Tremors are fairly common in Turkey – which happens to be one of most earthquake-prone countries in the world, but the ones on 6 February 2023, proved beyond doubt that nothing is more powerful than nature’s fury unleashed.
Three earthquakes–measuring 7.8, 7.6, and 6.0 in magnitude on the Richter scale and some 120 aftershocks in less than 24 hours – the deadliest natural disasters in modern Turkish history— made it clear yet again that even homes are not as safe as they are supposed to be.
The impact of the quakes was felt as far away as Cyprus (456 km), Lebanon (874 km), Israel (1,381 km), and Egypt (1,411 km).
As soon as this was over, more than 5000 people lay dead or wounded and 5,775 buildings collapsed due to the quake which the United Nations described as one of the most powerful earthquakes in the last 100 years. Many neighborhoods vanished in thin air and thousands of people have been rendered homeless in Turkey and Syria.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the Turkish President described the earthquakes as the “biggest disaster” ever to hit the country, while many foreign embassies and missions in Ankara lowered their flags as a mark of respect for the dead and wounded.
The recent earthquake was almost like the one in 1939 (also with a magnitude of 7.8) which left 32,968 people dead, and some 100,000 injured. It was even worse than the earthquake in 1999 which lasted over 37 seconds and left behind 17-18 thousand deaths.
Even though India and Turkey are not exactly each other’s best friends, India was one of the first countries to respond to Turkey’s distress calls and managed to drill home the point that Turkey maybe 4,628 km away but is close to India’s heart.
It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diplomatic initiative to extend all possible assistance and humanitarian aid to help Turkey cope with the earthquake and at the same time subtly convey the message that there are no permanent friends or enemies in international relations, and a friend in need is a friend indeed.
Expressing his concern at the death and devastation due to the earthquake Prime Minister Modi decided to immediately send search & rescue, medical teams, and relief material to Turkey.
It was a perfect example of proactive diplomacy where you convert enemies into friends – without fighting a pitched battle.
A high-level meeting was held in South Block to discuss immediate relief measures where it was decided to immediately rush two teams of about 100 National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) personnel, specially trained dog squads, and drilling machines as well as necessary equipment for Search & Rescue operations, trained doctors, and paramedics.
The 8th Battalion of NDRF led by Commandant P.K. Tiwari played a key role in this operation. “The Ghaziabad NDRF team has been tasked to conduct search and rescue operations in Gaziantep, the epicenter and most affected area of the earthquake in Turkey, about 3 hours from Adan airport. The NDRF team is also helping in branding, packaging, and loading medicines to expedite the relief and rescue operations in the disaster-affected area”, P.K. Tiwari, Commandant 8th Battalion, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) told this correspondent.
Meanwhile, doctors and paramedics of 60 Para Field Hospital of the Indian Army based in Agra were also ordered to rush to Turkey and help the earthquake victims with the help of lifesaving medicines, and relief material in IAF aircraft.
Within hours the C-17 Globemaster III heavy lift aircraft of the Indian Air Force plane landed in Turkey and the relief and rescue efforts began in full swing.
India was one of the few countries that supported the formation of the Turkish republic from the beginning and established diplomatic relations between India and Turkey in 1948.
Even today there are many things in common between India and Turkey including the word ‘Dost’ which happens to be among 9,000 common words in Hindi and Turkish language. Both India and Turkey also share a common history, heritage, and culture. The 72.6 meter-tall ‘Qutub Minar’ is just one of them.
There are also many similarities between Indian and Turkish cuisines. A Turkish diplomat once said, culturally Turkey is another India. However, in spite of everything Indo-Turkish relations have remained lukewarm largely because of Turkey’s affinity and unconditional love for Pakistan.
Islam as a shared religion is the glue that binds Turkey and Pakistan – both staunchly Muslim nations. There are many similarities in their food, designs of clothing, and culture. Kebab, Pilaf, and Halva — are just a few examples.
The biggest plus point in India’s favor is that it has always treated even its enemy with dignity and respect. In the 1971 war even after capturing 100s of km of the enemy territory in East Pakistan, the Indian Army vacated gracefully and allowed the creation of Bangladesh as an independent nation. Likewise not a single one of the 93,000–95,000 Pakistani prisoners of war – were tortured.
Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Pakistan started in 1947, as soon as Pakistan one of the largest Muslim countries gained independence. Turkey was among the first few countries to welcome Pakistan’s birth and supported its inclusion in the United Nations.
Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Turkey in December 1947 and stated that: “Pakistan admires the glorious past of Turkey and its administrative achievements and organizational abilities in the past and present times. Pakistan is now two months old, and in the near future, the two brotherly countries are going to establish close cultural, commercial, and political relations. A new happy era will emerge for these two countries.”
Jinnah was a great fan of Field Marshal Mustafa Kemal Atatürk the founder, and first president of the Republic of Turkey, and secretly wanted to develop Pakistan on the same model.
Even today there are many roads in Islamabad (Attatürk Avenue), Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Larkana in Pakistan which are named after Atatürk, while Cinnah Caddesi one of the most important roads in Ankara is named after Jinnah (Jinnah is spelled as ‘Cinnah’ In the Turkish language). It is an important landmark in the heart of the city with many government offices and including Indian, Afghan, and Canadian embassies along its route.
Even the Late General Pervez Musharraf the former President of Pakistan grew up in the Turkish Capital Ankara where his father was passed on a diplomatic assignment with the Pakistan Foreign Ministry. Musharraf spent his early childhood (1949–56) in Istanbul and considered Mustafa Kemal Pasha as his hero. Commissioned in the regiment of artillery Musharraf also attended many military training courses in Turkey and liked the way the Turkish military played a part in Turkish domestic policy.
Musharraf who could frequently speak in Turkish visited Ankara the Turkish capital as part of his first official three-day visit in 2004 just one month after he survived two assassination attempts in his own country. Their common enemy were radical Islamic groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda which was also believed to be behind the deadly suicide bombings in Turkey in November 2003. Musharraf managed to convince his counterparts in Turkey to sign at least five agreements to fight organized crime as well as cooperate and exchange information on international terrorism.
However behind the façade to put up a joint fight against terrorism and organized crime Musharraf’s agenda for discussion with the Turkish leadership ago was that he wanted someone he could trust to watch his back. Later addressing a joint press conference Musharraf and Ahmet Necdet Sezer the then-Turkish President announced that the anti-terrorism agreement covered the exchange of information and experts between the two countries. Musharraf also held separate talks with the Turkish Prime Minister, and the Deputy Army Chief of Staff, and also addressed the Turkish parliament – Grand National Assembly.
Significantly Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was at the time the Prime Minister is now the 12th President of Turkey. On October 26, 2009, he was asked to address the Pakistani parliament (a rare gesture) and was awarded Nishan-e-Pakistan (Order of Pakistan) – the highest civilian award by the president of Pakistan. Some of the other world leaders who received the Nishan-e-Pakistan include Queen Elizabeth II (Queen of the United Kingdom), Bhumibol Adulyadej (King of Thailand), Hussein bin Talal (King of Jordan), King Birendra (King of Nepal), Dwight D. Eisenhower (President of the United States), Richard Nixon (President of the United States), Xi Jinping (President of China), Josip Broz Tito (President of Yugoslavia), Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (Shah of Iran), Nelson Mandela (President of South Africa) and Morarji Desai (Prime Minister of India).
Turkey mistakenly believes that Jammu and Kashmir is a part of Pakistan and also being an Islamist nation, it is its duty to care for Kashmiris, just like the Palestinians — for whom it has even alienated Israel and USA – who used to be its best friends. Pakistan in return supports Turkey’s policy in Cyprus.
Turkey is today Pakistan’s major arms supplier. Pakistan is purchasing T129 ATAK twin-engine, multi-role attack helicopters for the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps (PAAC), to replace the aging Bell AH-1F Cobra gunships. Turkey also helped train Pakistan air force officers and upgrade its F-16 fleet.
Turkey sold four MILGEM-class (MILGEM project) Ada class corvette ships to Pakistan, while Pakistan supplied Super Mushak trainer turbo-props to help the Turkish Air Force train new pilots and tide over the shortage of pilots.
Over 1,500 Pakistani military officers have received training in Turkey and are hoping to jointly produce fighter jets, drones, and stealth fighters.
Partners in Mischief
Turkey supported Pakistan diplomatically and even militarily during the 1971 war for the Liberation of Bangladesh and did not accept Bangladesh as an independent state until Pakistan accepted it in 1974.
Of late Turkey has also been encouraging radical Islamic youth to relocate their base to Istanbul and Ankara. Turkey is increasingly being used (or allowing itself to be used) as a hub for all kinds of conspiracies and anti-India activities. Turkey is reportedly indoctrinating journalists, providing scholarships, and funding anti-India NGOs. Insan Hak ve Hurriyetleri ve Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), a Turkish NGO has close links with Popular Front of India (PFI), a radical Islamic political organization banned by the Indian Home Ministry for a period of five years under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on 28 September 2022. The PFI is allegedly promoting radical Islam and nurturing groups.
