These include Minister for Shipping G K Vasan and a group of MPs including Priya Dutt, Deepender Singh Hooda, Zafar Ali Naqvi, Baishnab Charan Parida and Prabhakar Kore .
Asiatimes Aug 13, 2003
By K Gajendra Singh
In the mid-1980s, during a transit visit to the Indian city of Bombay, now known as Mumbai, Turkish prime minister Turgut Ozal was very much taken by the drive and bustle along glittering Marine Drive, which in many ways reminds Turks of their Istanbul on the Bosporus, separating Europe from Asia.
Before leaving, Ozal told his ambassador, "Perhaps we have neglected this country." (Jawaharlal Nehru's visit to Ankara in 1960 was the first and last by an Indian prime minister to the country.) At a subsequent United Nations General Assembly session in New York, Ozal and then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, both leaders with a modern outlook, met and took a liking to one another. Ozal was duly invited to India, an offer that he took up the following year, 1987. Thus high-level exchanges were renewed between India and Turkey, two secular republics with much in common. But they drifted apart during the Cold War, and only now are they rediscovering each other.
Recent global events have helped this process. During Indian Foreign Minister Yeshwant Sinha's just-concluded two-day visit to Ankara, the most complex and vital issue facing both sides was not bilateral relations, but the United States request for them to send troops to help "stabilize" Iraq. Sinha did, however, find time to meet President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, as well as Prime Minister Recep Tayep Erdogan. He also held discussions with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on bilateral relations, which included greater economic, scientific, educational and tourism-sector cooperation. They told a press conference that they would strive to develop these relations further. A meeting of the Turkish-Indian Joint Economic Commission will be held within a few months, and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will visit Turkey in September.
But the Iraq issue was of prime concern. Sinha and Gul both stressed that Iraq's territorial integrity should be preserved and stability in the region should be established as soon as possible. Sinha remarked that, like Turkey, India might send troops to Iraq if the United Nations provides a mandate.
Despite its emerging strategic relationship with Washington, the Indian parliament condemned the US-led invasion of Iraq, a steadfast friend of India that had always supported Delhi on its Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) dispute with Pakistan.
In addition to the opposition parties, especially the secular Congress party, the Communist and other left-of-center parties, there was opposition to sending troops to Iraq even by some coalition partners in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and in the BJP itself. It was feared that Indian troops would become cheap cannon fodder in the quagmire that Iraq has become. Elections are scheduled in five Indian states by the end of the year, and the issue had all the potential of becoming a very hot electoral card.
Sending troops would also have created resentment among many Arab and Muslim governments, and certainly the Muslim community all over the world. Even within India, Muslims number more than 120 million, and millions of Indians work in Persian Gulf countries, remitting billions of dollars every year to their homeland.
India has no direct strategic objectives in Iraq, and Indians are also aware of Iraq's imperial history, when India under British colonial rule sent Indian troops to that country for the expansion and the greater glory of the British Empire in the early 20th century.
During World War I, Mesopotamia was the battleground for the struggle between the Ottomans and the British. About 12,000 soldiers - more than half from Indian divisions - surrendered to Turkish forces in May 1916 after a siege that had lasted 147 days. Of the troops who left Kut, more than 4,000 died, either on their way to captivity or in prisoner-of-war camps. In four years of fighting, 31,000 British and Indian lives were lost, leaving Iraq with graves and burning pyres all over the countryside.
After Iraq was eventually taken over by the British, its people struggled against the occupying forces, and Indian troops were used to suppress a nationalist uprising in the summer of 1920. Like today's US forces, the 60,000 British and Indian troops trying to control Mesopotamia then were never engaged in direct battle, but faced hit-and-run raids from the deserts. More than 1,000 Indian soldiers and 8,000 Arab fighters were either killed or captured in a few weeks.
India, which has been asked by Washington to occupy the so-called "peaceful" Kurdish northern Iraq, has already declined, but the United States has not given up yet. This region is where the Turks would like to go - to keep an eye on Kurdish matters lest their own restive Kurds be influenced - but the US wants them to go to Shi'ite Basra in the south, which has only recently shown signs of unrest. The British occupiers, perhaps with memories and experience of colonial rule, have done a better job of containing frustrations and anger than the US forces.
After its independence in 1947, India found Turkey on the other side of the Cold War divide, so there were few exchanges between them. Indian minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad did visit Ankara in the 1950s, and signed agreements on educational, cultural and scientific cooperation. Nehru's visit in 1960 turned out to be ill-timed because a few days later the government of prime minister Adnan Menderes was overthrown by the Turkish armed forces. Nehru had insisted and met with Ismet Inonu, Kemal Ataturk's right-hand man and successor, then the opposition leader, but only at an embassy reception as the government would not fix an official meeting.
