India And Turkey

Written by Subhash Agrawal | Updated: Aug 28 2003, 05:30am hrs
Historically, India-Turkey relations were less than perfect. Through the Cold War years and in the zero-sum diplomatic mindset of South Asia. Turkey was a lost cause for us, given its proximity to Pakistan. But that has been changing in recent years, gradually at first but dramatically in total. And the reasons are Pakistans push towards radical Islam set against Turkish fear of the same. Military contacts between Ankara and Islamabad continue, but Turkeys position on Kashmir has evolved to a point that it now supports a bilateral settlement rather than under UN auspices.

In his state visit in 2000 symbolising this new reality, Prime Minister Ecevit of Turkey not only dazzled his Indian hosts with his Sanskrit scholarship, but he actually did not simultaneously visit Pakistan. No matter how you cut it, Turkish-Pakistani relations are on a gradual downside despite General Musharrafs avowed admiration for Kemal Ataturk. This is one friend that our neighbour has handed to us on a silver platter.

But quite aside from the glee of having stolen a friend from Pakistan, there are other reasons why Turkey is an important geopolitical player, and why India should give it, and in fact is, greater attention. First, the situation in Iraq is now getting so out of hand that, despite current US misgivings over the current regime of Recep Tayep Erdogan or even the Turkish refusal to allow US troops transit facilities, Turkey clearly remains the most important country in the vicinity of Iraq which is capable of contributing to stability.

Second, Turkey is well on the way to becoming a key transit point for energy distribution for the developed world. There are numerous pipelines that either already exist or are being planned. There is one that takes gas from Iran via Turkey to the Mediterranean. Yet another transports gas from Russia to the Black Sea. An oil pipeline, from Baku to Turkey, is under construction, and another, to ship gas via Turkey to Greece, is under discussion. If this were not enough, a major project is being planned to establish a gas pipeline from Egypt to Syria and Turkey.

What is so exciting about all these pipelines Simply this: Whether or not it was the reason behind US actions, oil politics is now central to the whole question of Iraq. Rebuilding Iraq allows the US an opportunity to lessen its dependency on a volatile Saudi Arabia and to neutralise the looming economic threat from China, which will become the second largest economy in the world by 2020. Explicitly stated or not, or even admitted or not, the US, and to a lesser degree also the EU, wants greater control of the global energy market, including the paths of transporting. In this scenario, gas and oil pipelines that connect the abundant reserves in the Caspian Sea to major ports on the eastern Mediterranean will become critical. No other country stands to benefit more than Turkey.

Third, Turkey is not about to become a closed Islamic nation. On an earlier visit to the country, I was amazed at Istanbuls Western values, not just superficial symbols. There is now a critical mass of modernism in Turkey, whether EU accepts it or not, and this is manifest in various achievements. In 2000, a Turkish team won the UEFA Cup Final; last year, Turkey won the bronze in the football World Cup; and this past summer, a Turkish singer won the popular Eurovision contest. There is a certain glow of optimism in the young, as much if not more than in India.

Typing in India and Turkey on any search engine on the Net returns thousands of academic articles, mostly by Western scholars, on how both, plus Israel, constitute the triad of pro-Western democracies that present the most stable partners to US interests in the wide arc running from Manila to Marrakesh. In recent times, both countries have adopted a common approach to international issues. Turkeys response to President Bushs NMD proposal was similar to Indias: Guarded approval. And when India consulted Turkey on sending troops to Iraq a gesture appreciated by Ankara, both agreed on a mandate from the United Nations. In the context of the Prime Ministers impending visit to Turkey, this entente looks more real each day.

The author is an analyst of Indian political and business trends and the editor of India Focus, a political risk report for international investors