External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar (right) and his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu during their meeting at Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on 29 March

Tensions between Indian and Turkey had heightened after Modi govt scrapped Article 370 in J&K in August 2019

New Delhi: India and Turkey are beginning to look at revitalising bilateral ties even as Ankara is all set to play a key role in the Afghan peace talks under the Joe Biden administration.

Tensions between both countries had heightened after the Narendra Modi government scrapped Article 370 in August 2019, withdrawing the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

But on Sunday, the Turkish foreign ministry issued a statement condemning the Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh in which 22 Indian security personnel were killed.

“We are saddened to learn that many Indian security personnel were killed and many left injured after a terrorist act targeting security forces in the state of Chhattisgarh in India,” the statement said. “We offer our sympathies to the relatives of those who lost their lives in the attack and wish a speedy recovery to the injured. We condemn this terrorist act, share the grief of the government and people of India and convey our sincere condolences.”

While this is not the first time that Turkey has issued statements expressing concerns for mishaps happening in India, Sunday’s condemnation assumes critical importance because this time Ankara has commented on an issue that concerns India’s domestic security concerns.

Turkey had earlier extended its sympathies during the Uttarakhand glacier burst incident in February. It had also offered its condolences during the Kozhikode plane crash in August 2020.

Last month, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ‘Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process’ ministerial conference at Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in which both sides vowed to “improve” their relations with a focus on economy and trade. The meeting was held on 29 March.

When Ties Hit Nadir Between New Delhi, Ankara

The downswing in bilateral ties between India and Turkey first began when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised the Modi government’s Article 370 move and urged New Delhi to resolve tensions with Pakistan through dialogue and not through “collision”.

As a result, Prime Minister Modi cancelled his trip to Turkey in 2019 as tensions between both countries started to soar.

In February 2020, during his visit to Pakistan, Erdogan had stated that Ankara will support Islamabad on the Kashmir issue and likened the situation of Kashmiris with that of his country during World War I.

After the Pulwama attacks in February 2019 and the subsequent airstrikes by India in terror camps in Pakistan, Ankara has tried many times to play the mediator between both sides.

“We don’t need to bring Kashmir or Pakistan into our bilateral ties. They have to make these statements because they have to address their own constituencies and they have their own compulsions,” M. Bhadrakumar, a veteran diplomat and India’s former Ambassador to Turkey, said. “But we should not stop talking due to that. We have nothing to hide when it comes to Kashmir and the world knows we have terrorism issue there.”

Bhadrakumar explained that India needs to revive its ties with Turkey keeping in mind “China’s role there”.

It is business as usual between Ankara and Beijing despite tensions concerning the Uyghurs’ issue between the two. Turkey has signed a massive loan deal with China when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was on a visit there last month.

“I think both countries have the desire to improve bilateral relations. The air in the meeting of the Foreign Affairs ministers in Tajikistan reflected this desire as well,” said Abdulkadir Aksöz, a researcher (South Asian Studies) at the Istanbul Medeniyet University. “Besides, this is not the first statement Turkish state has made. Turkey was the first country to convey her condolences about the flood disaster happened in Uttarakhand last February.”

Turkey’s Role In Afghan Peace Talks

Turkey is now expected to play a significant role in the Afghan peace talks as the US is once again looking to leverage Ankara’s role due to its deep networks with Taliban leaders. Besides, Biden is also looking to enhance Turkey’s role as it continues to be a key NATO ally.

In his proposal to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the peace talks and US’ withdrawal of troops from that war-torn country, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had suggested that Turkey host a senior-level meeting in an effort to finalise the peace agreement with the Taliban as well as their negotiations with the Afghan government.

Subsequently, Turkey had announced that it will host the meeting in April even as it will appoint an envoy for this purpose.

“Turkey is going to play a very big role in the Afghan peace talks. Turkey has direct and deep contacts with the Taliban and the Biden administration recognises that fact and is willing to utilise it,” Bhadrakumar added. “Turkey is the only Islamic nation that is part of both the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) as well as NATO. We need to keep our channels of communication open with them. Now that India is also going to play a bigger role in the Afghan talks, this is very important that we talk.”