Beyond the News: What’s behind Erdoğan’s Kashmir sales pitch

“Heroes”, Gore Vidal once said, tongue firmly in cheek, “must see to their own fame. No one else will”. Erdoğan evidently took that advice to heart.

Written by Praveen Swami | New Delhi | Updated: May 1, 2017 6:15 pm
 Erdogan, Turkey president Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey-India, Erdogan-India-Pakistan, Erdogan-Kashmir, india-pakistan relations, india news, world news, indian express Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before a meeting at Hyderabad house in New Delhi on Monday. (Source: PTI Photo)

LESS than 48 hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan airily offered to become engaged in the Kashmir conflict, and “stay involved through multilateral dialogues”, the crisis sparked off by the beheading of two Indian soldiers would have provided lesser men with a salutary lesson in the perils of grandstanding. Leaders who have built careers on self-promotion, though, tend not to be deterred by such small matters—all the more so because Erdogan isn’t, in fact, interested in solving anything.

The Turkish president’s Kashmir remarks are intended to signal, to his Islamist-leaning constituency at home, and among the religious right-wing worldwide, his credentials to lead Muslims globally: an elected caliph, as it were, to rival the upstart Islamic State and other jihadists.

Large swathes of the Indian media have reacted with ire, but New Delhi’s done the right thing: to ignore the comments, and deny Erdogan the pleasure of a spat which would help buttress his credentials even further.

Few will dispute Erdogan’s argument that the Kashmir conflict hurts both India and Pakistan, or that dragging it out is a disservice to the next generation. His reasoning, though, tell us something important, dyed as it is in communal colours. “There are certain aspects”, he told the television station WION, “which contribute enormously to our ancient relations. In terms of faith, in India we have followers of the Muslim faith. And in Pakistan, there are Muslims, and this brings us even closer together”.

Erdogan’s bizarre line of argument wouldn’t, in fact, have surprised Indian diplomats—even though it appears to have ambushed the Indian media. In 2016, on a visit to Pakistan, the Turkish President lamented that “our brothers and sisters in Kashmir are suffering because of the escalating tension along the Line of Control. The Kashmir issue needs to find a solution”. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif clapped loudly, though he likely knew the words meant very little.

The Turkish President appeared to have no doubt in his mind, back then, on how one might be found. He went on: “When people look for mediators, why don’t they talk to me? I have great mediation skills. Look at how I have effectively dealt with the Kurdish problem”.

For those familiar with recent Turkish history, the ironies will be evident: Erdogan’s “effective” handling of the problem includes jailing almost the entire democratically-elected Kurdish leadership, and sparking off a war in which 2,500 people have been killed and 500,000 displaced since July, 2015. Entire city centres have been levelled in military strikes, while Kurdish militants are again carrying out attacks in the heart of Istanbul and Ankara.

There isn’t, in fact, quite as tidy a convergence of interests between Islamabad and Ankara as the polemic might suggest. For example, Turkey has long provided none-too-covert support to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an ethnic Uighur jihadist group targeting China’s Xinjiang province. The Inter-Services Intelligence, for its part, accords high priority hunting down ETIM jihadists.

Similarly, Turkey backs groups linked to the pre-2001 anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. It has all the more reason to do so now, as its key regional adversary, Iran, reaches out to the Taliban. Islamabad, however, is joined at the hip to the ethnic-Pashtun Taliban.

“Heroes”, Gore Vidal once said, tongue firmly in cheek, “must see to their own fame. No one else will”. Erdogan evidently took that advice to heart.

To understand why Erdogan is acting as he is, one needs to understand the long-running battle over Islam in Turkey. Since at least 1950, the signs of a backlash against the republicanism of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk were evident. The victory of Adnan Menderes’ Demokrat Partisi saw a boom in mosque construction; state-run Quran classes and theological colleges were ushered in. In 1960, the Generals struck back, instituting a grim, Kemalist order—and resistance was led by the patriarch of Turkey’s Islamist movement, Necmettin Erbakan.

From 1980 on, though, the military itself began to use Islam as an instrument of legitimacy. Prime Minister Turgut Özal’s regime saw Islam accorded never-before space in public life; in 1996, Erbakan became Prime Minister, and set about initiating battles over the long-standing ban on headscarves, and other issues dear to the religious right’s pious constituency.

