Turkey (Türkiye) and India had had thorny relations for years. They weren’t exactly on chummy terms until recently when both leaders met at the sidelines of this year’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. But even then, observers following their fragile relationship saga could not tell whether Ankara’s efforts to establish friendly ties with New Delhi would be genuine or just for regaining a favorable stance at these trying times.
Erdogan’s Islamic Revivalism Attempt
Since assuming office in 2014, Türkiye President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been vocal about his pursuit of restoring “the lost grandeur of the Ottoman Empire” through Islamic revivalism. Erdogan has always had high regard for the Islamic Brotherhood Movement but was believed only to have walked into becoming a pro-Islamist because of the repeated rejection of Ankara to be admitted to the European Union (EU) as a regular member. Some experts even argue that Erdogan’s “inclination towards Islamism springs more from vengeance and much less from conviction in all Islam claims.”
Nonetheless, Erdogan has attempted to forge an alliance with Islamic states like Pakistan and Malaysia to revive the Muslim ummah (“community”). Along the way, he earned himself foes because of his radical way of enforcing his ideology on the Islamic ummah—how he portrayed this as the must-have, supreme way of running a country that simultaneously threatens democracy. It gained sour relations when Türkiye supported the Government of National Accord in Libya, which most Arab countries opposed, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
But what earned Ankara sour relations with New Delhi is its support for the latter’s archnemesis, Pakistan, and its endless criticism about the Kashmir (located northernmost of India) crisis.
From Incessant Criticism to Rebuilding Cordial Relations
According to World Population Review, Pakistan is the second largest Islamic country as of last year, with India coming a close third. In pursuit of his Islamic revivalism, however, Erdogan seemingly tried destabilizing the latter’s secular-democratic dispensation of the world’s largest democracy—allegedly converting students beginning in the disputed Kashmir region and reaching out to Indian Muslims.
In August 2019, the Indian government, under Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi’s administration, revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status (Article 370). A month after that, Erdogan began yapping about the issue and calling India on international platforms, mainly at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). But, ironically, it could not resolve its issues with its Turkish Uyghur as well as not call China for its mistreatment of the Uighurs of Xinxiang. Below are snippets of his Kashmir tantrums at the UNGA from 2020-2021:
“The Kashmir conflict, which is also key to the stability and peace of South Asia, is still a burning issue…We are in favor of solving this issue through dialogue within the framework of the United Nations resolutions, especially in line with the expectations of the people of Kashmir,” Erdogan said in 2020.
He reiterated his points, saying, “We maintain our stance in favor of solving the ongoing problem in Kashmir for 74 years, through dialogue between the parties and within the framework of relevant United Nations resolutions.”
Erdogan also ranted outside UNGA like the one he had on February 2020 speech before a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament, highlighting, “We have never forgotten and will never forget the help, which the Pakistani people extended, by sharing their own bread during our War of Independence. And now, Kashmir is and will be the same for us. It was Çanakkale yesterday, and it is Kashmir today, [there is] no difference”.
He would eventually do this yearly and most likely continue should Ankara’s economy remain strong. But at the current inflation rate, Erdogan started to tone down its strong opposition against India and has instead reached out and gone as far as mending relations. He would also reach out and rebuild connections with other foes, including UAE, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Armenia.
Will Türkiye and India Find A Breakthrough?
Because of his unimpressive radical actions, Erdogan had drawn strong reactions from Modi, first by canceling a planned visit in October 2019 and then terminating a $2.3 billion naval deal with a Turkish defense company. New Delhi then cut its other defense exports while reducing imports to Turkey—effectively impacting the latter’s growing economy. To make matters worse, India signed a defense agreement amounting to $40 million with Ankara’s traditional regional rival, Armenia.
Experts believe that aside from having a decent talk during this year’s SCO, Erdogan realized how India has increasingly become powerful, and going against them would be unfavorable. As a result, his annual ranting in UNGA also shifted, suggesting a peace treaty between India and Pakistan instead of his usual criticism over the Kashmir issue.
#Turkiye's President Recep Tayyip #Erdoğan rakes up #Kashmir issue in #UNGA address, says he hopes for "permanent peace"#UNGA77 #IndoPak
Remember PM Shehbaz Sharif did not mention #Kashmir in the #SCOSummit2022 pic.twitter.com/irvZQyVMb2
— Ghulam Abbas Shah (@ghulamabbasshah) September 20, 2022
“India and Pakistan, after having established their sovereignty and independence 75 years ago, still haven’t established peace and solidarity between one another. This is very unfortunate. We hope and pray that a fair and permanent peace and prosperity will be established in Kashmir,” Erdogan said last week at the UNGA 2022 session.
According to news reports, both Erdogan and Modi had a “very constructive discussion” at the sideline of SCO. They had managed to meet halfway in terms of bilateral talks, regional convergence, and economic development collaboration.
However, observers of the sage warned India to let Turkey close and look out for hidden agendas pointing out three key points as to why the latter had had a sudden change of heart, including its interest in becoming a permanent member of the SCO (currently, Ankara is a dialogue partner while India has assumed chairmanship for the year as well as taking over the presidency of the highly influential Group of Twenty); Erdogan’s failure to forge Islamic community; and its disenchantment with Pakistan.
In addition, New Delhi has been keeping its economic growth steady, unlike Ankara, and surely would not want to lose one of its wealthy trade partners, especially during this period. The same reason why the latter is reconnecting to foes.
Met President @RTErdogan and reviewed the full range of bilateral relations between India and Turkey including ways to deepen economic linkages for the benefit of our people. @trpresidency pic.twitter.com/wwNe1KrMCm
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 16, 2022
At this rate, the pragmatic approach Erdogan might actually succeed, but if asked if India and Türkiye would be able to reach “friendly” relations remains a question because even its community hasn’t really gotten that deep-rooted connection. They have a history together, but not as close as the Turkish had with the Pakistanis.
Türkiye’s Attempt To Win Favor of the US
The United States doesn’t have friendly ties with the Türkiye; however, it maintained cordial relations throughout the years as Ankara wouldn’t want to risk getting sanctioned by Washington.
In fact, Türkiye finally conceded on Wednesday to the pressure from the US to take a step back and pull out wartime support to Russia on its invasion of Ukraine. This came after the US Treasury warned Turkish banks last week that working with Moscow could risk sanctions and face economic penalties, and that is the last thing Erdogan would like to happen.
During the first months of Russia’s “special military operations,” Türkiye had maintained a neutral stance, but that had shifted in recent weeks and even remarked last week that Ankara is “strongly condemning” the “illegitimate” polls the Kremlin held to annex four Ukrainian regions.
Despite bowing to the US pressure, Erdogan had called Washington for its stance on the Türkiye-Greece tensions, remarking that the former lost its “impartiality” in the issue.
“The US does not act fairly regarding NATO member-states. Both Greece and Türkiye are NATO member states, and Türkiye is in the top five in terms of its contributions to the bloc,” he told in a live CNN interview Wednesday, adding that the US “cannot find another ally like Ankara.”