Menderes and his delegation came to the reception only after Inonu had left (after the coup, Menderes was tried and hanged). Inonu had told Nehru not to trust the communists (Chinese), and sent guns to India after the 1962 Chinese invasion of India, despite Pakistani objections.
The Turks maintain that they have always been the ones to take the initiative to normalize bilateral relations with India. As part of widening foreign relations, then prime minister Sulayman Demirel sent his foreign minister, Ihsan Sabri Caglayangil, to India in 1968. This was basically to soften up non-aligned movement leader India's support of Archbishop Makarios on Cyprus, as Turkey's relations with Arab and other Muslim countries had not improved enough on the basis of religious and economic interests. The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) had not yet been founded to garner Muslim support against Makarios. But within a decade, India and Turkey became engrossed in their own affairs.
In 1985, Ozal, like Demirel in the late 1960s, was broadening and expanding Turkey's political and economic relations. During Rajiv Gandhi's visit to Turkey in 1986, Ozal granted a railway electrification project to India without a tender notice. Since then there have been regular exchanges of high-level visits, including that of president S D Sharma to Turkey in 1993 and Demirel's return visit in January 1995. Another important visitor in 1996 was Turkey's chief of general staff, General I H Karadayi. The military, along with politicians and the secular elite, form the third power center in Turkey's ruling triangle.
Ozal was a statesman with vision and drive and he had transformed Turkey's moribund and closed economy into a throbbing market-oriented one in a decade. By the end 1995 it was advanced enough to enter into a Customs Union Agreement with the Europe Union - ie, exports and imports are not subject to duties. Turkey subsequently captured the white-goods market in the EU. Ankara is now preparing to discuss in 2004 dates for its accession into the EU. For India's part, starting with the relaxation of market controls and the opening of its economy in the beginning of the 1990s, it has made steady progress, with economic growth averaging about 6 percent.
There were other visits, such as that of Indian president K R Narayan in 1998, and of Sanskrit- and Bengali-literate prime minister Bulent Ecevit to India in 2000. A poet and a trade unionist, Ecevit has been premier on a number of occasions, finally losing power last November to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has Islamist roots and which became the first such party to win a two-thirds majority in parliament. Ecevit followed the Bhagavad Gita's teachings in his political life and also translated some poems from Tagore's Geetanjali into Turkish. Ironically, in 1997, when in the opposition, Ecevit praised Indian political parties for not supporting the minority government of the BJP, a conservative Hindu religious party. India's generally hawkish home minister, L K Advani, visited Turkey in 2001.
There are no direct bilateral problems between India and Turkey. Both have been established as secular democratic republics, even though the population of Turkey is 99 percent Muslim, and India's 84 percent Hindu. Both the AKP and the BJP face opposition to their religious agenda from the secular establishment. How successfully the two republics internalize rising fundamentalist forces within a secular framework could serve as an example to other countries. But while in Turkey the fight to protect the secular system is led by the armed forces, in India the judiciary and the media are the main opponents of fundamentalist forces.
The AKP's massive majority seems to have gone to the head of its inexperienced leadership, who have exploited the pretext of changing the constitution to conform to EU norms to curb the role of the armed forces in political decision-making as enshrined in the National Security Council. In doing this, the AKP is treading a dangerous path. The Turkish armed forces are a bastion and guardian of secularism. Most recently, in 1997, they forced the resignation of a coalition government led by an Islamist prime minister, Najemettin Erbakan.
Turkey is a member of the OIC's contact group on J&K, but it has generally been constructive. During the Cold War, Turkey traditionally supported Pakistan on Kashmir in return for reciprocal support on Cyprus and other issues. India used to support Cyprus. In the early 1970s, after the Indian foreign minister's visit to Ankara, this writer assisted at the negotiations of a joint statement. The Turkish side said half-seriously that India could write what it wished on Kashmir, but they must be allowed to write the paragraphs on Cyprus.
This in a nutshell sums up the differences, if any. But now serious efforts are being made to resolve the Cyprus problem. A very generous solution under the UN umbrella was not accepted by Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in April, but efforts are continuing. If a solution is found, Turkey will have little cause to support Pakistan on J&K. Turkey's secular mandarins have always felt uncomfortable at the OIC and other Islamic get-togethers and guard themselves by making reservations that any communiques that are against Turkey's (secular)constitution would be unacceptable.
Turkish-US differences in northern Iraq
Of course, unlike India, Turkey has vital strategic interests in Kurdish northern Iraq, which so far clash with US plans for the region. But three months after hostilities were declared over in Iraq, and learning some lessons, especially from the war of attrition against US troops, both the United States and Turkey are now working together after two serious flare-ups in their relations. The first was the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow US troops access to Turkish soil for them to open a new front against Iraq from the north.
