Indians reject ′divisive′ Erdogan′s lecture on Kashmir | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 01.05.2017
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Indians reject 'divisive' Erdogan's lecture on Kashmir

While diplomatic relations are friendly on the surface, there are many potential sources of tension between Turkey and India, as recent Kashmir comments by Erdogan indicate. Murali Krishnan reports from New Delhi.

In a recent television interview, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan advocated a "multilateral" solution to the Kashmir dispute - and this is only one of his positions that may cause diplomatic tension with India.

President Erdogan made the comments during an interview with India-based news channel WION ahead of his arrival in New Delhi on Sunday. During the interview, Erdogan expressed his concern at the continuing stand-off between India and Pakistan on the disputed Kashmir region.

"We should not allow more casualties to occur and by strengthening multilateral dialogue, we can be involved," Erdogan said in the interview. "Through multilateral dialogue, I think we have to seek out ways to settle this question once and for all."

"This Kashmir question, this question saddens us deeply," added Erdogan. "It upsets both the countries involved. Surmounting the Kashmiri challenge will contribute tremendously to global peace."

India has always opposed third-party intervention in India-Pakistan bilateral issues while Pakistan has continuously sought mediation to sort out differences over Kashmir and other disputes.

Kashmir | Ausschreitungen in Srinagar (Reuters/D. Ismail)

Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir

A better friend to Pakistan?

Erdogan has also said that he favors Pakistan's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), along with India, saying New Delhi should have no objection to it.

"Both India and Pakistan have the right to aspire for NSG membership. I think India should not assume such an attitude. If Turkey was fair enough to support Pakistan, it was fair enough to support India. We are very objective and positive to the NSG process,” he said.

The NSG is a 48-nation club committed to limiting nuclear arms proliferation by overseeing the export, re-transfer and protection of sensitive materials that could foster nuclear weapons development.

India and Pakistan, both non-signatories of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), have applied for membership in the NSG, which deals with trade in fissile materials and nuclear technology. However, India believes its neighbor's nuclear record is dubious.

Issues in the background

India's foreign office did not react directly to Erdogan's comments about Kashmir. 

"We have always emphasized that India-Turkey relations stand on their own footing and, we believe, the Turkish side reciprocates our sentiment," Ruchi Ghanashyam, Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, said over the weekend in a statement.

But privately, some foreign office personnel are surprised.

"We know both countries don't see eye to eye on many issues especially Kashmir and Turkey's affiliations to Pakistan," a senior official told DW, adding that Erdogan's visit to India was not an ideal occasion to articulate such matters.

Some security analysts and foreign policy experts say they are shocked by the Turkish president's statements, especially as they come close to Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades' visit to India.

The northern part of Cyprus has been under Turkish occupation since 1974. India shares friendly relations with both Cyprus and Turkey. Turkey does not recognize Cyprus, and Erdogan is known to hold a hawkish position on the reunification of Cyprus, of which the northern part is under Turkish control.

Pakistan Türkei Besuch Präsident Recep Tayyip Erdogan - Plakat in Lahore (picture-alliance/Zuma Press/R.S. Hussain)

Is Erdogan a better friend to Pakistan?

Sources of diplomatic tension

Before Erdogan's arrival in Delhi, Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari paid tribute to victims of the Armenian genocide at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Armenia.

"Erdogan is becoming the new Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - controversial and divisive," P.R. Kumaraswamy, a professor of international studies at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, told DW.

"His calls for democracy and dialogue are for the outside world and not for Turkish citizens,” he added. "Time has come for India to hyphenate its relations with Turkey and actively engage with Armenia and Cyprus. Turkey is important but Erdogan is not."

"India needs to have a firm grip of the geopolitics of the region. We need to be aware of why Erdogan is making these statements,” Alka Acharya, a former member of India's National Security Advisory Board, told DW.

"Endrogan's interview may sound like a state of the union address, but we have to sift the wheat from the chaff,” she added.

Indien Narendra Modi in Neu-Delhi (Reuters/A. Abidi)

While Modi and his supporters advocate an illiberal form of Hindu nationalism, Erdogan and his followers are the standard-bearers of Muslim conservatism

Bilateral trade volume between the two countries is about $6.5 billion, but it is more in favor of India. Issues relating to regional security, counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing situation in the Middle East, particularly Syria's refugee problem also figured during talks between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Erdogan.

Last July, members of the Turkish military plotted a military coup against Erdogan in what was touted as a move to rescue Turkey from his harsh dictatorial policies. The rebellion, which happened in July 2016, and allegedly orchestrated by US based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen failed to overthrow Erdogan and his government. Political adversaries were put in jail and protests were stamped out. 

Valley of troubles

Parts of Kashmir have been in the grip of violence since July last year, with the police launching a massive crackdown in southern Kashmir and arresting at least 135 youth over two weeks. According to official figures, over 120 civilians have died since July 2016 when a militant, Burhan Wani, was shot dead by security forces.

Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir - a region of 12 million people, about 70 percent of whom are Muslim. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

Erdogan's trip to India is his first foreign visit after winning a controversial referendum on April 16 that further consolidated his executive powers, giving him sweeping powers until 2019. He last visited India in 2008 when he was prime minister of Turkey.

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