Turkey has been opposing India’s inclusion in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Turkey helped Pakistan set up a secret cyber-army to attack the US and India under the garb of rebutting propaganda and disinformation against Pakistan and its rulers. The plan was reportedly hatched in 2018 and was reportedly given a green signal by then-Prime Minister Imran Khan. The confidential plan was allegedly developed at the highest level in Islamabad’s interior ministry. Even senior officials were kept out of the discussions which were done on a need-to-know basis, though Shehryar Khan Afridi, the then Pakistani minister of state for interior, and the Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu were kept in the loop. Interestingly the then Prime Minister Imran Khan himself officiated as the Union interior minister.
On yet another occasion President Erdogan dropped a bombshell when he expressed a desire to mediate between India and Pakistan to settle the long-standing Kashmir issue and thus relieve the immense agony and suffering of the Kashmiri Muslims. He said so while on a visit to Pakistan at the invitation of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in November 2016.
Turkey reportedly criticized India and supported Pakistan on the Jammu and Kashmir issue, and revocation of article 370 in the United Nations in September 2019. Since then both India and Turkey have been practicing shadow boxing –hitting each other, mostly indirectly, at various international forums.
Erdogan raised the Kashmir issue in 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Modi responded by holding meetings with the leaders of Armenia, Cyprus, and Greece, three countries with which Turkey has strained relations and disputes. Likewise, Modi who was slated to visit Turkey and Saudi Arabia in October 2019, canceled his visit to Turkey and only visited Saudi Arabia, sending a strong message to Ankara that it cannot take India for granted.
Erdogan again raised the Kashmir issue at the UNGA during his speeches in 2020 and 2021. On both occasions, it was aptly rebuffed. In 2020, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations T.S. Tirumurti counter-attacked by saying that Turkey should first respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other nations. In 2021, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met Ioannis Kasoulides the foreign minister of the Republic of Cyprus during his first official visit to Cyprus on the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Cyprus. Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974, violating international law as well as the UN Charter, and went on to carve the Turkish-occupied territory of the Republic of Cyprus in 1983. The occupation is viewed as illegal under international law, and no country recognizes Turkish Cyprus except Turkey.
The trend continued in 2022 when just a week after his meeting with Modi, Erdogan once again raked up the Kashmir issue in his speech at the UNGA. Jaishankar met the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevut Cavusoglu and called upon Turkey to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and also raised the Cyprus issue. Jaishankar also met Nikos Dendias the Greek Foreign Minister.
The stalemate continues… particularly because of Turkey’s reluctance to decouple itself from Pakistan and conduct relations with India independently.
There is a saying – there can be no smoke without fire. Some of the weapons seized from terrorist groups recently were found to have Turkish markings.
But all said and done, diplomacy they say is the art and science of converting your worst enemies into your best friends without actually firing the first bullet.
The biggest plus point in India’s favor is that it has always treated even its enemy with dignity and respect. In the 1971 war even after capturing 100s of km of the enemy territory in East Pakistan, the Indian Army vacated gracefully and allowed the creation of Bangladesh as an independent nation. Likewise even after taking 93,000–95,000 Pakistani soldiers as prisoners of war – in the largest surrender since World War II – not a single one of them was tortured. Rather the prisoners of war were transported by train and air to camps in different parts of India where the Indian army took care of their safety and wellbeing.
Lt Gen J. S. Aurora even allowed the Pakistani prisoners of war to retain their small arms to protect themselves against the Mukti Bahini which wanted to take revenge for the atrocities committed by the Pakistani servicemen. All the prisoners of war were treated strictly in accordance with the Geneva Convention and eventually released safely.
Proactive Diplomacy – Making the Right Moves at the Right Time
On the face of it this smart diplomatic initiative at the right time – hit the bull’s eye.
Fırat Sunel (@firatsunel) the Turkish Ambassador to India, Nepal, and Bhutan tweeted:
“Dost” is a common word in Turkish and Hindi… We have a Turkish proverb: “Dost kara günde belli olur” (a friend in need is a friend indeed).
As they say- all’s well that ends well. This is exactly what India wanted. The credit for this insight and diplomatic victory goes to Modi who master-minded the entire exercise.
-The writer is a seasoned media professional with over three decades of experience in print, electronic, and web media. He is presently Editor of Taazakhabar News