The second took place early last month when a few US soldiers entered a Turkish liaison office in Sulaimaniya, northern Iraq, and after having tea drew their guns. About 100 US troops then barged into the building and handcuffed three Turkish officers and eight non-commissioned officers, covered their heads with sacks like prisoners and took them to Baghdad. Despite the subsequent furor, the soldiers were only released after 60 hours. From Turkish President Sezer downward, political parties and leaders, the media and the man in the street, there were expressions of horror, public statements seething with anger and protest marches in many Turkish cities against the humiliation inflicted on Turkey's highly respected armed forces.
The US action hurt the sensitivities of a proud nation, which threatened retaliation if there were a repetition. Expressions of regret over the "wrong" action by the United States after a joint inquiry by Turkish General Koksal Karabay and General John Silvester of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has for the time being calmed the twitchy nerves of the two old allies.
General John Abizaid, successor of General Tommy Franks of the US Central Command, visited Ankara on July 20 to pacify Turkey. After this visit the two sides reached agreement on the elimination of Turkish Kurdish terrorist organization, the Marxist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK- Kadek) in northern Iraq. The US then requested Turkey to send troops to help stabilize southern Iraq. Turkey would also take part in the rebuilding of Iraq.
Some economic gains have already come Turkey's way, with Turkish contractors doing some US$430 million in business since the war's end in May. This figure could climb as high as $800 million before 2004. Turkey's exports to Iraq have skyrocketed by 187 percent in June and 197 percent in July, compared with last year. Turkey and Iraq have signed an agreement in Baghdad to resume railway services between the two countries. Under this, four trains a week will transport food and reconstruction material to Iraq via the existing railway lines connecting Istanbul, Baghdad and Basra.
State Minister for Economy Ali Babacan announced that an economic Turkish delegation will fly to Washington this month to discuss the release of $8.5 billion in US loans, with participation by International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials. "There are presently no obstacles to the loan," stated Babacan, adding, however, that Turkey was not including the funds in its fiscal projections. The funds, disbursable as either $1 billion in outright grants or $8.5 billion in loans, were allocated by the US Congress (as a carrot) to help compensate Turkey's Iraq war-related losses. Their release was tied to Ankara's compliance with IMF guidelines.
Turkey has always wanted to send more troops to Kurdish northern Iraq, where their number is between 5,000 and 10,000, but the United States wants Turkey to send troops instead to the Shi'ite south. Turkey is not keen on doing this, but it appears to be coming around.
"Turkey is clearly the most important country capable of contributing to peace and stability in the region," said one Turkish military source. "The US should hand over PKK-Kadek militants to Turkey along with their weapons. This is the only way to establish a basis for sound cooperation between the two countries. Otherwise, Turkish soldiers cannot serve as peacekeepers in the region."
Gul, during his visit to Washington late last month, also conveyed similar messages to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "Turkey never regarded the US as whom it should speak to on this issue, because no political authority existed in northern Iraq," Gul reportedly said. "However, now there is a central authority in Iraq, and the US represents it, which is why Washington is now our interlocutor. The terrorists PKK-Kadek must be completely eradicated. As long as it exists, Turkey cannot serve peace and stability in the region."
The US has responded positively to Turkey's request. And now that a bill allowing amnesty for repentant militants of the PKK has been signed into law in Turkey, the US expects that membership in the group will plummet. However, if the law doesn't have the expected impact, the US military could force the militants to face the law. The final alternative would be to launch another military operation to eliminate them.
Chief of General Staff Hilmi Ozkok and Erdogan have also discussed the prospect of Turkish troop deployment in Iraq as part of the international stabilization force there. Ozkok reportedly told Erdogan that if a decision was made in favor of deployment, Turkish armed forces would be ready to move in 45 days. Reportedly the military brass was opposed to a formula under which Turkish troops could be deployed in Iraq on an invitation from the Iraqi Governing Council, as this body currently lacks any international recognition. Turkey has made it amply clear what it will do if the Kurds of northern Iraq declare independence.
More than 10,000 Turkish Kurds currently in the UN-administered Mahmur camp in northern Iraq could also return to Turkey. They were forced in 1994 by the PKK to leave their homes near the Turkish-Iraqi border and were based first in the Atrush camp, and then moved to Mahmur, where they have been ever since. Turkish and US forces reportedly found a large cache of weapons and ammunition believed to belong to the PKK-Kadek, Gul told UN Iraq envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello in Ankara, and so it should be closed down.
But it is not going to be easy. Iraqi Kurds are raising objections to Turkish troops even going by road to southern Iraq via Kurdish territory, arguing that they should be flown. In Sulaimaniya, stating that Kirkuk is a Kurdish city, Gadir Aziz Cabbari, a representative of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), recently said he hoped to see the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk as the future capital of Kurdistan, without making it clear what he meant by "Kurdistan", a federal Iraqi province or an independent state.
