Srinagar: Security forces and agencies have flagged Turkey’s growing influence in Kashmir and are keeping a close watch on the money coming in from the West Asian country that has increased its focus on the region.

Sources in the defence and security establishment said Turkey’s growing influence began over the last few years and increased with the visit of top Pakistani army generals to the country in 2019.

“A number of journalists, including two relatives of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, are now working for Turkish media organisations or pursuing courses in Turkish universities. Suddenly one finds more and more people getting tied up with Turkey,” a source said.

The source pointed out an effort is being made to increase Turkey’s influence in Kashmir especially with the young population.

Multiple sources in the defence and security establishment and the civil society seconded this observation.

Shows, Secret Visits

The first development that caught the eyes of the security agencies was the Turkish web show Dirilis: Ertugrul (2014), which has now become a rage in Kashmir, especially among the youth.

Dirilis: Ertugrul is a historical fiction based on the life of Ertugrul, father of Ottoman Empire founder Osman I. It highlights the struggles of Kayi, a Turkic tribe that went on to establish one of the most powerful global empires in the Anatolia region.

Fans not only enjoy the show but say it has helped them “rediscover” Islamic history.

“Many of the youth are now attracted to this series and see religion as part of the creation of the Ottoman Empire. Even though the series was released years ago, the popularity increased over the last one year,” a second source said, adding that the way the show has been produced is attractive.

In July this year, state-run Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that the series has become a sensation because it somewhat “soothes the bruised and oppressed residents while giving them ‘hope’ of a voice”.

The sources said a concerted effort is being made to increase the Turkish influence in Kashmir. This grew after top Pakistan Army generals made visits to Turkey last year and met Turkish propaganda arms, they said.

The sources added that “slowly Turkey is becoming the new Pakistan” as far as propaganda is concerned.

The Money Flow And Erdogan

Ankara’s influence isn’t restricted to propaganda. Funds have also started to slowly trickle into Kashmir from Turkey through some NGOs and businessmen, said a third source in the defence and security establishment.

“Traditionally, the money came in from Saudi and Dubai. Turkey is a new phenomenon,” said the source.

Civil activist Javaid Beigh said there is no doubt that Turkish influence is growing in Kashmir. “This (is) part of a cleverly planned ploy,” he said. Beigh added that a lot of Kashmiris had shifted to Europe and the Middle East, especially Dubai, in the 1990s. However, one now sees rich Kashmiris making investments in Turkey, he said.

Bashir Assad, who runs NGO Lehar Foundation and has recently authored a book, K File-The Conspiracy of Silence, highlighting the continuous radicalisation of the youth in Kashmir, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the new “role model”.

“We Kashmiris gave up our identity to the Arab world in the 1980s and now Erdogan is emerging as the new role model,” he said.

Sources who are studying this growing sway point out that Kashmir perfectly fits into Erdogan’s political game plan as he seeks to counter Saudi Arabia’s dominance in the Islamic world.

Explaining why Turkey is focusing on Kashmir, a fourth source said Erdogan, for his own political gain, is trying to project himself as the one who will bring back the Ottoman traditions that will set the standards for the rest of the Islamic world.

Turkey has also made it a point to raise the Kashmir issue at global forums and work in tandem with Pakistan. At the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last month, Erdogan said “Kashmir conflict is still a burning issue”.

At last year’s UNGA, only Erdogan and then Malaysian prime minister Mahatir Mohammed had joined Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in talking about Kashmir. Earlier this year, Erdogan had even hit out at India over the Delhi riots in a speech at Ankara. He had said, “India right now has become a country where massacres are widespread. What massacres? Massacres of Muslims. By who? Hindus."

According to reports, it is not just Pakistan that is supporting Turkey, but also China as the two countries seek to replace Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Islamic world.