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Modi, Erdogan to meet today, Kashmir, NSG membership key issues

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-05-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who arrived in New Delhi on Sunday evening, on a day-long visit, seems to have created a stir by calling for “multilateral dialogue” on the Kashmir dispute, something India has always sought to bilaterally sort out with its rival Pakistan. He made the comment in an interview to WION news channel ahead of his 30 April-1 May visit.

Erdogan is on his first trip to India since 2008 when he visited as then Prime Minister of Turkey. Fresh from a narrow win in a national referendum that gives him sweeping powers as both head of government and head of state, Erdogan will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday for bilateral talks. The two leaders are also expected to address a business leaders’ meet in New Delhi.

The Turkish president is accompanied by a business delegation with more than 100 members and is looking for an opportunity to push bilateral trade which is at $6.5 billion at the moment.

Interestingly, in a delicate balancing act, India hosted the president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, last week, whose country does not see eye to eye with Erdogan’s Turkey. Turkey does not recognize Cyprus, and Erdogan is known to hold a hawkish position on the reunification of Cyprus whose northern part is under Turkish control. Also, last week, Indian vice-president Hamid Ansari, on a visit to Armenia—another country with which Turkey has had particularly delicate relations over the alleged killing by the Turkish Ottoman empire of 1.5 million Armenians in the early 20th century—visited the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex where he paid homage to the victims of the alleged genocide.

Politically, India and Turkey have many differences—on India’s bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) or on Turkey’s stance on Kashmir where it’s closer to Pakistan than to India.

Here’s a look at some of the key points on the agenda ahead of Modi’s meeting with Erdogan.

NSG membership: India has been actively campaigning for a seat within the group which makes rules controlling global nuclear commerce for the past year. Turkey, on its part, says it supports both India and Pakistan for membership—a sore point with India considering Pakistan’s somewhat dubious record on the nuclear proliferation front. This, India feels, should be enough to consider its candidature separately—untied with Pakistan, given New Delhi’s own impeccable non-proliferation record.

Kashmir: Turkey is seen as among those handful of countries supporting Pakistan’s position on Kashmir at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a 57-member body comprising Muslim countries, which routinely brings out anti-India statements on the subject. In an interview to WION news channel before his visit, Erdogan seemed to advocate “multilateral dialogue”, to sort out the issue—something India is vehemently opposed to. “Through multilateral dialogue I think we have to seek out ways to settle this question (Kashmir) once and for all, which will benefit both countries (India and Pakistan).

“I have been discussing these issues at length with my dear friend the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif. I know he is a good-intentioned man. I personally heard him speak about settling this issue once and for all.”

“So if we keep dialogue channels open, we can settle it once and for all. There is no better option than keeping dialogue channels open and contribute to global peace. I want this mentality to prevail among the leaders,” he said in the interview.

Terrorism: Turkey was once seen as the supporter of the opposition forces in Syria and also suspected to help the Islamic State (IS) rise up as an adversary to the Syrian government of president Bashar al-Assad. But a string of blasts in Turkey blamed on the IS seemed to have changed president Erdogan’s mind. In his interview to WION, the Turkish president has called for the US and its allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to join hands with Russia, Iran and Turkey “to eradicate” the IS.

New Delhi is wary of the IS presence on its borders—so this could become a talking point for Modi and Erdogan. The Turkish president however may need more convincing when it comes to terrorism emanating from Pakistan or cross-border terrorism—that India is plagued by—given Turkey’s close ties with Pakistan. Erdogan is also keen that India should not provide any sanctuary to the followers of exiled Turkish cleric Fehtullah Gulen who is accused by Erdogan of plotting the 16 July coup against his government.

Economic ties: Despite India and Turkey not seeing eye to eye on many political issues, the two countries seem to have an opportunity to work together on the economic front. India is looking to spruce up its creaky infrastructure and is looking for partners. This could provide an opportunity for Turkish construction companies to scout for opportunities in India, form joint ventures and even jointly take up projects in third countries.

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