Meanwhile, Sulaimaniya Mayor Aiso Shak Norey, as Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) representative, echoed this sentiment, adding that Arbil might be an alternative choice. Both officials alleged that Turkey regarded the chaos in the region as an excuse to "get back" Kirkuk, to which it has historical claims.
Recently, Kenneth Pollack, a leading Iraq expert with the prestigious US Brookings Institute, said in an interview with CNN Turk, "If the situation in Iraq does not stabilize, if it leads to a civil war [ie, if Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs rebel against the central administration to be established and if developments get out of hand, leaving the country in a climate of turmoil where the wheels of the economy cannot turn], then there would be the possibility of Kurds declaring independence to secure their own region."
How would the US act in such a case? According to Pollack, a United States bogged down in a swamp may not say "Stop!" to the Kurds in such a climate of turmoil. While tackling incidents in other parts of the country, it may feel the need to condone the Kurds' move. According to Pollack, the administration of US President George W Bush has pushed itself into a tight spot because it failed to plan well for the aftermath of the war. The US public is already asking what is going on.
On August 1, US chief administrator in Iraq L Paul Bremer said in Baghdad, "It is certainly not unrealistic to think we could have elections by mid-year 2004, and when a sovereign government is installed my job here will be done."
In 1917, British General Stanley Maude told the people of Baghdad, "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors, but as liberators." They didn't believe him either.
Whatever the differences about power-sharing among the various Shi'ite groups in Iraq, such as adopting Iran's Islamic revolutionary model, when they come to power, they are in total agreement that foreign troops should leave Iraq. They survived the ruthless security apparatus of the Sunni-dominated Saddam Hussein regime, and even four centuries of Sunni Ottoman rule. They will be quite happy with the mortal struggle going on between basically Sunni resistance, composed not only of pro-Saddam supporters but also other Sunni tribes, and the occupying forces. They will be content to watch them exhaust themselves. They are now lying low, and under their tradition of takkiya, ie, not to tell the truth when under duress, the Shi'ites do not speak what is on their minds.
There is growing awareness that the situation is getting out of hand, and that greater UN involvement is required. UN envoy de Mello, who played a vital behind-the-scenes role in the creation of the Governing Council, including a lower profile for Bremer at the inauguration, has held many rounds of discussions in Ankara.
After one meeting, Gul said he had conveyed to de Mello the Turkish government's views on Iraq, stressing that the nation's territorial integrity should be protected and its various ethnic groups dealt with fairly and impartially. For his part, de Mello said he shared Gul's concerns, adding that Turkey could play an important role in the postwar period. De Mello added that the UN expected Ankara to participate at a conference this December dealing with Iraq's reconstruction, both political and physical.
Gul feels that the postwar situation is a more important factor. "There's a great difference between the prewar situation and now," he explained. "Back then, there was the risk of war. Today, there is the problem of establishing stability, plus the task of reconstruction. This is not only a military, but also a social, economic and political process. If Turkey can contribute to Iraq and if doing so would benefit our national interests as well, of course it would be right for us as a neighboring country to make a contribution."
Slowly but surely the necessity of a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq is being accepted. Russia has reiterated many times that this is required. US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar said on Sunday that the United States should seek a new resolution to help secure greater international support.
A US draft resolution now under consideration wants to regularize the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and to enhance the legitimacy of this 25-member body. The resolution would also formally establish a UN mission in Iraq to oversee the council's activities there. The UN already has a mandate to contribute to the relief of civilians and reconstruction. But Secretary General Kofi Annan told the 15-nation Security Council at a luncheon last week that he wanted a new mission created to provide a more formal UN presence in the country to aid de Mello.
While the United States hopes that the resolution will strengthen the perception that the UN is playing a vital role in Iraq, diplomats noted that the text granted little new authority to the UN, preserving power in the hands of the US-led military coalition.
When asked to comment on the proposed draft resolution, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous replied, "We have indeed heard of a project for a resolution on Iraq. This text would formalize, as recommended by Kofi Annan, the creation of an UN assistance mission for Iraq," he added. He said consultations on the proposal would take place in New York and France had no further comment at this stage. As for the Governing Council, Ladsous said that note should be taken of its creation, "the first step in the process of establishing representative institutions".
France, Russia and Germany, which opposed the war in the first place, have said they would send peacekeeping troops to Iraq or help in other ways if the UN had a bigger role there. The situation can only be retrieved if the responsibility for Iraq is fully transferred to the United Nations, and the people of Iraq see it as so, and accept it.
Even then, it will be a Herculean task to keep the country's three diverse regions together and stabilize them.
K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. E-mail Gajendrak@hotmail.com
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