The strategic relationship between Turkey and India should not be hampered by the strong ties Turkey has with India’s neighbor and rival Pakistan. Turkey and India discussed relations in a recent visit made by Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu to New Delhi on Feb. 19. Many economic, political and regional issues were brought to the agenda during the talks.
After the visit, reports began to float around in Indian media that Turkey’s good ties with Pakistan are in a way blocking the furthering of Turkish-Indian ties. The Times of India, in a report dated Feb.21 wrote that India has come up against a Turkish “obstacle” in its Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership bid and claimed that Turkey is acting in the interest of Pakistan by creating an “obstacle” for India.
Turkish officials have several times explained that the most important criteria that should be kept in mind while discussing the NSG membership issue is non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament, which is a concern that Turkey has when reviewing any country. So they say they are basing their actions on general criteria, denying posing an obstacle on purpose to the Indian membership. Officials from both sides think that the enhancement of Turkey-India ties should be taken on its own merit.
Susmita Gongulee Thomas, Indian ambassador to Turkey, in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman last week, stated that Turkey and India are in “a strategic relationship that should not be adversely affected by the close relations that either have with other countries.” But she added, “India and Pakistan are not on par,” on many issues, including nuclear power. “We have two different levels of development. We have different credibility levels and have two different outlooks. We have always maintained that we would use nuclear power for peaceful purposes. So, there would not be any parallel [between India and Pakistan] in that sense,” Thomas said, speaking about Indian accession to the NSG club.
Both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons. Although not officially, India is a politically recognized nuclear power on the international scene. Former US President George W. Bush’s visit to India was political recognition for India’s right to have nuclear weapons. Other countries that have such rights did not object to that, except China. India tested a nuclear device code-named “Smiling Buddha,” which it called a “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974, as being accepted as is by the international community.
India is Turkey’s second biggest economic partner, coming after China. The rising momentum of relations started in the early 2000s. According to statistics from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) bilateral trade volume between the two countries was around $ 6.6 billion in 2012. This number points to a decrease in bilateral trade volume from 2011 statistics, due to global financial situation. The volume was $ 7.3 billion in 2011, while it was $ 4 billion in 2010 and $ 2.3 billion in 2009.
Assoc. Prof. Selçuk Çolakoğlu, the head of Asia-Pacific Studies at the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), maintained that India should not have any expectations for Turkey to loosen its ties with Pakistan. “As being an emerging power in the world, India has a perception that tcountries having relations with it should restrict their relations with Pakistan,” said Çolakoğlu, noting that it is a wrong perception.
“If India, trying to make use of its global power to the detriment of Pakistan, tries to isolate Pakistan regionally, it would push Pakistan to other regional rivals [of India,] like China,” Çolakoğlu noted. “Thus, India should develop positive relations with Pakistan, because the lack of normalized ties with Pakistan may stand in the way of India becoming a global power,” he said.
Coming to Turkey, Çolakoğlu added that Turkey is the only country that can conduct a mediation process between the two countries. “China, the US or Iran cannot do this [Pakistan-India mediation] because all these countries have problematic relations with one or the other. Turkey is one of the few countries that Pakistan trusts and relies on. Turkey and India are also enjoying good relations,” he claimed.