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Link Digest: July 10, 2010

Kashmir, Afghanistan, Indo-Pak dialog, Naxal insurgency and Bharat bandh.

Your weekly link digest:

  • The making of Srinagar’s teenage martyrs: Praveen Swami on the rioting in Kashmir and what the administration must do to address macro issues in the state.
  • It is time to be realistic about Kashmir: Vir Sanghvi opines on the ongoing violence in Kashmir in the larger context of India-Pakistan peace talks.  (h/t @pragmatic_d)
  • Pakistan-India uninterrupted and uninterruptable dialogue, impossible: Smita Prakash on the on-going India-Pakistan dialog and terrorism.  Are there irreconcilable differences that cannot be addressed by insulating dialog with an impotent civilian administration from terror perpetrated by the MJC?
  • Analysts: Postwar Afghan political landscape unclear: Dr. David Kilcullen asserts that India’s “increasingly assertive bids” to exert influence in Afghanistan has made Pakistan “very nervous.”  Also see my INI colleague Dhruva Jaishankar’s response to the interview.
  • Push into Naxal territory: IAF plans to build a new airbase in Chhattisgarh in the event that a larger role for the air force is envisaged to counter the Naxal insurgency.  But given the nature of the conflict, where is the need for an 8 sq. km. air base which would include 3,500 yards of runway?
  • Protest, softly: Pratap Bhanu Mehta asks what role social protests such as “Bharat bandh” serve in today’s India in addressing very legitimate grievances.
  • The return of the Ottoman: Some shameless self-promotion.  My piece on Turkey’s reorientation post l’incident flottile and how this impacts India and the subcontinent.
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In Pragati: The return of the Ottoman

In the July 2010 issue of Pragati, I review Turkey’s transformation from a status-quoist, West-leaning, secular-nationalist state to one that seeks to become a regional power and indeed, a “Muslim superpower.” Its confrontations with Israel, most recently over the Gaza flotilla raid, involvement in negotiating a way forward in Afghanistan, and its attempts, along with Brazil, at brokering a deal with Iran over the nuclear impasse all point to a Turkey eager to break the shackles of the Kemalist ideology that has guided it since its birth in 1923.

But Turkey’s geo-strategic reorientation has consequences far beyond its region.  Indeed, its involvement now in Afghanistan, historic cultural and military ties to Pakistan and its location at the crossroads of Central Asia’s energy trade make it very important to India.  How must India view Turkey’s rise and what opportunities and challenges exist in India’s bilateral relations with Turkey?

Turkey’s strategic reorientation is also significant to countries outside its region. Two aspects of Turkey’s rising profile stand out for India—regional stability and energy security. On regional stability, Turkey historically has had close cultural, ideological and military ties with Pakistan. It has provided arms, equipment and training to the Pakistani armed forces. Turkey came to Islamabad’s assistance during the latter’s 1965 war with India and provided it with significant quantities of ammunition. A member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Turkey routinely supports Pakistan’s narrative, endorsing a plebiscite and voicing concern over “the use of force against the Kashmiri people.” The exclusion of India from the Istanbul Summit on Afghanistan at the insistence of Pakistan, also underscores the leverage Pakistan enjoys in Ankara.

Read more about it in this month’s Pragati ( PDF; 1.3 MB)

Turkey’s strategic reorientation is also significant
to countries outside its region. Two aspects of Turkey’s
rising profile stand out for India—regional stability and
energy security. On regional stability, Turkey historically
has had close cultural, ideological and military ties with
Pakistan. It has provided arms, equipment and training to
the Pakistani armed forces. Turkey came to Islamabad’s
assistance during the latter’s 1965 war with India and
provided it with significant quantities of ammunition. A
member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference
(OIC), Turkey routinely supports Pakistan’s narrative,
endorsing a plebiscite and voicing concern over “the use of
force against the Kashmiri people.” The exclusion of India
from the Istanbul Summit on Afghanistan at the insistence
of Pakistan, also underscores the leverage Pakistan enjoys
in Ankara.
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Pakistan’s Mojo

Counting your chickens before they hatch

Pakistan is awash with renewed optimism in being able to favorably influence political and structural rearrangements in Afghanistan.  Along with “brother countries” Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan was able to both craft a proposition at the Istanbul Summit that called for negotiations and eventual reintegration of the Taliban into Afghanistan’s political foray, and also successfully lobbied to keep India out of the summit itself.  The icing on the cake for Islamabad was the broad endorsement of Pakistan’s plan at the London Conference, the following week.

