Erdogan raking up the Kashmir issue is about personal ambitions. Cherry-Picking: It is highly cynical that Imran Khan and Erdogan, who have tried to make much of the issues of the Islamic world, have ignored the plight of the Uighurs

by Tilak Devasher

A two-day international conference on Kashmir titled, ‘Kashmir Turmoil: Emerging Threats to Peace and the Role of International Community’, was organised by a Turkish think tank, Institute of Strategic Thinking (SDE), in collaboration with the Lahore Centre for Peace Research (LCPR) on November 20 in Ankara. According to Pakistan media, the central message that emerged from the conference was that there was only one fair solution to Kashmir provided by the UN through an impartial plebiscite. Other key points by various speakers were: (i) Kashmir is not an internal matter of India; (ii) India’s August 5, 2019, move to unilaterally scrap Article 370 is a potential trigger to cause instability in South Asia; (iii) the special provisions protected the region’s citizenship law that barred outsiders from settling in or owning land in the territory. Now the region’s demography would be changed.

What made the conference significant, and gave it official sanction was that among those who attended were president of the so-called Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Masood Khan, vice-president of Turkey Fuat Oktay, Chief Justice of Turkey Ismail Rustu Cirit, members of the Turkish parliament, several retired Turkish army officers and known India baiter Laura Schuurmans from Holland, and Khalistani Ranjit Singh of the World Sikh Parliament. The Turkish and Pakistan foreign ministers also sent messages.

The conference is the latest in the series of moves by the government of President Erdogan to echo Pakistan’s line on Kashmir and to deliberately ignore Indian sensibilities.

In 2017, just before his visit to India, Erdogan in an interview to a Turkish TV channel had suggested ‘multilateral dialogue to solve Kashmir dispute’, totally ignoring the bilateral process accepted by both India and Pakistan.

In a statement on the August 5 developments in J&K, the Turkish foreign ministry expressed concern that the move was likely to increase tensions. In September, at an event in Turkey to mark the building of a warship for Pakistan, Erdogan said he would continue to flag the Kashmir issue on the world stage. In his address to the 74th session of the UNGA in September, Erdogan said despite the UN resolutions ‘eight million people are stuck’ in Kashmir, ‘they cannot get out’. He also stated, ‘In order to look for their (Kashmiris) safe future along with their Pakistani and Indian neighbours, it is imperative for them to solve this problem through a dialogue on the basis of justice and equality instead of conflict.’

This was indeed a mischievous statement. Surely, the Turkish foreign office would not have been so ignorant as to not know that Kashmir is not a ‘neighbour’ of India, but was, is and will remain an integral part of India. Not surprisingly, the Indian spokesman ticked off the President when he stated, ‘We call upon Turkish government to get a proper understanding of the situation before making any further comments.’

It is indeed highly cynical that both Imran Khan and Erdogan, who have tried to make much of the issues of the Islamic world, saw fit to totally ignore the plight of the Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, in Xinjiang in their UNGA speeches. Earlier, in an interview, Khan had even feigned ignorance about what the Uighur issue really was! He has also gone out of his way to support Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria that has negatively impacted Muslim Kurds, saying that Pakistan ‘stands in full support and solidarity with Turkey’. Incidentally, it is feared that the Turkish assault could allow the ISIS to re-emerge as some of its followers had escaped from prisons.

India’s response to Turkey’s stand has been studied and calibrated. In New York, PM Modi met with leaders of Cyprus and Armenia, both of whom have difficult relations with Turkey. Armenia blames the erstwhile Ottoman Empire of committing genocide of 15 lakh Armenians while Cyprus has a major territorial dispute with Turkey. New Delhi also issued a strong statement criticising Turkey’s military assault in northern Syria, urging it to respect Syria’s sovereignty, stressing that Turkey’s actions could undermine stability in the region and the fight against terrorism. PM Modi also cancelled his proposed visit to Ankara. In addition, Turkey’s M/s Anadolu Shipyard was banned from defence-related business in India that would impact the $2.3 billion project to supply fleet support ships (FSS) to the Indian Navy.

India has also issued an advisory asking its citizens to exercise utmost caution while visiting Turkey. This is likely to have ramifications on the tourist traffic. In 2018-19 Turkey recorded over 50 per cent growth in Indian tourists. It would be interesting to see what impact the advisory would have on the tourism figures in 2019-20.

For several decades, during bilateral visits and talks, both India and Turkey had agreed that Kashmir was a bilateral issue to be resolved through the Shimla Agreement. Lately, however, Erdogan has taken to raising the UN resolutions.

In addition to the close relations with Pakistan, Erdogan raising UN resolutions and backing Pakistan so strongly on Kashmir is because of his personal ambitions to seek leadership of the Islamic world. He is pitching for Turkey assuming the role of a major power centre in the Muslim world and recalling the past glory of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire. Where he is handicapped, of course, is that he does not have the Petro dollars to back his grand vision. Hence, the effort is to create influence across the Islamic world in cooperation with countries like Pakistan and Malaysia.

What Turkey and Erdogan especially would need to realise is that they can pursue their ambitions in the Islamic world but this cannot be at the expense of India. India will not allow it.