Just prior to his recent India visit, Turkish strongman Erdogan, fresh from his referendum “victory” threw a curve ball at India – he offered himself (and Turkey) as mediator to help address the Kashmir issue.
Reactions have been varied. Wire columnist thought Erdogan was reiterating his Islamist credentials in doing so. Hindu too was somewhat circumspect and didn’t seem to really like Erdogan’s meddling.
Thankfully India’s reaction was mature and subdued. Instead of the usual theatrics whenever someone mentions the K word. That is a great start.
But what about the offer itself? Does it deserve rejection outright? Or worth analysing?
May not be a bad idea
Firstly, let us completely stay clear of Erdogan’s controversial and authoritarian track record and Islamist credentials. They are matters entirely irrelevant to this discussion. Fact is he represents Turkey and will do so for another 10 years in all probability. Nothing else matters.
If anything that makes it easier for him to play a role.
Let us take a step back and see what options do we have to bring the Kashmir situation to a satisfactory conclusion?
- Wait it out. Let time be the medicine, increasing the gap between Pakistan and India in economic and strategic terms and wait for better sense to prevail so settlement can be on our terms or near about.
- Physical force. That is clearly out of question unless the provocation is strong enough to make it inevitable.
- Settle through talks in the short/medium term with the contours of the settlement along known lines – i.e., keep our part of Kashmir, give up on POK with some arrangement that saves everyone’s face.
Clearly the fourth option of simply giving up on Kashmir and settle on terms agreeable to present Pakistani dispensation is clearly not on the table. Unless again, it is forced by circumstances beyond our control.
Coming to the third option, it should be clear to us, given the nuclear situation, we simply don’t have the means to enforce anything on Pakistan.
Any agreement signed with the Pakistani civilian dispensation is not worth the paper it is printed on. Even if it were to be openly endorsed by the Pakistani military it is in all probability a “taqiya” which will be torn up at the earliest chance. Then we are back to square 1. Furthermore, Pakistani Army will simply take that as confirmation of its “success” and simply expand its shopping list. For all is military might and economic clout, $30b and three decades later Uncle Sam is still happily writing cheques and getting cuckolded. Do we stand better chance?
This is where a third party comes in provided it fulfills main criteria
- It has power to enforce any agreement. That power need not be economic or military, it can be religious.
- It is not totally biased against us, the best we can hope for, given that there is no such thing as “neutral” in global power politics.
Pakistan WILL NOT listen to USA because it has perfected the art of fooling them over multiple administrations and in any case that is a hard sell to the Abdul in the street. After all it is a kuffar power not exactly popular in the streets of Lahore.
Pakistan MAY listen to KSA for religious and monetary reasons but then KSA sheiks are beholden to the Pakistani generals to protect their own crumbling edifice. They make poor mediators.
Pakistan WILL listen to China but then China is just about the most biased and untrustworthy mediator one can find. Not even Modi can go the public and sell a plan brokered by China, except perhaps in Alimuddin Street and JNU.
Any other global power is completely worthless in this context. UK? France? You must be joking. Russia? May be 40 years back, not now.
That brings us to Turkey.
Turkey is a Sunni power and under Erdogan it has shifted away from its European identity to its Islamic roots. Just as Pakistan tried to wash away its South Asian roots and claim Arab, Turkish or Persian heritage, depending on season.
Which means if Turkey underwrites any agreement, it is easier for the Pakistani regime to “sell” it to its Abduls.
Moreover, we simply don’t believe Erdogan is anti-India. He may be pro Pakistan for religious reasons but that is to be expected. After all the so-called secular, anti-Islamist Army led regimes of Turkey were pro Pakistani too. His flexible and somewhat reasonable stance on Israel is a pointer.
That goes for much of the so-called “Ummah” too. Contrary to arms selling super powers like USA and Europe who probably want the conflict prolonged as it comes with bonus of keeping India in check, the Sunni Muslim world has nothing to gain by this conflict and even less to gain if Pakistan were to somehow by some miracle succeed in snatching Kashmir away. After all, at best this can only be done to the valley, not Jammu or Ladakh. Which only makes them even smaller minority in India in addition to permanently antagonising India forever. It also weakens India’s huge Muslim community.
Which is also why other than routine boilerplate template noises at OIC which no one takes seriously, there has not been that much pressure on India to settle at Pakistan’s terms. This is only going to get better from India’s perspective as oil’s importance weakens along with that Middle East’s.
Interestingly, China which shares US/European vested interest in keeping India in check through such conflicts is slowly coming around to the idea that it is a strategy that will harm them more than it does India. The CPEC investments will go down the drain not to speak of export trade that hugely favors China. Again this will get better over time as India buys & integrates even more into the Chinese economy, political tensions notwithstanding.
Badly bruised in the Syrian affair, his reputation in tatters globally, with too many contenders for the mythical Caliph role within the Sunni Muslim Ummah, Erdogan may use Kashmir role to buttress his own credentials and to do so he knows he has to be reasonable with India’s position. A failure will only make him an even bigger laughing stock.
But then as we noted earlier, Pakistan has successfully fooled generations of US Presidents. It has nothing to fear from China. Russia too is embracing every loony or reckless state it can find, simply to cock a snook at Uncle Sam.
So we still cannot rule out the fact that Pakistan will use Turkey to draw up some settlement and then renege on its commitment. After all, Turkey hardly has any trade, economic or military levers on Pakistan to pull.
So that means there is a narrow set of circumstances and conditions that has to be met before India can publicly embrace this option:
- The broad contours of agreement are drawn up bilaterally using Track 2 or Track 3 channels.
- Our own Kashmiri “separatists” are on board.
- We know at least on paper the jihadi generals are on board.
- China is behind the idea.
- KSA has been sounded out.
- The Pakistani civilian regime simply wants Islamic rubber stamp on the deal to sell it to its beards. As ex-Ottoman state that once had moral authority over global Sunni Muslims, Turkey still has that goodwill. This is where Erdogan’s strong Islamist credentials help. Any deal will involve compromises and the beards may go ballistic with “Islam in danger” noise and that can be mitigated.
- We have clear well defined Plan B in place to deal with any betrayals, expansion of agendas and the like.
Clearly the first 5 items on the agenda will have to be done behind the scenes and bilaterally and only if successfully done can we openly get Turkey /Erdogan involved publicly. That is a big IF.
Because once we cross the rubicon of involving third parties formally, there is no going back.
For now it is best to counsel Erdogan to counsel Pakistan to start behaving and start talking behind the scenes.