Pakistan’s self-belief in its own indispensability and leverage over a resolution to the Afghanistan quagmire is mirrored in both official pronouncements from leaders of its armed forces and in its press corps.  At the NATO Commanders’ Conference, COAS Kayani enunciated his country’s need for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, while raising concerns about India’s influence in Afghanistan.  Indeed, a Jang editorial one day before the London Conference called for all preparations to be made for dialog with the Taliban.

Pakistan’s army has also candidly put forth its position to the Obama Administration that India’s role in Afghanistan cannot go beyond development and infrastructural work.  Pakistan has also volunteered to train the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) to counter what many believe is a role best suited for the Indian Army.  In short, Pakistan apparently successfully executed a prima facie diplomatic coup-de-etat, while India played the proverbial “deer caught in the headlights” on the world stage.

Without a doubt, India’s position on the Taliban has always been untenable.  A blanket rejection of an ambiguous collection of disparate groups seemed convenient and excused our leadership from having to go through the exercise of evaluating the various equations at play in Afghanistan.  Over the course of the years, this stance by India has seen it wholeheartedly back the Karzai regime while not wanting to have anything to do with any Pashtun elements that it suspected of being engaged (at whatever level) with the ISI.  Rightly, India’s over-simplistic, “with us or against us” approach was rejected by the international community at large.

But Pakistan’s own influence in matters relating to Afghanistan has been overstated.  Indeed, going by recent pronouncements, Pakistan is counting its chickens before they are hatched and the mirage of indispensability will unravel sooner than later.  Not being able to dictate the modularities of counter-insurgency operations within its own sovereign territory, it is unlikely that it can wield the magnitude of power it believes it enjoys in relation to India in Afghanistan.

So what must India do? The London Conference has already invalidated India’s over-simplistic approach to the Taliban, so the first course of action is apparent.  India must begin to engage with those Pashtun elements who seek reintegration into the existing political foray in Afghanistan.  In actuality, there isn’t a significant divergence of opinion between the United States and India on the issue.

India’s real apprehensions are centered around the possible reintegration of  Mullah Omar’s group — the so-called Quetta Shurah.  This is entirely consistent with the US’s own position.  India’s apprehensions on al-Qaeda elements and Haqqani network are also shared by the US.  This essentially leaves a rag-tag group of warlords who are all too small anyway to individually impact power dynamics in Afghanistan. India can begin by opening up communication channels with these groups.

India must also work with other important regional powers who share similar apprehensions versus the core Taliban group.  Indeed, the alliance of yore between Iran and India, who share common concerns of the spread of wahabbism in the region, and Russia must be resurrected.  Russia has articulated its clearest position to date on its willingness to “help rebuild” Afghanistan and Iran has shared India’s concerns about the spread of radical Sunni Islam in the wider region.

Over the last nine years, India has very naively bought into the argument that the dramatically altered equation post US’s invasion of Afghanistan was permanent, and that its reliance on “soft power” alone could very safely ensure maximized gains in Afghanistan without having to actually assume an overt presence in Afghanistan.

The situation in Afghanistan today, with Western forces working towards a withdrawal deadline, and Pakistan growing increasingly assertive, demands that India adopt a more proactive role, working in concert with the US and regional powers to ensure that the power equations that eventually shape up are largely in India’s favor. The question is, what is Manmohan Sigh’s government planning to do about it?

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