Buoyed by a national referendum that has made him the most powerful leader of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has touched down in India on an important visit that seeks to reset Ankara’s relations with the world’s most populous democracy. This is Mr Erdogan’s first foreign visit after winning the national referendum by a thin margin, and indicates the importance Turkey is placing on scaling up relations with India, which have been shadowed by Ankara’s unhelpful positions on Kashmir and its close ties with Islamabad.
Turkey’s all-powerful leader will be in India for a little over twenty-four hours, but this brief visit is expected to have a transformative impact on New Delhi-Ankara relations. The agenda for talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Turkish leader is multi-layered and diverse, including elevating economic and strategic relations.
NSG: Will Turkey relent?
For New Delhi, getting Ankara’s support for its drive to secure membership of the elite 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group will top the agenda. Turkey, which has not given unqualified support to India, has insisted on “criteria-based approach”, echoing Beijing’s stance on common criteria for all the non-NPT signatories who aspire to join the elite nuclear club. This has raised the hackles in New Delhi which views it as a tacit support to Pakistan’s bid to join the NSG. India has insisted that given its impeccable non-proliferation record, it can’t be equated with Pakistan, which has a dubious record of proliferation. The NSG’s plenary session will be held in Switzerland in June when India’s membership will be considered afresh.
Turkey’s stand on India’s membership of the NSG is not the only issue that has riled India. It extends to Turkey’s hostile stand on the Kashmir issue. Ankara’s close relations with Islamabad, including a growing strategic partnership, has seen the two countries aligning themselves on a host of issues. During a visit to Islamabad in November 2016, Mr Erdogan had said that events in Kashmir “continue to hurt our conscience,” during his address to a joint session of Pakistan Parliament. Foreign Minister Mr. Mevlut Cavusoglu has said that “Turkey fully supports Pakistan’s position on Jammu and Kashmir.” India is expected to convey its concerns to the Turkish leader over Ankara’s position on the Kashmir issue. In remarks that are bound to upset New Delhi, Mr Erdogan in an interview ahead of his visit to New Delhi has advocated a “multilateral dialogue” to settle the Jammu and Kashmir question, which conflicts with New Delhi’s position on resolving the Kashmir dispute through bilateral dialogue.
India and Turkey are facing the menace of terrorism. Mr Erdogan realizes perhaps more than anybody else the threat from terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, and the issue would be an important component of his talks with the Indian leaders. India will raise the issue of its own battle with Pakistan-based terror outfits and discussions on intelligence-sharing on terror threats are expected to figure there, sources said.
Make in India
Moving beyond problematical issues, India and Turkey are expected to focus on scaling up their economic partnership. In New Delhi, the two sides will be looking to enhance bilateral trade, which currently hovers around $7 billion, and two-way investment. Given the prowess of Turkish companies in sectors like infrastructure and construction, India will be expecting Turkey’s support for the Make in India project. India is Turkey’s second largest trading partner in Asia-Pacific. A Joint Study Group was set up in 2010 to explore the feasibility of concluding a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between Turkey and India.
(Pallab Bhattacharya has contributed inputs for this article)
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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