UNSC resolutions.

Jaishankar tweeted “Met FM @MevlutCavusoglu from Turkiye on the fringes of #UNGA. Wide-ranging conversation that covered Ukraine conflict, food security, G20 processes, world order, NAM and Cyprus”. India has also increased its strategic outreach to Greece and Egypt and the I2-U2 group as well as other Eastern Mediterranean powers, including enhanced defense collaboration with them.

Ankara must understand the economic imperative of the bilateral relationship and the historical connection between P2P and Bollywood and the bonhomie of Turkish soap operas, Sufi affection and support during the Khilafat movement, if nothing else. These are the edifice on which the mutually beneficial relationship across the spectrum can be rebuilt. However, if needling is the game, so be it.
But it has been observed recently that Turkey has become a major mediator in several conflict areas, including the Russian-Ukrainian war and even in exercising its ambitious and somewhat independent “Blue Home Land” foreign policy, Ankara has started to refine it. a bit as he has embarked on a frenzy of rapprochement with his former rivals and competitors in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt as well as Israel, even if he is motivated by his economic constraints.
India is already a strategic friend with them, hence Ankara’s continuing to undermine the interests of a potentially beneficial relationship with New Delhi is illogical to say the least. Apparently, Turkey has supported India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and MTCR regimes, while taking an ambivalent stance on India’s claim to a seat at the Iron Table at UNSC horse. Good beginnings could hopefully lead to positive results.

— The author, Anil Trigunayat, is a former Indian ambassador and heads the West Asia Expert Group at the Vivekananda International Foundation. The opinions expressed are personal.

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