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India, Turkey don’t need ‘reset’, partners can have opposing view on issues: Turkish envoy

In an exclusive interview, new Turkish ambassador Fırat Sunel says Turkey considers India a ‘friendly country’. On Afghan situation, he says ‘Taliban also a part of Afghan society’.

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New Delhi: India and Turkey do not need to reset their ties, and Ankara considers New Delhi as a friend of “significant importance”, according to Fırat Sunel, Turkey’s new ambassador to India, who believes both countries have to now “open new horizons” and “deepen” their cooperation.

In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, the ambassador said both countries are members of the G-20 and hence share “fundamental common values such as democracy, rule of law and liberal economies”.

“Turkey considers India as a friendly country which is of significant importance, on account of the latter’s location, human resources, vibrant economy and increasing critical role in the international arena…We don’t need to reset our ties…” Sunel said.

“Those existing ties connect our people. And the close cultural and historical ties between our countries oblige us to further improve our relations in all fields.” 

Ties between India and Turkey reached a low point after the scrapping of Article 370 by the Narendra Modi government in August 2019, a decision that stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had criticised the Modi government’s Article 370 move and urged New Delhi to resolve tensions with Pakistan through dialogue and not through “collision”.

In February 2020, during his visit to Pakistan, Erdoğan stated that Ankara would support Islamabad on the Kashmir issue and likened the situation of Kashmiris with that of his country during World War 1.

India had described Turkey’s comments on Kashmir as “gross interference in India’s internal affairs… and completely unacceptable”.   

However, both sides seem to have decided to bury the hatchet and move forward.

Earlier this year, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu at Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and both sides vowed to “improve” their relations with a focus on economy and trade.

“In international relations, states’ being partners does not necessitate that they have the same view on every issue. Good nature of relations in general between two states should not be a prisoner of their differences on some specific issues,” the envoy said.

“We just need to turn our potentials to good purpose to open new horizons, to deepen our bilateral relations and also to strengthen our cooperation in the multilateral fora as well. Fortunately, we have many common grounds and interests for cooperation. And I am glad to see that both countries are ready to work towards this end.”

Also Read: Turkey, India look to revitalise ties after Kashmir low as US changes Afghan strategy

‘India is Turkey’s largest trade partner in South Asia’ 

During Erdoğan’s last visit to India in April 2017, Ankara and New Delhi set the bilateral trade target at $10 billion, to be achieved by 2020, up from $6.4 billion at that time. 

“The $10 billion bilateral trade volume by 2020 was set as a common target during the official visit of President Erdoğan to India in 2017. Then, the bilateral trade volume was $7 billion and, just in a year after the visit, it reached $8.7 billion. It was a huge leap at once… India is Turkey’s largest trade partner in South Asia,” Sunel said, adding that the pace slowed down due to the pandemic. 

However, he said, Turkey is now opening up sectors such as mining, steel industry, pharmaceuticals, hospitality, bridge and highway construction, and IT for greater private-sector investments.

Turkey closely follows the “Make in India strategy”, he added.

Turkey, he said, is now expecting high-level visits from India as they “play a tremendous role in modern diplomacy and we expect that such bilateral visits between Turkey and India will resume soon”.  

Prime Minister Modi was expected to visit Turkey in 2019 but that was cancelled owing to the tensions around Kashmir.

Also Read: Erdogan support for Pakistan on Kashmir at UN an outcome of downswing in India-Turkey ties

‘Taliban is also part of Afghan society’ 

Turkey, a NATO member on a non-combatant mission in Afghanistan, is expected to play a much bigger role in the country once international troops leave the country. 

While the violence there is intensifying by the day due to the ongoing fighting between Afghan government forces and Taliban insurgents, thousands of Afghans are now seeking refuge in Turkey.

“Turkey has continuously supported Afghanistan’s modernisation efforts and played a crucial role in the establishment of modern state structures and public institutions in various fields,” Sunel said.

“Launched in 2004, Turkey’s development assistance programme for Afghanistan is one of the largest assistance programmes allocated for a country. So far, more than 1,300 projects in different areas have been completed,” he added.

Afghanistan, he said, is “entering a critical moment as the withdrawal of NATO forces is about to be completed”. 

“The level of violence in the country has reached nearly peak levels. In this critical time, Turkey believes that a negotiated settlement is the only way forward for a lasting, fair and sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Taliban is also a part of Afghan society,” he added. 

Sunel said he believes the Taliban have to be integrated into the Afghan political system at the end of a negotiated settlement with the country’s government. 

“A fair power-sharing is crucial. Maintaining a level of engagement between the Republic side and Taliban as well as keeping the dialogue channels open is necessary to achieve this,” he added. “While welcoming all the efforts for achieving peace in Afghanistan, we also appreciate India’s generous contributions to the development efforts in Afghanistan.” 

Since 2015 — as part of the noncombatant NATO mission — Turkey has been undertaking security- and operation-related work at the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA). 

“Now, again, Turkey is requested both by the Afghan government and the international community to continue to operate HKIA after withdrawal of all foreign troops,” he added. “Such a mission at HKIA will continue to be strictly noncombatant as in the past. HKIA is of vital importance for humanitarian supplies and security of foreign diplomatic missions in Kabul.”

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Why four important Islamic nations are angry with India


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