New Delhi: There are two countries in the west, Turkey and Iran, and two in the east, Malaysia and Indonesia that are complaining about India. And all four are fairly large and important.
Ninety-nine per cent of the population in Iran and Turkey is Muslim. In Iran, 90 per cent are Shia, 9 per cent are Sunni, and approximately 1 per cent are minorities. In Turkey, from a fairly liberal, secular republic, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been pushing the country towards Islamism, even though it is not an Islamic republic.
What’s common among all these countries is that they are democracies of some kind, where public opinion matters. The Arab countries, which haven’t spoken out, are not democracies and public opinion matters less there.
Turkey is at odds with Syria, the Kurds, and now Russia. It made common cause with the Iraqis and Iranians when it came to the Kurds, and also has a stake in Syria, where it was fighting alongside the Russians before changing directions. As soon as the Syrian forces came close to Idlib, Turkey realised the threat of fleeing Syrians coming into the country, which it did not want.
Turkey and Iran both have old military and strategic relations with Pakistan. In the early days of the Cold War, Pakistan was a signatory to the US-led security pacts in Asia. Turkey and Iran were both part of those pacts till the Shah ruled Iran. Now that Turkey has isolated everyone else, it sees a natural friendship with Pakistan.
Since everyone is jostling for supremacy in the Islamic world, Turkey sees itself as a contender.
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The oldest tussle in the Islamic world is the Shia-Sunni tussle. Across from Iran is Iraq, which was ruled by Sunni elites for a long time despite the majority Shia population till Saddam Hussein’s forces were destroyed by the US.
Now, because of democracy, Shias have come to power in Iraq and Sunnis are feeling marginalised. Iran has enormous influence in the region and feels it has defeated the US in Iraq. Iran also feels emboldened enough to declare it is fighting for Muslims against the US, Israel and now India, even while the Gulf countries stay quiet.
Last year, India stopped buying crude oil from Iran, which contributed to wrecking its economy. The country’s latest backlash against India and its treatment of Muslims is also payback for this.
Former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad was very vocal about Muslims in India, but there is no obvious reason why he would raise the issue.
The Muslim population in Malaysia is only 61 per cent while 7 per cent are Hindus, 20 per cent are Buddhists, and 9.5 per cent are Christians. It is also ethnically diverse. Even though it is considered Islamic, it is not as easy to drive the country in that direction. Malaysia now has a new Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, and the understanding is that relations between India and Malaysia are being repaired.
Indonesia is not an Islamic republic, though approximately 89 per cent of the population is Muslim and 1.6 per cent is Hindu. It is a secular, liberal polity, and has commented more out of concern — that the situation in India might create tensions in its own country and could possibly lead to the targeting of Hindus by the Muslim majority.
Indonesian criticism has been very measured: they summoned the Indian ambassador, spoke to him, and said they wanted peace. After that, Vice-President Ma’ruf Amin said, “We want India to act like us, Indonesia, in building tolerance and moderation within [our] religious life.”
In 1965, during the Indo-Pak war, India’s relations with Indonesia were not that strong. Indonesia had laid claim to some of the southern islands in the Andaman and Nicobar region. Today, however, the relationship between the countries has revived. They are negotiating a kind of lease over the island of Sabang so that the Indian Navy can use it as a base. This makes Indonesia a strategic ally.
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