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Taking potshots

Remarks made during Turkish President Erdogan’s recent visit to Pakistan indicate a deliberate escalation in rhetoric against India

Taking potshots

Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan recently concluded a two-day visit (February 12-14) to Pakistan. Although this was not his first visit to the country, his previous visits being more routine in nature, this time was different. This particular visit's timing assumes immense significance as Pakistan is currently undergoing a tough scrutiny following the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris to review and decide whether the 'grey' list category against Pakistan will continue or will it be further degraded to 'black' list which would mean harsher sanctions faced by countries like Iran and North Korea.

As is already known in the public domain, there are only three prominent countries, China, Turkey and Malaysia, which remain in open support of Pakistan to pull it out from the woods in their consistent stance to help this beleaguered country. Having said this, the maverick Turkish President Erdogan is the only one among the helping countries, who is most vocal and in his articulations, there are traces of vitriolic tenor against India. That an aggressive debit perhaps stands out as an eyesore. That's the hallmark of Erdogan. In helping Pakistan to extricate it from the FATF, Erdogan brings in Kashmir and resorts to India bashing which is seen as unsavoury and not befitting a head of government.

This time too, Erdogan brought up Kashmir while in Pakistan and his anti-India expressions reverberated in the Pakistani joint session of parliament too which he addressed. Going upbeat on his visit, Erdogan even described Pakistan as his second home. On his part, Prime Minister Imran Khan went overboard, exceeding niceties by claiming that if Erdogan contested any elections in Pakistan, he would make a clean sweep. That's usually the problem with the countries on the verge of marginalisation, fighting to survive economic collapse as also to come out of the FATF downgrading.

Erdogan, during his Pakistan visit, signed as many as 13 bilateral agreements with a thrust on defence cooperation. Both countries hope to take their joint trade up to $5 billion. It was also seen that these two countries are warming up to strengthen economic and strategic cooperation in the fields of energy, transportation, tourism, infrastructure and law enforcement. That aside, Turkey's Defence Minister, General (retired) Hulusi Akar, accompanying Erdogan, had a long meeting with the Pakistani Army Chief, General Bajwa who in turn briefed him about the developments in Kashmir and a combined strategic approach to deal with the Kashmir problem.

Dwelling on Kashmir and expressing 'solidarity' with the Kashmiris, Erdogan warned that Kashmir problem had the potential of disturbing the whole region, adding to volatility. He conveniently used the Pakistani soil to target India which suited Imran Khan and his government currently gasping to survive the FATF challenges.

Erdogan is an altogether different person in his stand towards dealing with international issues. He is coarse in his approach and often brazen. This pattern has been more than visible in his dealings in Syria, the US, Saudi Arabia and countries who tend to defy him and his policies. Another feature of his persona is to push the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) agenda in several Muslim countries.

In another anti-India stand, with Erdogan's blessings, Istanbul based think tank, South Asia Strategic Research Centre (or GASAM) in association with Humanitarian and Social Research Association, held a well-publicised meeting in Istanbul on February 8 where India was discussed and criticised for its policy in bringing in the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA). Among those attending were GASAM President, Cemal Demir, Prof Abdullah al Ahsan (from Pakistan) Resul Demir, Chairman of the International Refugee Rights Association, etc. Anti-India rhetoric emanating from Turkey and Pakistani representation was there in good measure. The fast-developing nexus is more than clear between Turkey and Pakistan.

Erdogan is also a man in haste and wants to team up with Malaysia and Pakistan to target anti-Islamic countries primarily to play a vital role in the Islamic world. In fact, judging by Erdogan's statements and interference in all international matters, it would seem he is trying to counter Saudi influence in a race to assume the leadership of the Ummah. This was seen a couple of months ago when the Saudis prevailed over Pakistan not allowing it to participate at the Kuala Lumpur held Islamic conference. Erdogan's prime target is Saudi Arabia and he is obviously using Pakistan to further his ambitions. And Imran Khan to beat his insulation is drawing towards Turkey to stay alive geopolitically.

As the Paris held FATF proceedings draw to a close, Pakistan delegation to Paris led by Minister Hammad Azhar and aided by officials of the State Bank of Pakistan and Financial Monetary Unit (FMU) is closeted to show that it has done its homework to get out of its greylisted status. Piecing all developments together, this week for Pakistan remains crucial.

As the international heat on Pakistan is turned on, it has reacted angrily to the recent US decision to sell Integrated air defence systems to India. This is seen by the Pakistani foreign ministry as an escalating trend in the region to intensify the tension.

Such apprehensions are further compounded by President Trump's upcoming visit to India this month putting Pakistan in a degree of unease.

Besides the US linked happenings, Prime Minister Imran Khan was put on a tight spot when the opposition, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Jamaat e Islami (JeI) questioned Imran for his indiscreet response when he said that the Pakistani military was aware of his integrity and he has the military's endorsement for his doings. In a scathing attack, the opposition castigated Imran for dragging in an institution like the military into politics. This happening is certainly a dent in the deteriorating image of Imran, albeit for the time being.

Shantanu Mukharji is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst, a columnist and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are strictly personal

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