Boosting India-Turkey ties
Seen as a moderate and secular country among Islamic nations, Turkey has embarked upon the process of strengthening political and economic relations with India. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent four-day visit has further cemented age-old ties between the two liberal countries. Combating terrorism, of which both countries are victims, and deepening economic ties including the possibility of a bilateral free trade agreement, dominated talks between Turkish President Erdogan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
There were, however, some ruffling of feathers when the visiting Turkish President advocated a multilateral dialogue process to resolve Kashmir Issue in an interview ahead of his visit to India. New Delhi was quick to reject this suggestion in clear terms. Turkey understood India's sensitivities, and brushed the issue under the carpet, besides reaffirming its commitment to cooperate in ending this scourge of terrorism.
New Delhi's position is that only a bilateral resolution to the Kashmir dispute is kosher, and that other third parties need not involve themselves. Moreover, it believes that the Kashmir issue remains unresolved because of Pakistan's support for cross-border terror. Prime Minister Modi was heard with "care and attention" by the Turkish side.
The joint statement at the conclusion of the bilateral visit clearly reflected it. The statement said that "no intent or goal or reason or rationale can validate terrorism" and both sides agreed to work together to combat this menace bilaterally as well as multilaterally. Erdogan assured full support to fight terrorism which is a "shared worry".
This amounted to recognition of Pakistan involvement in state-sponsored terrorism from across the border, which had escalated lately in the Kashmir valley.
Erdogan was quick enough to realise that Turkey must cease to hyphenate India-Pakistan for a better relationship with New Delhi. If Turkey favoured multilateral talks on Kashmir, India could suggest such similar initiatives for the resolution of Turkey's Kurdish problem, which is a major headache for Erdogan. It is in this backdrop the two sides decided to rightly focus on fundamental issues like countering terrorism, which has now become a global menace rather than trying to interfere in the internal affairs of the two countries. The Turkish president had referred to the "terrorist" outfit FETO, which was active in Turkey. The group is active not only in Turkey but 170 countries as well. Erdogan said the Turkish government has informed other nations about FETO's operations and hoped India too would take action against it. Erdogan has blamed FETO for the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July last year.
The two countries also emphasised on boosting people to people contact and economic ties. The Rumi and Sufi traditions have significantly contributed to spread of cultural links between the two nations for several centuries. While Rumi found his home in Turkey, his legacy continues to enrich the Sufi traditions of India. The Sufi traditions, the exchanges and influences of the Turkish language on Hindi and vice versa among other linkages - provide a deep connect with the people of the two countries
The new Cultural Exchange Programmes envisaged under the new bilateral agreement would cement further cultural connections and institutional relations apart from strengthening people-to-people contact, which was critical in promoting relations.
In adopting a pragmatic approach, the two countries decided to cooperate in areas of mutual interest. President Erdogan is an old friend of India, and he had visited the country in 2008. He enjoyed good rapport with both Congress and BJP leadership. While India invited Turkish companies to invest in Railways, airports, tourism and housing, Indian companies could collaborate in Information Technology, and space research. Some Indian companies are already operating in Turkey.
The two leaders, who addressed India-Turkey business forum, also decided to step up bilateral trade from over $6 billion to $10 billion in a short period, preferably in the next couple of years, to realise their full potential. President Erdogan pitched for a free trade agreement with India, too, so as to expand bilateral economic ties. Turkey, which is a member country of European Union, could perhaps act as a gateway for India. New Delhi is also working on India-EU FTA, which is currently entangled due to some thorny issues surrounding wines and automobiles. The two sides exchanged three pacts, including one between their telecom authorities.
Erdogan also supported India's membership bid to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as well as other export control regimes like Missile Technology Control Regime. There was also convergence on United Nations Security Council reforms during the meeting of the two leaders.
The fact that five senior Cabinet Ministers accompanied President Erdogan went to show that he meant business and believed in furthering cooperation in areas of mutual interests. Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar, parliamentarians, senior officials and a 150-member business delegation from Turkey also accompanying President Erdogan.
Both leaders agreed that India and Turkey, being among the top 20 economies in the world with sound economic fundamentals and the increasing convergence of positions, could contribute to addressing international issues like new economic order, stability and security of the respective regions.
India is expected to get Turkish investments in the manufacturing sector in the face of Make in India campaign. There are already Turkey's interests in India's infra development and smart cities. Indian companies are keen on investments in Turkey's telecom sector Information Technology, and pharmaceuticals, health, tourism, hydrocarbons, renewable energy (solar and wind), and energy efficiency are other areas where cooperation could be sought for mutual benefit.
(Views are strictly personal.)