Despite Kashmir, why it's business as usual for Modi and Erdogan

India must dodge the bullet of the visiting Turkish president’s suggestion that ‘multilateral dialogue’ is the solution to the conundrum.

 |  6-minute read |   01-05-2017
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They have been compared often for their remarkably similar political journeys and meteoric rise in the respective political horizons. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkey, and Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, have more in common than their shared, highly controversial vision, of how a democracy must look like in the age of religious revivalism.

With President Erdogan visiting India and bilateral talks focused on crucial issues such as defence, counter-terrorism, information technology, space and investments in infrastructure projects, it is obvious that what the Turkish premier said just ahead of his much-hyped visit would be dissected at length in the opinion pages of India.

Erdogan, it seems, ruffled many a feather in India, when he said that New Delhi should allow “multilateral dialogue” to settle the issue of Kashmir, particularly to quell the current unrest, a position that India is against for the past three decades. Moreover, President Erdogan also batted for Pakistan to be included in the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), while saying he’s fine with India too gaining an entry into the select category.

Needless to say that these are statements that would stoke the ongoing fire of unrest as far as India-Pakistan ties are concerned, particularly within India, where national security hawks are likely to be extremely distressed. But the fact of the matter is, Turkey is only sticking to its pro-Pakistan position, and New Delhi is well aware of the dynamics that Islamabad shares with Ankara.

In an interview to WION news channel, President Erdogan said New Delhi should give up its “attitude” over Pakistan also attempting to gain entry into the NSG club, despite the latter having a proven track record at nuclear proliferation and not just for commercial civil nuclear energy requirements.

Of course, in his article on the “old, rock solid friendship” between India and Turkey in the Times of India today, President Erdogan has praised how the India-Turkey bilateral ties have remained unwavering through turbulent times in both the countries, and has said that New Delhi and Ankara “must walk together towards the future”.

This is, of course, the classic double-speak of a visiting leader who wants to explore the burgeoning Indian markets for economic avenues, but would stick to stated positions on sensitive political matters and expect that investment compulsions would just keep every naysayer in the diplomatic circles rather quiet and undisruptive.

President Erdogan is hardly any different from Chinese President Xi Jinping, and New Delhi had a similar tightrope to walk with Beijing, given the investments it expected would come its way and the political thorn named Pakistan getting in the way.

Of course, it didn’t go very well. India and China are currently indulging in regular sabre-rattling at each other, while the Chinese whip up support for the highly controversial China Pakistan Economic Corridor that would pass via Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, shooting up New Delhi’s anxiety levels to stratospheric levels.

Can a similar face-off happen between India and Turkey if economics minus thorny political standpoints is taken without a pinch of salt?

Strongmen in arms

Despite being democratic republics, both India and Turkey, under the steerage of Modi and Erdogan, are seeing consolidation of religious supremacy over secular politics.

A recently-held constitutional referendum in Turkey gave sweeping powers to President Erdogan, who has blocked Wikipedia, Twitter and many other online outlets in his country, clamped down on the press, free speech, jailed thousands of dissidents after the failed coup, and basically has solidified his own position as the chief arbiter and source of all political power in Turkey.

Though not close enough, it’s evident that PM Narendra Modi doesn’t find Erdogan’s tough-as-nails attitude to securing and consolidating political power remotely disturbing: there’s nothing from Modi on Erdogan that suggests that the Indian prime minister, topmost elected representative of the world's largest democracy, has anything to say about the Turkish president awarding himself gigantic powers after a half-baked referendum.

erdopak_050117044129.jpgTurkey is a known sympathiser of Pakistan and its “strategic partner”.

It’s being said that both are trying to impose a religion-driven order on the chaotic democracies, which have been constitutionally secular for long. But on the issue of Kashmir and India-Pakistan relationship, the otherwise mutually-enabling and blossoming relationship between Modi and Erdogan are at loggerheads.

The Kashmir conundrum

India’s position on Kashmir has remained more or less steady for the last 70 years, even though over the last three decades insurgency has seen extreme embitterment among the Kashmiris vis-à-vis the Indian Union.

With Pakistan failing to withdraw its forces from PoK, even the United Nations Security Council Resolution 47, on holding a plebiscite in Kashmir for its political self-determination, cannot be implemented. The excessive militarisation of the Valley and the waves of insurgency have left ordinary Kashmiris gasping for a semblance of normalcy in the region.

The bitter battle over Kashmir between India and Pakistan has seen many interlopers who have asked for “multilateral dialogue” on the issue. India has maintained that a climate of dialogue needs mutual trust and that cannot be achieved with Islamabad and indeed Rawalpindi covertly sponsoring and exporting terror into Indian soil.

The Mumbai 26/11 attacks and numerous other instances of terrorism that have been traced to Pakistan and its terror modules in PoK, particularly the ones in Pathankot in January 2016, Uri in September 2016, etc, have embroiled the India-Pakistan relationship in an endless game of pointing fingers, and keeping the pot of unrest in the Valley simmering.

With Turkey being a known sympathiser of Pakistan and being a “strategic partner”, how are we to read between President Erdogan’s lines on Kashmir and Islamabad’s possible entry into NSG? Is he not aware that the two nuclear powers are at each other’s throats and issue (hopefully) empty threats periodically to use nuclear weapons against one another?

These are tricky questions that only hardcore diplomatic negotiations can answer, but no matter what, an India-Turkey cooperation on counter-terrorism cannot happen without looking at some of the fomenting causes of respective religious radicalism in both the countries.

Are President Erdogan and Prime Minister Modi willing to accept growing instances of majoritarian violence against minorities in both the countries as something they need to address and work to eliminate? Are the two leaders willing to allow the press the freedom of speech for intrepid criticism of the growing authoritarianism and increasing governmental control of everything?

If not, then mere economic cooperation with many unresolved issues, particularly the rift on Kashmir and Pakistan, would cost us dear.

Also read: Hard-hitting questions Indian media must ask Erdogan when he meets Modi

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