As President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set to visit New Delhi next week, and India's diplomatic and academic community are curiously awaiting the outcome of the visit. For many Indians, even though Turkey is an old friend according to the history of ancient civilizations, the template of Cold War politics is still a thread that is holding together India's perception of Turkish foreign policy, with Turkey remaining a "Western-NATO ally." With India having been an architect of non-aligned policy since its initial days of independence, the country watches with disbelief the bipolar rivalry and distribution of world power between the two powers. It has been India's toughest challenge to find a balanced and independent foreign policy but many understand India has, by and large, been successful. The non-aligned principles are still the main source of Indian's foreign policy and public opinion in the country, which even the government cannot undermine. Maintaining a fine balance between all the world powers and India's economic development remain a key component of India's modern diplomacy. For many observers in India, Turkey still remains a Western country in its diplomatic and security formulations, regardless of its current mistrust and occasional animosity toward the West, while there is a prevailing need to appreciate that Turkey's foreign policy is being reconceptualzed and Turkey's mistrust of its Western allies contribute immensely to the process. Many Asian powers are looking Turkey's changing foreign political discourse with hopes that Turkey can be part of a larger Asian community.
Rajiv Dogra, a former diplomat and India's leading strategic affairs commentator, recalls Indo-Turkish civilizational links as having defined the close relations between the countries: "Modern times, due to the Khilafat movement and the role of Mahatma Gandhi, as well as anti-colonial movements, have largely supported Turkey. Thus, India's support of Turkey, not only in the case of the Ottomans but also after the formation of the modern state, is unforgettable. In 2000, Turkey assured India that it had reviewed and considered Ankara's stance on the Kashmir issue. Dogra recalled the visit of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he engaged with his Turkish counterparts and persuaded Turkey to start the Istanbul-Delhi flight connection. Today, Turkish Airlines (THY) is one of the most important carriers for Indian and Western tourists connecting them to international destinations, in addition to the significant growth afforded to Istanbul-bound Indian tourists. Regarding the question of bringing the issue of counterterrorism to the fore, he said: "India has faced terrorism for nearly 40 years. There is hardly any country in the world which has suffered more. Turkey also suffered from strikes in recent years. This is another area in which we can cooperate with each other and, in fact, this could be an area that shows a high need for further cooperation and assistance.
Prof. Ashiwini Mahapatra, chairperson of the Centre for West Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, understands that we are interested more in syncretic culture that broadly advocates a pluralist society. This society, as most of us know, was cultivated by the Sufi tradition both in India and in Turkey. He think that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit will be important for enhancing cooperation in the sector of information and technology, the supply of energy and gas pipeline projects, as Turkey dreams of becoming an energy hub in the future. Thus, India has the potential to contribute significantly in these areas.
Dr. Javed Zafar, research coordinator at the Mashreq Review considers the visit an opportunity to redefine Indo-Turkish relations. He underscores many issues that both countries still need to work on, including India's membership in the Nuclear Supplier Group and India's membership in the U.N. Security Council. Interestingly, in recent years President Erdoğan has repeatedly criticized the current U.N. system, saying that the world is bigger than the mere five members of the U.N. Security Council. He pointed out that Turkey needs to make contact on a person-by-person basis by increasing the number of scholarships for Indian students for various courses in Turkish universities.
Dr. Omair Anas, a research fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs, an autonomous think tank of India's External Affairs Ministry, has compiled a list of recommendations that include the completion of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. He says that both Turkey and India have evolved from agrarian economies to service economies and have successfully developed a credible manufacturing sector. However, they need to develop their own research and development (R&D) in order to qualify for an advanced and innovative stage of manufacturing and design. In the areas of expansion of health services provided to common people and people in rural areas, both countries can benefit from their experiences. Moreover, both countries have become an important hub in medical tourism and medical services are an important area for cooperation. As both India and Turkey have invested immensely in R&D activities, particularly in pharmaceuticals, IT, defense, telecommunications, automotive, renewable energy and water conservation, both sides have many opportunities for joint R&D projects in areas of mutual interest.
*Ph.D. scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University and assistant editor of Delhi-based online journal www.mashreqreview.com