External Affairs

Sidestepping Differences, Modi, Erdogan Talk Terrorism and Business

Modi said that terrorism was a “shared” worry on which he and Erdogan had an “extensive conversation”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Monday. Credit: PTI/PIB

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Monday. Credit: PTI/PIB

New Delhi: On a day when India accused the Pakistan army of mutilating two soldiers, Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi stood next to Islamabad’s close ally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and talked about “cross-border terrorism”, adding that both countries had agreed to strengthen cooperation to counter terrorism.

Erdogan arrived on Sunday evening for a two-day state visit to India – his first foreign visit after winning the April 16 referendum which will change Turkey into presidential form of democracy.

On the eve of the Turkish president’s arrival, a private news channel, WION, released an interview with Erdogan where he suggested that Turkey could be part of a “multilateral dialogue” to seek a solution to Kashmir.

While the formal talks between Erdogan and Modi were taking place in Hyderabad House, the Indian army released a statement saying that the Pakistan army’s Border Action Team (BAT) had “mutilated” the bodies of two Indian soldiers and swore vengeance. The escalation at the border takes place in the background of the Pakistan army’s public “rejection” of a directive from the Pakistan prime minister’s office and the ‘leak’ on a meeting between Sharif and an Indian businessman.

A few hours after the Indian army’s announcement, Pakistan denied the allegations – but the India-Turkey talks were already being perceived through the filter of recent developments in the subcontinent.

In his press statement after the talks, Modi said that terrorism was a “shared” worry on which they had an “extensive conversation”.

“We agreed that no intent or goal, no reason or rationale can validate terrorism. The nations of the world, therefore, need to work as one to disrupt the terrorist networks and their financing and put a stop to the cross-border movement of terrorists,” Modi said.

Again, with an implicit reference to Pakistan, Modi said that countries “also need to stand and act against those that conceive and create, support and sustain, shelter and spread these instruments and ideologies of violence”.

“President and I agreed to work together to strengthen our cooperation, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to effectively counter this menace,” he added.

Incidentally, there has been an uptick in intelligence cooperation between Turkey and India over ISIS in last few years, especially since many Indian nationals who attempted to travel to Syria usually took the Turkish route.

The joint statement echoed Modi’s use of phrases referring to the disruption of terror financing and stopping the “cross-border movement of terrorists”. “Both Leaders strongly condemned the use of double standards in addressing the menace of terrorism and agreed to strengthen cooperation in combating terrorism both at the bilateral level and within the multilateral system,” said the bilateral document.

In his statement own statement to the media, Erdogan expressed “heartfelt condolences” for the April 24 “terrorist attack”, referring to the Naxal attack on security personnel in Sukma, Chhattisgarh.

“I whole heartedly condemn the terror attack. As a country fighting some of the vicious terrorist organisations, I can confidently say that we relate to your pain and suffering,” he said. “Turkey will always be by the side of India in full solidarity while battling terrorism,” he added.

The Turkish president said that attempts by terrorist organisations to “create a future out of the pain of the victims” will get “drowned in the blood that they shed”.

While answering questions, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Gopal Baglay said that Erdogan did not raise the issue of outside intervention in the Kashmir dispute. “There was no talk like this,” he told reporters.

Baglay claimed that India had put forth its view that the Kashmir issue was mainly related to terrorism. He also said that India had been always ready to talk to Pakistan on Kashmir in the bilateral context. “They listened with care and attention to what we had to say,” he added.

Even as India claimed that Turkey had not raised Kashmir during the talks in Delhi, the Turkish president had previously not shied away from talking about disputed region. “Our brothers and sisters in Kashmir are suffering because of escalating tensions along the Line of Control and Kashmir, which can no longer be ignored,” he said in November 2016. Demonstrating the personal ties between the two leaders, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was one of the witnesses at the wedding of Erdogan’s daughter last May.

Incidentally, ahead of Erdogan’s visit, Indian vice president Hamid Ansari travelled to Armenia, where he laid a wreath at a memorial to mark the victims of the ‘Armenian genocide’. Turkey doesn’t recognise that there was any ‘genocide’ .

While Ansari did not use the term ‘genocide’, he said at the Armenian University that “there cannot be two opinions regarding the killings of the innocent people, be it in this region, Asia, Africa or in Latin America”.

Three days before Erdogan landed in Delhi, Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades was in Delhi and called on India to raise the long-standing Cypriot dispute with Turkey. “We look to friends and allies such as India to convey the message to Turkey that the status quo is unacceptable, and that it needs to engage constructively and actively in the efforts underway,” Anastasiades said in a speech on April 27.

When questioned about the scheduling of the visits, MEA secretary (west) Ruchi Ghanshyam had noted last week that “timings of visits are based on the convenience of leaders”.

While Erdogan only cited the Sukma incident as a “terror attack” in his public remarks, he used the platform to ‘warn’ India about the “one of the vicious, most evil terror organisations called FETO”. The Turkish president was referring to the movement led by his former ally Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, who is currently living in exile in US.

Erdogan had blamed Gülen for being the mastermind of the attempted coup of April 15, 2016. Following the coup, over 47,000 are reported to have been arrested, including academics, journalists and security personnel.

“Since July 15, without comprising on rule of law, we have been combating the terror organisation,” said Erdogan.

Earlier on Monday, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that it was “highly unlikely”, given the large number involved in the ongoing ‘purge’, that due process had been followed by Turkey.

While the Indian prime minister listened with headphones for simultaneous translation, Erdogan said that Turkey had been “informing our friends the way FETO builds up its network, how they infiltrate into state institutions, how they get resources and what kind of disguises they use”.

“I know India will take necessary measure to expel FETO from her territory once and for all,” he added.

The Indian foreign ministry spokesperson noted that “Turkish concerns of FETO” had been raised by the visiting delegation. “Any organisation in India, whether Indian or foreign, has to work within parameters of our law and norms and regulation. So that position is very clear,” Baglay said.

Last year, when the Turkish ambassador had publicly raised concerns about activities of FETO in India, New Delhi had brushed it off.

Erdogan “thanked” India for supportive statements after the April 15 coup attempt, while Modi appreciated Ankara’s “support” for India’s “aspiration to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group”.

While improvement in political relations may still be uncertain, both countries tried to ensure that the focus of the trip was solely on the economic side.

Both India and Modi together attended a meeting with apex businesses on Monday morning. The Indian spokesperson noted that Erdogan’s delegation included over 150 Turkish businessmen “which was indicative of thrust of visit”.

The current trade volume between the countries is $6.5 billion, with both leaders setting a target of $10 billion by 2020.

At the business forum, the Turkish president had pointed out the large trade deficit. “As of last year, Turkey’s exports to India were $652 million, while its imports from India were $5.75 billion. So this is not sustainable for Turkey,” he said.

Erdogan called for increasing the number of Turkish Airlines flights, as well as liberalising the visa regime for businessmen.

Later in the evening, Erdogan was conferred an honorary doctorate by Jamia Milia Islamia. He attended a state banquet hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee before flying back home.