Erdogan in India
Turkish President’s visit set to boost bilateral ties with India.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to India on Sunday, his first overseas tour since winning the April 16 referendum that gave him unprecedented, sweeping powers, may lead to a strengthening of bilateral ties which otherwise have not been to its desired level. During his two-day stay in New Delhi, he would be holding talks with President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders.
India's membership of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) as well as to the UN Security Council, ways to strengthen cooperation in counter-terrorism, as both the countries are its victims, and trade, are expected to figure prominently in the talks between the Prime Minister and President Erdogan.
The Turkish strongman will also be conferred with the degree of Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to strengthen international cooperation, peace, and diplomacy as also for his extraordinary humanitarian aid to millions of refugees, by one of India's oldest university Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, in its special convocation on Monday (May 1).
India is hosting the 63-year-old Turkish leader just a day after the visit of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades. Erdogan's visit is seen as a balancing act by India as Turkey does not recognise Cyprus and has Northern Cyprus (which is Turkish-dominated) under its control.
As Turkey was part of the Western Alliance and India of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War era, the bilateral relations did not develop at the desired pace. However, since the end of the Cold War era, both sides put in effort in developing their bilateral ties in many areas but still, a lot needs to be done to achieve the fullest potential of their bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
Pakistan is the most defining factor coming in the way. Relations between India and Turkey have been strained due to Turkey's religious mutuality with Pakistan. Turkey has been a vocal advocate of Pakistan's position on the Kashmir issue. It is also one of the few opponents to India's inclusion into the NSG.
Addressing the Pakistani Senate in November last year Erdogan had said "the issue of Kashmir needs a resolution based on dialogue between Pakistan and India in line with UN resolutions, where the demands of the Kashmiri people should be considered. As a President and a term President of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), we are determined to continue our support."
After the September 2003 visit of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Turkey, during which the two sides signed a protocol on setting up a Joint Working Group on counter-terrorism, bilateral relations warmed up, and now there is a growing cooperation in the fields of education, technology, and commerce.
In 2008 Erdogan, then Turkish Prime Minister, visited India and since then there has been an exchange of visits of leaders of both the countries. Prime Minister Modi attended the G 20 summit held in the Turkish city Antalya in November 2015. He also had a bilateral meeting with Erdogan.
Both the countries have similarities of views and common understanding on issues relating to counter-terrorism, Persian Gulf security, and peace and stability in West Asia and Afghanistan.
Turkey is keen to intensify the bilateral ties with India in all areas in accordance with the spirit of 1951 landmark Treaty of Friendship which stipulated, "there shall be perpetual peace and friendship between the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of India," says Turkish ambassador in New Delhi Sakir Ozkan Torunlar.
Turkey and India, he says on the embassy's website, are the two rising stars in their broad regions and indeed the world. "We both have strong democratic and secular political systems and traditions. There is significant potential for cooperation in bilateral and multilateral formats on many regional and global issues."
"It is a strategic goal for Turkey to develop further and deepen her relations with India…I firmly believe that the future holds great promise and potential for deepening Turkish-Indian cooperation not just in politics, but also in other key areas such as commerce, investments, science, aviation, tourism and culture," the ambassador says.
Turkey's disillusionment with NATO and the West, and its dying EU accession hopes are playing an important role in redefining Turkey's relations with all Asian powers, says Omair Anas, Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs.
As a result of this state of affairs, Turkey is eager to strengthen ties with nations beyond the traditional West and EU. Increasing interaction with the Asian countries is one step in this direction. Erdogan's visit to India is part of this strategy.
However, in exploring an active foreign policy and looking towards Asia, Turkey faced a major dilemma of choosing between India and Pakistan, says Anas.
According to him, Indo-Turkish relations are dominated mainly by three issues—Turkey's support to Pakistan on Kashmir issue, its position on India's membership at NSG as well as in the UN Security Council and its role in India's immediate and extended neighbourhood, which include Afghanistan and West Asia.
On the issue membership to the 48-member NSG, Turkey of late appeared to have softened its stand saying it will favour a consensus. "I believe India needs to work on this issue in order to convince the other countries. We are ready to join the consensus if it is reached," Turkey's Minister for Development Lutfi Elvan had said during his visit to India in November 2016.
Erdogan may come out with Turkey's clear stand on the issue during his meeting with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister may also try to impress upon the Turkish leader to use his influence and convince Pakistan, a close ally of Turkey, to stop acts of terrorism against India.
Turkish side may ask India to act against institutions, if any, in the country affiliated to Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO) blamed by Ankara for July 15, 2016, failed coup. India was among the first countries to have condemned the coup attempt and had extended full support to the democratically elected government. Turkey claims that the outfit has infiltrated India and wants New Delhi to take action against the organisation.
Once a dominant political figure in Turkey, Gulen now lives in the US in exile. Turkey has asked the US to extradite him to face trial in the country in connection with the botched coup attempt. Gulen-affiliated networks will remain a major detractor in Turkey's bilateral relations all over the world.
Indio-Turkish economic and commercial relations constitute an important dimension of the bilateral relationship. As the bilateral trade has increased so too has the trade deficit widened in favour of India. To overcome this, Turkey wants a Free Trade Agreement, now part of Comprehensive Economic Partnership currently under consideration by the two countries.
(M Shakeel Ahmed is former Editor, PTI. He has also served as West Asia Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. The views expressed are personal.)