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Clash of civilisations or the Cult of Personalities? Assessing Turkey’s Indo-Pak relations

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A burgeoning Turkey-Pakistan friendship against India should not be inferred as an example of Huntington’s clash of civilizations. Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” argues that the future international order will be defined by the culture and civilization of nation-states. He emphasises that globalization will coerce states to decide on their friends and enemies based on their civilizations, culture, religion, and history. Although the emphasis on globalization seems right, his argument majorly discounts on the role of populist leaders in facilitating this façade of clash of civilisations. 

Globalization has introduced uncertainties of global economy, society, and polity to the local atmosphere; phenomenon such as migration, unemployment, capitalism, urbanization, flow of ideas and media coverage have triggered anxieties, uncertainties, and ontological insecurity amongst people at the grassroots level. Thus, threatening their identities, sense of selves and their nations’ place in the world. However, these fears are being exploited by a new generation of populist leaders who propagate religious-nationalist sentiments and narratives to cater  a sense of self and stability amongst these citizens. They portray themselves as the defenders and representatives of the state and its citizens through these broader and collective identities, and exhibit a persona of being a strong leader with a mission torestore past glories of their nation-states byfighting against the hostile external world and the internal elites.  

Populism and Turkey’s foreign policy: 

The case of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an exact reflection of this new generation of populist leaders. Erdogan won his first elections by promising economic stability, democracy, modernisation, and Islamic revivalism, which were important to provide a sense of stability to the Turks who were suffering from the 2001 economic crisis.  Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) cleverly used the strong historical, social, and cultural presence of Islam amongst the Turks to propagate the “Muslim Selves” identity against the Turkish elites and their “Western idea” of secularism. This propagation of collective identities increased AKP’s voter base by framing commoners against the secular privileged elites; and exhibited Erdogan as the “saviour” of Turkey against the internal and external threats. 

This rise of populism has a significant impact on Erdogan’s foreign policy as well. Erdogan exhibits himself as a strong leader and defender of his country. He has portrayed himself as a leader who will restore “glorious past” of the Ottoman Empire and has inhibited strong nationalist- religious rhetoric, which is promoted by the Turkish state media agencies. This propaganda has created a sense of selves and stability amongst the people who were uncertain of Turkey’s position in the world and has thus mustered Erdogan’s domestic support.

Erdogan’s foreign policy, as any other populist leader is dependent on satisfying his domestic audience; for which it is important for him to maintain the religious-nationalist rhetoric and his strong man image. His confrontation and inflammatory rhetoric and lack of restraint has also attracted segments of his electorate. Consequently, he has used aggressive rhetoric in his foreign policy and asserted for Islamic revivalism during the elections. It is ultimately these factors that have also influenced his India-Pakistan policy

Turkey’s Indo-Pak policy:

Turkey’s policy towards India has hardly been independent of the Pakistan factor and vice versa. Soon after independence, Turkey favoured friendly ties with Pakistan (a fellow Western camp member)over India and its neutral Nonalignment moment. Turkey formally joined the Baghdad pact/ Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) alongside Pakistan and Iran in 1955It criticised India for its military action against Portuguese Goa in 1961 and also formed the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) in 1964 alongside other CENTO membersIn addition, Turkey’s open support for Pakistan against India in the 1965 and 1971 wars and its concerns over India’s status-quo in Kashmir since the 1960shad deepened Turkey-Pakistan friendship. Consequently, Turkey had also expressed its anti-Indian stance on Kashmir in international platforms such as the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

However, following the end of the Cold War, Turkey started embracing a new approach towards South Asia, attempting to disentangle its India-Pakistan relations. India’s economic liberalisation in the early 90s had opened up a huge economic market for several countries. Around the same time, Turkey upset with Musharraf’s military coup in Pakistan and with an ongoing economic crisis looked for a new economic and political relationship with India. Thus, Turkey  softened its pro-Pakistan and Kashmir stance; Bulent Ecevit even became the only Prime Minister of Turkey to visit India without visiting Pakistan. 

Buthis successor Erdogan’s vision to make Turkey self-sufficient in the production and exportation of domestic weapons wrenched the former towards Pakistan. This was followed by a strategic partnership and close security and counter-insurgency cooperation amongst both the states, as Turkey witnessed threats from Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisationsHowever, this cooperation neither altered Turkey’s softened stance nor hindered its economic relationship with India. 

Despite Erdogan’s rise to power, India and Turkey’s economic ties improved with no major political differences. Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Turkey in 2003 and Erdogan visited India in 2008, followed by the Turkish president in 2010. Erdogan visited India again in 2017 to further economic cooperation and partnership. This economic success and ties were very much evident when over 190 Indian companies had started operating in Turkey by 2013. Similarly, the India-Turkey trade had burgeoned to a worth of 8 billion USD in 2019, while Turkey-Pakistan trade was worth 800 million USD only.

Explaining recent drift: 

However, despite these positive developments, India-Turkey relations started tilting South from 2017, and deepening Pakistan-Turkey relationship started threatening India again. But this tilt is a product of populism and its impacts of foreign policy rather than the clash of civilizations.

Erdogan’s image and authority had taken a huge blow after the attempted2016 military coup, and the only way he could repair his image was punishing the secular establishment and also expanding his electoral and support base through anti-secular and pro-Islam rhetoric. He tapped on people’s ontological insecurity with extremely religious-nationalist sentiments and started moving closer towards the Sunni World, to promote himself as a leader of the Islamic World. This persona of strong man bringing back glory to the Turks enhanced Erdogan’s domestic support and vote base. Thus, even days before his official visit to India, Erdogan portrayed himself as the leader of the Muslim world, by expressing that he would want Turkey to play a role in solving the Kashmir issue

On the other hand, Imran Khan of Pakistan (elected in 2018) was also a populist leader with strong religious-nationalist rhetoric and domestic image of being a strong leader. It is this strong man image that soon fostered ties amongst both the states. While Erdogan wanted to place himself and Turkey as the leader of the Muslim World, Imran Khan after losing Saudi and UAE to India started embracing Turkey to foster good ties and exhibit himself as a shaper of the Islamic world order. 

This coincided with the third phenomenon: rising anti-Modi sentiments in the Muslim World and increasing discrimination of Muslims within India. The Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register for Citizens and most importantly the revocation of article 370, which unilaterally changed Kashmir’s status quo for the first time since 1999 created a major concern for the Muslim nations. Further, the enforced lockdown and militarisation in Kashmir after article 370 abrogation left no other option for Erdogan but to adopt strong anti-India rhetoric. As failing to do so would have distorted his strong man image and nationalist religious narratives of leading the Islamic World. Thus, giving a major blow to his domestic image and public opinion.

Consequently, Turkey embraced closer ties with Pakistan at the cost of Indian interests and raised its concerns over Kashmir at the United Nations. In addition, several Indian security agencies have also raised concerns on Turkey’s influence over Kashmir through TRT’s Ertugrul web series and surging Turkish NGOs and business funds in Kashmir. They have also condemned Turkey for hiring Pakistani journalists, Kashmiri separatists and Kashmiri students to promote pro-Kashmiri rhetoric within Turkey. India’s retaliation to these growing security concerns has been sharp and reactionary. PM Modi has met with leaders of Cyprus and Armenia much to Turkey’s annoyance and cancelled his visit to Turkey. India also condemned Turkey’s military operations in Syria and haswarned Turkey of degrading its bilateral ties if the former continues to intervene in India’s internal affairs.  

Considering Erdogan’s approach to foreign policy and his attempt to have firm domestic support and electoral base, it is unlikely that he would move from his anti-India policy and rhetoric. Thus, indicating a decline inIndia-Turkey economic and political ties, while Pakistan-Turkey relations might see a gradual improvement. But, considering this relationship as a mere factor of clash of civilisations would severely undermine the role of globalisation and populism in modern-day foreign policymaking.

Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy is an MSc International Relations graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He focuses on South Asian international relations, conflicts and India's foreign policy. His works have been featured in The Statesman, The Strait Times, South Asian Monitor and The London Globalist.

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India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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