As Recep Tayyip Erdogan secures his position as Turkey's leader yet again, what are the prospects of improvement in India-Turkey relations?
India and Turkey have been engaging in finding opportunities for bilateral cooperation over the past years.
All eyes were on Turkey as the nation faced perhaps the most crucial national elections in the decade. As Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured his victory at the helm of his nation yet again, Turkey remains divided as ever. In what had been described as a tough election for Erdogan, he managed to turn the tides on the prospects of his rule, albeit by a close call. In the first round, Erdogan is said to have secured about 49.5 per cent of votes leading up to 52.1 per cent in the second round, closely defeating the opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu who had put up a strong front against the current leader but failed to secure the majority at 44.9 per cent and 47.9 per cent of votes in the first and the second round respectively.
While a lot is being speculated about the outcome of this victory and what it would mean for Turkey’s relations with the West, the Middle East and the rest of the world, Erdogan taking the mantle once again would primarily result in the extension of his policies that have been in place till now. As far as the western world is concerned Turkey’s position has been hanging in the balance as Erdogan’s relationship with the west has been strained for a while. This year’s election was evidence enough that the Western countries, particularly the United States, would have preferred the opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu to have secured the seat as the country’s President to make matters easier. However, the reality now is far from this expectation. In the light of the current geopolitical challenges in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine war, Turkey’s relationship with Russia has been a matter of concern to the western allies especially when Turkey forms a strategic part of the western military alliance NATO. Moreover, Erdogan’s radical stance against the west is likely to intensify now that the leader has proved his popularity among the Turkish masses, to the rest of the world.
The rift between Turkey and the west may be widening but that is not to say that Turkey’s position is dwindling in the international geopolitical space. The alliance forging between Turkey and Russia, along with Turkey’s continuous presence in the security situation of the Middle East particularly Syria and Iraq along with the rapprochement agreements with key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt suggests that Erdogan’s Turkey still has a strategically crucial role to play in balancing the West, the East and everything in between.
While Erdogan succeeded in playing to his strengths and appealing to the nationalist sentiments of the Turkish citizens, he has much to deal with when it comes to international politics. The trials of the Turkish foreign policy would also likely witness a shift towards forming new alliances and seeking cooperation. While Europe and the Middle East have remained Turkey’s main sphere of attention, it was last year that Turkey also steered its gears towards South Asia when India and Turkey came together for an unexpected bilateral meeting along the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The meeting certainly generated hopes for a betterment in the bilateral relations between the two countries however many complexities still loom large.
So how would India view Erdogan’s win?
It is not a matter of much surprise that India and Turkey have not enjoyed the best for relations ever since they established diplomatic communication with one another, after India’s independence. The omnipresent issue of Kashmir has been a point of contention between the two nations as Turkey has been widely critical of India’s position in the matter and has taken the stance to support Pakistan’s claims. The amiable relations of Pakistan and Turkey have also gone back to the alliances forged during the Cold War, where India chose to remain non-aligned but Pakistan went to gauge the support of the Western alliance. Even though Erdogan himself has been openly critical of India’s policies in Kashmir, there has been some evidence of a change in the level of sternness when it comes to the opposition towards India, over the past year. This is precisely why this election was also considered to be crucial in order to trace the trajectory of the relationship between India and Turkey.
While the issue of Pakistan and Kashmir still remains to be significant in the interactions between India and Turkey, a lot remains to be seen on how the two countries navigate the issues in order to build a dynamic bilateral partnership. As of recently, Turkey also withdrew its delegation from the G20 Meeting scheduled to be held in Kashmir as the continuous opposition to India’s position in Kashmir. Keeping all this aside, there is in fact one factor that may contribute positively to the relationship between the two countries and that is India’s famous disaster diplomacy. This year saw the most extraordinary effort by India as the country became the first responder to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the earthquake affected areas of Turkey and Syria as the countries dealt with one of the most devastating natural disasters in decades. This effort by India perhaps changed the domestic perception of the country among the Turkish citizens and it might even alter the state of affairs between the two nations.
However, apart from the political inconsistencies and differences of opinion, there is yet another factor that may contribute to improving the bilateral relations further and that is, the economic partnership. Economic cooperation may precipitate the development of political alliances as well and that could be very well the case with Turkey and India. It was only last year that the Eleventh Session of India-Turkey Foreign Office Consultation was held in Ankara, Turkey and the session declared a marked rise in the commercial relationship between the two countries with bilateral trade shooting up to more than $ 10 billion. The data from the Ministry of Commerce suggests that the bilateral trade had risen about 41 per cent in the period of just April-November last year.
The goods and services that make up the major chunk of trade between India and Turkey primarily include crude petroleum which was the largest export from Turkey to India in the previous year and refined petroleum which formed the major part of India’s export to Turkey. As per the data recorded in 2021 as well, India’s exports to Turkey stood at $7.86 billion while Turkey’s exports amounted to about $1.89 billion in the same year, as per the United Nations International Trade Statistics Database. This points to a major potential that exists as both the countries may aim to reduce this trade gap by engaging more in the economic practices which may reflect upon the political contentions as well. The purpose of understanding the status of economic cooperation and engagement between India and Turkey is also to acknowledge that both the countries have a lot to gain from a cordial partnership, especially in the sector of energy and technology as they make up a substantial part of the bilateral trade.
With Erdogan back on the seat, it would be very interesting to note how the newfound progress in trade and commercial ties grow further with India and how they end up influencing the other issues of contentions.
All $= USD