How Turkey's Erdogan disappointed host India to please Pakistan
India will do well to give it back to him at some appropriate time in the near future and tell him how stupid he has been.
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Margaret Thatcher had once said: "To wear your heart on your sleeve isn't a very good plan; you should wear it inside where it functions best."
This quote turns out to be most appropriate and insightful in the context of the just concluded India visit by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 30-May 1.
It is perhaps the only visit by a head of state or government to New Delhi, which, in fact, invoked a lot of adverse media comments in the host country - and for the right reasons. There have been many visiting leaders from countries perceived to be more friendly to Pakistan, than India, but their visit went off without inviting criticism.
The divided Muslim world supports Pakistan on Kashmir as a way of expressing religious solidarity. But leaders from these countries have not tried to antagonise India brazenly by expressing their opinion on the dispute between India and Pakistan on Kashmir while visiting India - as Erdogan did in a TV interview just before landing in New Delhi.
Forty years ago when Erdogan was, of course, not in power, Turkey had invaded Cyprus and grabbed half the island nation by force. Pakistan had invaded then independent state of Jammu and Kashmir much earlier and still retains illegal claim over a third of the former state.
Taking his cue from Pakistan, Erdogan may be concerned about Kashmiris who have to live amid heavy army presence. In his own country, at least 2,000 men, women and children were killed between July 2015 and December 2016 as a result of the Turkish army’s operations against Kurdish nationalists whom he calls "terrorists" - much like his Pakistani pals, for whom the Balochs who oppose the oppressive presence of the Pakistan army on their land, are "terrorists".
The Kurdish political party PKK is a "terrorist" organisation for Erdogan, but he would not agree with India that the attacks inside Kashmir are instigated by terrorists who come from Pakistan.
Erdogan thought he was doing a balancing act - a la China - when he said he did not oppose India’s entry into the exclusive Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) but it has to come with membership being simultaneously offered to Pakistan. The Turkish head of state cannot be so ignorant as to be unaware of Pakistan’s horrible proliferation record to equate it with India on the issue of NSG membership.
From Erdogan’s or Turkey’s point of view, Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi conferring an honorary degree on him was an important event which was not overshadowed by his misplaced enthusiasm to meddle in India’s internal affairs.
There was opposition to it in some Indian sections but it would have been diplomatically incorrect to cancel the event after fixing it well in advance. Jamia Millia Islamia is one of the few Indian educational institutions that offer a course in Turkish.
Erdogan brought with him the burden of Kashmir, gratuitously telling India in a TV interview, what should be done to solve the problem. He brushed aside suggestions that he faced a similar intractable problem back home where the Kurds have been fighting against the Turkish state for a long time.
If India, Asia’s fastest growing economy and China’s main competitor in Asia, invites Erdogan, he should show some sensitivity towards the host. Photo: Reuters
Erdogan does not get good press in the West. No surprise therefore that he spoke against the western media, and accused them of spreading untruths about his country. He does not enjoy universal popularity in the media of his own country, because of which he has arrested a very large number of journalists and shut down publications critical of him. In fact, his country remains under Emergency.
Many outside his country, including Muslim countries, think that Erdogan sees himself as an Ottoman emperor. He allegedly rigged a referendum to enhance his powers to become an autocratic ruler. His ambitions cannot endear him to the entire Muslim world.
Among the very few countries that see nothing wrong in Erdogan is Pakistan. As both prime minister and then president, Erdogan has made seven official visits to Islamabad. In return, Pakistan has become enormously enamoured of Turkey: both countries are almost equally disliked in the West.
Another parallel is the two countries’ slide into radicalisation. Turkey, like Pakistan, cannot be very happy to have more foes than friends in the outside world. Erdogan should have realised that not many countries that command some influence are keen to host him. If India, Asia’s fastest growing economy and China’s main competitor in Asia, invites him he should show some sensitivity towards the host.
He would have certainly known that his advice to India to agree to a "multilateral" effort to solve the Kashmir problem would not be well received. But he went ahead, obviously to please his friends in Pakistan.
Leaders from the Muslim world who visit India navigate safely around the ticklish Kashmir problem that is as old as the birth of the two independent nations in 1947. They do not speak about it in India because they do not think it is prudent to needlessly poke India in the eye when their prime interest is in promoting ties with India.
VIPs from the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, are closer to Pakistan than India on a host of issues, including Kashmir. But that did not cloud their visits. The reason was obvious: they did not come to India to speak on behalf of or for Pakistan; they came to expand bilateral ties with India which did not require dwelling on issues that divide India and Pakistan.
Indian dignitaries visiting the Gulf countries, likewise, do not openly air differences with them and talk about these issues discreetly, mostly in closed-door meetings. Certainly, no visiting Indian prime minister or president said anything critical of these countries before landing as state guests.
Despite routine anti-India rhetoric on Kashmir at the meetings of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), almost all OIC members continue to have fairly good relations with India. It includes Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest patrons of Pakistan, and widely suspected to be home to the propagators of religious extremism.
Erdogan has brazenly tried to invent a new kind of diplomacy. India will do well to give it back to him at some appropriate time in the near future and tell him how stupid he has been. In any case, you can't do anything significant with a country which is run by foolish dictators like Erdogan.