IN WHAT could be seen as a tit-for-tat move over Turkey’s statements on J&K, India on Thursday expressed “deep concern” over the “unilateral military offensive” by Turkey in northeastern Syria, and asserted that the action could undermine stability in the region as well as the fight against terrorism.
This is Delhi’s latest signal to the international community that siding with Pakistan will entail disapproval from India.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping comes to India on Friday, the issue of favouring Pakistan on the J&K issue has emerged as the touchstone for a normal diplomatic relationship. “On whether a country is with Pakistan or India, this has become the new loyalty test for Indian diplomacy,” an Indian diplomat told The Indian Express.
The issue of siding with India or Pakistan began with the Uri attack in 2016, when Indian diplomats were activated across the world and statements were solicited from world capitals condemning the terrorist attack — and, if possible, slamming Pakistan.
The issue came up again when the Pulwama terrorist attack took place in February this year. Once again, ambassadors were called and asked to convey to their respective capitals to issue statements.
The trend continued, as many countries were asked to speak in favour of India’s right to self-defence — the US support also came, and an emboldened Delhi carried out the Balakot air strikes.
Following the government’s August 5 decision to revoke J&K’s special status and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories, the diplomatic community was activated again. The challenge, this time, was that it involved a ground situation. So, although world leaders like US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron supported India’s move, there were statements from the US and French administration on the issue of human rights.
Show of strength
India’s statement on Turkey’s offensive is rather unusual, and is being seen as a response to Turkey’s statements on J&K over the last two months. Since 2011, when the turmoil began in Syria, India has never targeted Turkey or any other country which is involved. It is a symptom of India’s muscle-flexing against Pakistan.
However, China, Turkey and Malaysia have been critical of India’s move on Kashmir. And, India has reacted very sharply.
In early October, India said it “deeply regrets” the statements of Turkey and Malaysia attacking New Delhi on the Kashmir issue, and termed it an internal matter.
MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar asked Ankara to have a proper understanding of the situation before making further comments. “India and Turkey are friendly countries. We, therefore, deeply regret that since August 6, there have been repeated statements by the Turkish government on a matter completely internal to India. These statements are factually incorrect, biased and unwarranted,” he said.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad raised the Kashmir issue at the United Nations, alleging that India had “invaded and occupied” J&K and asked New Delhi to work with Islamabad to resolve the issue.
“We have noted the comment on J&K by the Prime Minister of Malaysia. We deeply regret these comments since they are not based on facts,” Kumar said. “Government of Malaysia should bear in mind the friendly relations between the two countries and desist from making such comments,” he added.
So, India’s statement on Turkey needs to be viewed in this context.
On Wednesday, Turkish jets and artillery targeted Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria, forcing thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
Reacting to the development, the MEA said in a statement: “We are deeply concerned at the unilateral military offensive by Turkey in northeast Syria.” Turkey’s actions can undermine stability in the region and the fight against terrorism, it said. The action also has the potential to cause humanitarian and civilian distress, the MEA said.
“We call upon Turkey to exercise restraint and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. We urge the peaceful settlement of all issues through dialogue and discussion,” it said.
It is highly unusual for India to react on a third country’s actions in a region which is not India’s immediate neighbourhood. Sources said this was a clear signal to Turkey to be sensitive to India’s interests, and not take sides with Pakistan on J&K.
Sources said a signal is being sent to other countries as well, including the US, where a US Congress hearing is likely to take place on October 22 on the J&K situation. Already, several US Congressmen and European parliamentarians have criticised India for the communication shutdown and restrictions.