New Delhi: India and Turkey on Monday seemed to converge on the need to build a stronger economic relationship, committing themselves to a vast increase in trade over the next three years, but seemed to disagree on political issues such as terrorism and Kashmir.
To be sure, ties between the two countries have been difficult because of their divergent positions on terrorism and the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir.
Turkey has largely been seen as a moderate Islamic democracy with a population of about 80 million, strategically situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. But Turkey’s ties with India—Asia’s third largest economy—have been rather indifferent thanks to Turkey’s closeness to India’s arch rival Pakistan on key issues.
Those political differences seemed to be evident in New Delhi on Monday after talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Indian host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during the former’s day-long visit to New Delhi.
Those didn’t prevent the two sides from pledging to increase bilateral trade to $10 billion by 2020 from $6.5 billion now.
In a statements to reporters after talks with Modi, Erdogan assured India of Turkey’s full support in the fight against terrorism but his comments were in the context of a leftwing terrorist attack in India on 24 April in which 25 Central Reserve Police Force Personnel were killed. It was not in the context of “cross-border terrorism" that India has been plagued with and blames Pakistan for.
“Turkey will always be by the side of India in full solidarity while battling terrorism...And terrorists will be drowned in the blood they shed," Erdogan said. Modi on his part said that “no intent or goal or reason or rationale can validate terrorism." He added that countries need to “work as one to disrupt the terrorist networks and their financing and put a stop to cross-border movement of terrorists."
But on the question of exiled Turkish cleric Fehtullah Gulen, who is accused by Erdogan of plotting the 16 July coup against his government, the Turkish president described organisations associated with him as “terrorist" and hoped India would take necessary steps to rein in their activities.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay told reporters later that “there is convergence (between the two sides) on condemning terrorism."
On the question of Kashmir—the Himalayan region that India says is part of its territory, something disputed by Pakistan—“India put forth its views that Kashmir was an integral part of India. Our position was that whatever the reason, terrorism cannot be justified," Baglay said.
When asked what was the comment from the Turkish side, Baglay said that “they listened with care and attention to what we had to say" and did not offer to mediate.Ahead of his visit to India, Erdogan had stirred a hornet’s nest by saying that there should a “multilateral dialogue" on Kashmir—something India has been opposed to; India seeks to bilaterally resolve all its disputes with Pakistan.
There was much more visible convergence between India and Turkey on trade and commercial ties.
Modi noted that India and Turkey were two large economies which present an enormous opportunity to expand and deepen commercial linkages. He urged Turkish construction companies to participate in India’s efforts to bolster infrastructure.