The experiment ended, in 1998, when a constitutional court held Erbakan’s party was illegal, since it blended religion with politics. Erdogan was elected, in 2002, as a “post-Islamist” politician—only to lurch steadily rightwards, after dismantling the power of the military, and secularist civic institutions.

Foreign policy is just one more tool for Erdogan to beat back secularism in Turkey. India shouldn’t give him the pleasure.

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  1. P
    May 2, 2017 at 5:30 am
    The self styled Muslim loving leader of so called 'Muslim country ' Turkey, has thousands of pubs and clubs work through out the year with least respect to Islamic life. Pilgrimage to Makkah for its middle aged generation is something unthinkable as they believe, all those rituals are necessary when getting old. Limited restrictions are observed even during Ramadan, as educated business heads even say, without two pegs, it is difficult to go bed. He was trying to become a pariah of Muslim community with self styled status. Whatever, India best handled his unwanted and ignorance dominated reference on Kashmir.
    1. E
      May 2, 2017 at 5:24 am
      first time in History, Islamic Express has written something against Islam!!!! cant believe that Islamic express can publish some great articles like this ,good, very good, keep doing some good things in life
      1. T
        the travellogs
        May 2, 2017 at 2:24 am
        This entire article reads like a sham. Turkey does not need to learn secularism from India, Thats the last thing they need to learn from India. They dont have people killing minorities in the name of protecting their religion. In India, where Hindu fundamentalism has been given a free p and where muslims are killed regularly, it is laughable for Swami to talk about secularism in India. In India, these pseudo secularists want Hindutva but then lecture Turkey to stop its citizens from practicing Islam. Erdogan is a string ruler and that is the need of the hour to get rid of the western slave at ude that Mustafa Kemal gave them.
        1. S
          Sunny Cal
          May 2, 2017 at 4:50 am
          Ya right. Turkey is kind to all of its minorities and showers them with milk, honey and roses everyday. I am sure the Kurds are so happy with the Turkish fascist government that they are dancing and singing in their praise every day. Just stop the ISI propa a.
          1. P
            May 2, 2017 at 5:34 am
            You stupid, go to Istanbul and see the famous square for yourself (ofcourse you have to confront unfamiliar scene of kissings at every roads, stopping vehicle traffic) the memorial which shows the killings of those who raised their voice. Secular ? You do not know what secularism means.
          2. S
            May 2, 2017 at 12:10 am
            have 5 more muslim and we will see erdogan mussharaf sharif bajwa here for election campaign along with their men and money. and 10 more they will rule. we are warned.
            1. S
              May 2, 2017 at 12:11 am
            2. R
              Rohit Chandavarker
              May 1, 2017 at 11:57 pm
              The utterances by Erdogan on the eve of his visit to India have been provocative & therefore, puzzling considering that it would ruffle feathers in the host country. Turkey has not hidden its pro stan tilt & is unlikely to be accorded warmth during his visit by the latest comments. Yet the Govt has chosen to ignore these comments & appropriate action may be forthcoming in the near future. The recent referendum has allowed Erdogan unfettered power & he is bound to misuse the same not only domestically but externally too. The Gulenist purge along with elimination of Kurds promises to be bloody & ruthless. He is fast losing friends but seeks to befriend Russia & Iran as a counter to Western pressure. Erdogan's position on India's inclusion in NSG is likely to be a sore point. By suggesting multilateral dialogue on Kashmir, he seeks to gatecrash on the vexed issue much to India's annoyance
              1. P
                paban ghosh
                May 1, 2017 at 10:55 pm
                Erdogan fall is evident in the hand of the 'West'. People have no human rights value in Turkey. Cyprus is illegally occupied by Turkey. Vacate it. Then only you are morally right to preach.
                1. C
                  May 1, 2017 at 10:46 pm
                  Boy, Praveen Swami is really desperate to show off his erudition by throwing in the extra paragraphs on Turkish history instead of just sticking to the present. Another unnecessary article that can be condensed to 2 paragraphs. He is also so arrogant as he feels the need to "bless" the Indian government's position. There's a reason why he's a journalist and not an IFS officer. Yet another inane column from an overrated writer...
                  1. D
                    May 1, 2017 at 10:41 pm
                    Praveen swami is a islam apologist. All his articles either tend to dilute the crimes of islamists or blame indian establishment against the perceived crimes against islamists even though they happen to be terrorists.
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