... for openness and credibility....

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reported decision to postpone a planned visit to Turkey comes a couple of weeks after an unusually sharp Indian rebuke to the Turkish invasion of northern Syria to hunt down Kurdish rebels who are being accused of being terrorists by Ankara.

There are suggestions that the Ministry of Defense is intending to cancel a naval contract with Turkey. All these actions are attributed to New Delhi's unhappiness over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's pro-Pakistani noises in the United Nations (UN) over the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution.

Erdogan’s unsolicited interference is neither an aberration nor an isolated incident. For long, especially after his re-election as prime minister in 2007 and as President since 2014, the Turkish leader has been actively interfering in regional affairs and has managed to anger and displease several of his friends and allies.

Initially, his ire was focused on Israel; he visited it in September 2011 but gradually, he turned hostile towards the country.

Widespread protests in the Arab world provided him an opportunity, and Erdogan sought to present himself and Turkey as the model for the Arab masses demanding change; in the process, he sought to interfere, especially in Egypt and Syria.

The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) crisis emboldened him to side with Qatar and this angered Saudi Arabia and UAE. His policy on Syria has been at odds with Moscow, which is committed to ensuring the survival of President Bashar al-Assad and the stability of Syria.

At one time, Erdogan also angered China over his remarks on the Uyghur Muslims. In other words, intemperate remarks against India are not an aberration; extremely sensitive about external comments on the condition of Kurds in Turkey, Erdogan has no qualms about commenting on the welfare of Muslims elsewhere.

On the eve of his visit in April 2017, he made an unsolicited offer to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Now, can Modi go beyond cancelling his visit, which was agreed when he met Erdogan on the side-lines of the Osaka G-20 summit in June? It would appear so. The Prime Minister's robust engagement with the Middle East, especially its key players such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, UAE, Qatar, and Iran, should give him ample leverage to tame Erdogan.

Interestingly, since assuming office Prime Minister Modi has been traveling to the Middle East often; he went to Abu Dhabi twice and will be making his second visit to Riyadh later this month. But his only visit to Turkey took place when he attended the G-20 summit in Antalya in November 2015.

New Delhi's policy towards Ankara should become integral to its more comprehensive Middle East policy, and Prime Minister Modi could consider the following options:

1. India should boost its ties with Armenia, Cyprus, and Greece who have been at the receiving end of Erdogan's glamour for regional hegemony and domination;

2. The issue of the Armenian genocide during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire must figure prominently in India's engagement with Yerevan;

3. By introducing 27 January as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as demanded by the UN in 2005, India could include the Armenian genocide in its official commemorations;

4. India should flag Turkey's more-than-four-decade-old invasion and occupation of Northern Cyprus in its engagements with Nicosia.

5. As part of its energy security strategy, New Delhi should expand natural gas cooperation with Cyprus over Aphrodite Field; it is estimated to contain 128 billion cubic meters of natural gas;

6. India should closely monitor Turkish scholarship for Indian students, as under Erdogan only Muslim students appear to be the beneficiaries;

7. The Turkish outreach activities in the country seemed to be aimed at undermining Saudi Arabia with whom Prime Minister Modi has developed close and friendly relations;

8. India should facilitate the expansion of the educational institutions run by the Turkish Gulen Movement that promotes moderate Islam and interfaith dialogue;

9. In recognition of its service to the promotion of inclusive Islam through education, India could bestow the Gandhi Peace Prize on Fethullah Gulen. The former mentor fell out with Erdogan when the latter opted for neo-Ottomanism both within and outside Turkey.

While flaming the tension is not sensible, Modi should draw the red line. Voting against India in the Islamic forums such as the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation is understandable and can be attributed to compulsions of solidarity.

Even friendly countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE sided with the rest and expressed concern over Kashmir, but their multilateral position was accompanied by their desire to pursue a close strategic partnership with India. Are they less concerned about the welfare of Muslims around the world than Erdogan?

A robust and measured response to Ankara will not only tame Erdogan but also send a message to friends like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and even Russia that they are not alone in dealing with the new Sultan-aspirant of the Middle East!

Note:  This article was originally published in Swarajya on 22 October 2019 and has been reproduced with the permission of the author. Web Link

As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy