New Delhi: India is keeping a close watch as Turkey and Pakistan launch joint military exercises this week in areas bordering Afghanistan, as the move is expected to create a strategic alliance with implications in South Asia.

The joint exercise, named ‘Ataturk XI-2021’, is aimed at focussing on counter-terrorist operations but this signals an emergent strategic alliance between these two countries, with implications for South Asia including Kashmir, according to highly placed sources who did not wish to be quoted.

The growing Pak-Turkey alliance is also reflected in the diplomatic arena with Turkey backing Pakistan’s narrative in Kashmir in return for Islamabad’s support against Greece and Cyprus. Pakistan, upset with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has moved closer to Turkey to gain support on Kashmir and procure arms. Turkey is yet again expected to come to the rescue of Pakistan at the FATF meet next week.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in February 2020 that the Kashmir issue was as important to Turkey as it is to Pakistan. Recalling the events of the Turkish War of Independence, Erdogan said, “And now, we feel the same about Kashmir today. It was Çanakkale yesterday and Kashmir today; there is no difference between the two”.

Turkey raised the issue of Kashmir at the UN General Assembly in September 2019. Experts claim that Turkey desires to replace Saudi Arabia as the leader in the Organisation of Islamic Conference.

“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,” noted Tilak Devasher, member National Security Advisory Board and an expert on Pakistan.

“Pakistan has taken a definitive turn towards Turkey after Saudi Arabia decided to adopt a more pragmatic approach and build its strategic and economic ties with India,” one of the above mentioned sources explained. “UAE too has expanded its partnership with India across sectors. Turkey on its part wants to place itself as a leader of Islamic world and its role in recent Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict has buoyed PM Imran Khan and all powerful army to take ties with Ankara to the next level.”

A joint declaration by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Pakistan and Azerbaijan signed in Islamabad on January 13 referenced the joint stances on Kashmir, the Aegean dispute, Cyprus and the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

Pakistan hopes to purchase four Turkish-built MILGEM corvette ships from the Turkish state-owned defence contractor ASFAT. It has also placed an order for 30 T-129 ATAK helicopters. The total cost of orders placed by the Pakistan military for the purchase of Turkish weapons systems is now in excess of $3 billion.

There are also reports that Turkey is seeking nuclear weapons technology from Pakistan. Turkey currently has two nuclear reactors—Tr-1 and Tr-2—run by the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority.

Meanwhile, signalling depth of strategic ties, Indian and Saudi armies will undertake first ever joint bilateral exercise, which will take place in Saudi Arabia. In December, Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane had visited Saudi Arabia in what was the first such visit by the head of Indian Army. The army chief had visited the headquarters of Royal Saudi Land Force, the Joint Force Command Headquarters and King Abdul Aziz Military Academy. Saudi Arabia identifies India as one of the Kingdom’s strategic partner countries under its 'Vision 2030’.