It is an irony that Pakistan’s key ally Turkey has compared Kashmir with Palestine while the latter never talks about the disputed territory between India and Pakistan.
Ever since India abrogated Article 370 in 2019, Pakistan has found an ally in Turkey in raising the Kashmir issue on major international platforms, drawing New Delhi’s ire.
In the latest incident, India hit back after former Turkish diplomat and the present United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) President Volkan Bozkir said Pakistan is “duty-bound” to highlight the Kashmir issue at the UN.
Since their independence, India and Pakistan have been at loggerheads over Kashmir, which also caused three major wars between the two neighbors.
Bozkir’s made this comment at a press conference with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently.
Bozkir was on a three-day official visit to Pakistan, from May 26-28. In his address, he compared Kashmir with the issue of Palestine and pointed out that a political will is lacking in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Bozkir, a former Turkish diplomat, is currently serving as the UNGA President since September 2020.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs took a strong note of the UNGA’s President’s comment, terming them as “misleading and prejudiced”, and a “great disservice to the office he occupies”. The MEA spokesperson also criticized the comparison drawn between Kashmir with the Palestine issue.
It’s pertinent to mention that Palestine has never meddled in the Kashmir issue primarily because India India has historically been supportive of the Palestinian cause. Even during the Israel-Palestine conflict, India stressed the importance of a two-state solution.
Turkey’s Position On Kashmir
In August 2019, India abrogated Article 370 of its Constitution, which gave a special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. The revocation of special status was followed by the bifurcation of the state into two federally-controlled union territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Since then, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been one leader who had consistently brought up the issue at major international forums, along with Pakistan. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in September 2019, he had criticized India’s move to scrap the article and had called for a dialogue to solve the issue of Kashmir.
During his state visit to Pakistan in early 2020, Erdogan had promised Pakistan of Turkey’s support on the Kashmir issue, calling it a matter of concern for both countries. He had, in fact in his address to the Pakistani Parliament compared the “struggle of Kashmiris” with that of his country against the foreign powers during World War I.
Growing Pakistan-Turkey Ties
In 2020, Pakistan had invited the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) to help boost tourism in the Gilgit Baltistan region in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Pakistan stated that it is working on establishing economic zones in the area, which are part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Under the CPEC, a vast network of roads, rails and pipelines are expected to connect China’s Xinjiang province to the Pakistani port at Gwadar. The region of Gilgit Baltistan is crucial to the development of the CPEC. TIKA is expected to commence development projects in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, along with the areas of Gilgit Baltistan.
In fact, India has been keeping a close watch over the activities of Turkey in the greater Kashmir region. Last year, based on an intelligence report, India had accused the Turkish embassy in New Delhi of collaborating with some NGOs, sending Indian activists to Turkey on exposure trips and encouraging such people to provide anti-India statements.
Turkey is also enhancing its close military ties with Pakistan. In February 2021, Turkey held a welding ceremony of the third ship of the MILGEM-class corvettes for the Pakistan Navy at the Istanbul Naval Shipyard (INSY). The contract for four MILGEM class corvettes for the Pakistan Navy was signed in 2018 with the Turkish state-owned defense contractor ASFAT Inc.
The concurrent transfer of technology includes the construction of two corvettes at the Istanbul Naval Shipyard (INSY), and the remaining two at Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KS&EW).
China & The Ladakh Angle
China voiced its opposition to the creation of a separate Union Territory of Ladakh, highlighting its territorial claims over the area. In 2020, it linked the abrogation of the article to the ensuing stand-off between India and China in Ladakh.
A report by an influential Chinese think tank linked the abrogation of Article 370 to the tensions between the two countries on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The article was written by Wang Shida, Deputy Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR). Wang had termed the move a challenge to the sovereignty of Pakistan and China and blamed India for making its relations with both Pakistan and China more complex.
While Turkey has emerged as Pakistan’s ally in voicing Kashmir, it is increasingly coming up as a major cog in the all-weather friendship of Pakistan and China. Turkey and China both find themselves at odds with their relations with the US.
And now, the bilateral relations between the two countries received a big boost with the launch of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013.
Last week it was announced that to expand its diplomatic presence in China, Turkey would establish a consulate at Chengdu in China’s Sichuan Province.
Owing to its unique geostrategic location, spanning both Asia and Europe, Turkey became an important factor for the BRI. Its location helps minimize the freight transportation time from China to Europe and Africa.
Along with the BRI, Turkey also launched its own connectivity project, called the Middle Corridor, with the help of Kars-Tblisi-Baku railway lines. The BRI and the Middle Corridor were coordinated through a memorandum signed between the two countries in 2016.
Finding its relations with the European Union (EU) and the Middle East strained, Turkey finds it imperative to look at renewing its relations with Asia. In this, China is an important player, significantly through its large-scale investments. In 2014, Turkey’s Ankara- Istanbul High-speed railway was completed through a $720 million loan from China Exim Bank.
Turkey has been named as a priority country by the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The bank is working on the construction of the Salt Lake underground storage facility project.
Also, 65 percent share of Turkey’s third-largest container terminal, Kumport, has been obtained by the Chinese-state-owned shipping and logistics companies.
In December 2020, the first export cargo train between Turkey and China was launched, and the train could reach Istanbul from China’s Shaanxi province in 12 days.