By Selcuk Colakoglu
Throughout the Cold War, Turkey’s relations with India were mostly governed within the framework of the preferences of Pakistan. As a gesture to Pakistan, which unconditionally supports Turkey in international matters especially in the Cyprus issue, Turkey has kept a respectable distance from India. Moreover, Ankara has encouraged Islamabad’s arguments regarding the Kashmir conflict. However, as the world’s second-most populous country, India’s progress in gaining importance in the global economy and international politics since the 1990s has led to Turkey’s quest to develop a new strategy for South Asia.
Turkey has also begun to prioritize India in South Asian politics while preserving its traditionally good relations with Pakistan and Bangladesh. The G8, comprised of the world’s largest economies, gave way to a wider formation called the G20 in 1999. Turkey’s acceptance as one of the prominent countries in the world within the framework of the G20 has led to a significant expansion of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey no longer hesitates in establishing stronger relations with India, China, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, and other non-Western G20 members that it neglected until the 2000s.
In fact, the economies of both Turkey and India started to become prominent in the world. According to an American expert, Jack A. Goldstone, new economic indicators have excluded BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) from the center of attraction in the 2000s because of the rapid decline in the productive population of Russia and China. A new group under the name TIMBI (Turkey, India, Mexico, Brazil, and Indonesia) is claimed to be more decisive. In this context, Turkey’s need to establish a strategic relationship with an India that rose quickly in the international arena while preserving a strategic relationship with Pakistan has clearly emerged. However, Turkey and India have begun to give much more importance each other in the last decade when looking at the bilateral trade volume and official visits.
Increasing Official Visits
Bilateral official visits, rare until the 2000s, have seen a large increase in number over the last decade. While during the period between 1950 and 2000 there were a few visits realized at the ministerial level each decade, after 2000 there was nearly one ministerial visit each year. The Turkish president and prime minister’s official visits over the last decade have comprised of a scope never seen before. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded in November 2008 to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Turkey in September 2003 with a visit to India.
Together with President Abdullah Gul’s official visit to India in February 2010, bilateral relations developed further. President Gul was accompanied by State Minister Mehmet Aydýn, Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim, and Health Minister Recep Akdag. Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari’s visit to Turkey in October 2011 was the most recent official visit.
In this period, one of the political cooperation areas is supporting the United Nations Security Council membership of Turkey and India. Ankara supported India’s membership for 2011-2012 while New Delhi supported Turkey’s for 2009-2010.
Another area of the political cooperation between Ankara and New Delhi is ensuring political stability in Afghanistan for the period after 2001. Since 2007, Ankara has hosted Turkey-Pakistan-Afghanistan summits. In 2010, this tripartite summit gained a wider framework under the name “The Istanbul Summit for Friendship and Cooperation in the Heart of Asia.” Iran, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, the United Arab Emirates, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the U.N., NATO, the EU, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan participated in this summit held in Istanbul on January 26, 2010. The Istanbul Summit held for Afghanistan has led Turkey to remain in the middle of the conflict between India and Pakistan. After the summit, India submitted a note of protest to Turkey because of the fact that it was not invited to the Istanbul Summit. New Delhi has not officially reacted against Turkey because the summit was organized just before President Abdullah Gul’s visit to India, according to which Islamabad was mostly responsible for it not having been invited. Cooperation between Turkey and India in fighting against terrorism has also attracted much attention. A joint working group between India and Turkey has been created aiming for bilateral cooperation in combating terrorism. Turkey and India also have a common approach to enriching multiculturalism and enhancing interreligious dialogue.
Increasing Economic Cooperation
The trade figures between Turkey and India have experienced a large increase over the last decade. The bilateral trade volume according to Turkish Ministry of Economy’s data was only 505 million dollars in the year 2000, but has reached 6.255 billion dollars in 2011. Turkey aims to raise the trade volume with India to 10 billion dollars within a few years. However, Turkey’s trade with India has a big gap as with other Asian countries. In 2011, Turkey’s exports to India totaled only 756 million dollars whereas India’s exports to Turkey were worth 6.5 billion dollars. The huge trade deficits with large Asian economies such as China, India, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia have become a structural problem of the Turkish economy. Therefore, this issue should be reevaluated not only within the framework of trade relations with India, but also the structure of the macroeconomic framework of the Turkish economy.
Balancing the volume of bilateral trade to be relatively in favor of Turkey can be achieved by cooperation between India and Turkey primarily in some sectors, especially in the information technology sector. It is possible for Turkish companies to make large investments in the construction, communications and energy sectors in India. Furthermore, the transfer of information sector know-how from India to Turkey will contribute to the Turkish economy, which is forced into high-tech production.
Turkish construction companies can take significant shares in the development of networks of inadequate highways and other infrastructure projects in India. Indian officials indicate that Turkey is the most advantageous country in the sphere of infrastructure projects after China.
Although Turkey and India have attractive potential for bilateral touristic travel with their great cultural richness, cooperation in the tourism sector is extremely poor. Increasing mutual touristic visits should not only be seen as an economic activity, but evaluated as an opportunity in terms of cultural exchange between Turkish and Indian people.
The defense industry is one of the concrete cooperation areas between these two countries. Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul held talks with India Defense Minister A.K. Antony about some projects in the field of defense cooperation during a visit to India in February 2010. In addition to that, India wants to cooperate with Turkey in the field of nuclear energy. India, which has proven itself in nuclear technology, may be an option for Turkey which is seeking foreign partners for the construction of a nuclear power plant.
The partnership being established with India must have two important pillars politically and economically. Turkey protecting the political balance between Pakistan and India is of vital importance. At this point, Turkey should inform Pakistan about its Indian policy and set out the reasons for its change of policy in a good way. If Turkey gets further partnership with India while maintaining friendship with Pakistan, Ankara can become an ideal mediator in the solution of problems, especially the Kashmir issue, between the two countries.
Turkey and India must take two significant steps toward removing deficiencies while they are developing bilateral relations. First, both countries should increase their cultural, academic, and social contacts with an aim to better understand each other. The recent increase in official political contacts will not be permanent unless they are supported by civil society groups. Bilateral cooperation should be provided more quickly to overcome problems through mutual contacts. This process will begin to bear fruit in the coming years, but it will take some time. Second, a common global vision beyond the bilateral relations between Turkey and India should be developed. The creation of common grounds and tools is extremely important to developing a common strategy of Ankara and New Delhi, both members of the G20, against a variety of international problems. Developing a common strategy to support transparency, peace and stability based on human rights and democracy in the international system may be possible for Turkey and India.
USAK Center for Asia-Pacific Studies
This article was previously published in USAK Yearbook of Politics and International Relations.