Modi, Erdogan walk the tight rope to boost India-Turkey ties

02 May 2017

India and Turkey on Monday resolved to work together to strengthen cooperation, both bilaterally and multilaterally and to effectively counter terrorism despite lurking differences over Turkey's backing of Pakistan on Kashmir.

President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan being received by the President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on 1 May 2017  

Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used optimistic words filled with promises to portray ties, although stark differences continued to complicate efforts to smoothen a traditionally difficult relationship.

The two leaders tried to steer clear off historic differences between the countries over Kashmir, where Turkey has long backed Pakistan's allegations of human rights abuses by Indian security forces.

During the two hours of talks the two leaders also avoided remarks over India's purported refusal to act against followers of a popular cult led by cleric Fethullah Gulen, described by Turkey as a terrorist.

Turkey calls Gulen's cult, which has a presence in several countries, including India, the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO).

But, at the first strictly bilateral meeting between the two leaders, neither Modi nor Erdogan made any progress in bridging differences between the countries on these issues, officials pointed out.

Yet, the two leaders emphasised on the need for nations of the world to work together to disrupt the terrorist networks, their financing and cross border movement of terrorists.

PM Modi also emphasised India's stand the issue of dispute over Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and there is no role for a third country or countries in solving it.

Erdogan, in an interview with WION news channel prior to his departure to India, had said that more casualties should not occur in Kashmir. He also said that Turkey could be part of the multilateral talks on Kashmir.

''We should not allow more casualties to occur (in Kashmir). By having a multilateral dialogue, (in which) we can be involved, we can seek ways to settle the issue once and for all,'' he said. ''All around the world, there is no better option than keeping the channel of dialogue open. If we contribute towards global peace, we can get a very positive result,'' Erdogan added.

The differences, however, spilled over when Erdogan referred only to April strike by Maoists against Indian paramilitary forces in Sukma, Chattisgarh, that left 25 soldiers dead. He did not refer to terrorist attacks in Kashmir.

Instead, he focused on the FETO and its presence in India, even as he appeared to suggest confidence that India would act against followers of Gulen - which Erdogan blamed for the failed coup attempt against him in 2015.

"I know India will take necessary measures to expel FETO from her territory, once and for all," Erdogan said.

Indian officials said they had given Erdogan no assurance of action against the FETO, unless New Delhi independently concludes that Gulen's followers have terror links.

"Any organisation in India, whether Indian or foreign, obviously has to adhere to the laws of our country," foreign ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said late evening, when asked about the Turkish demand.

However, bilateral trade dominated the talks, during which Erdogan said trade between India and Turkey should be balanced and called for steps to achieve that.

Speaking at a business event, Erdogan said the two countries should move to achieve actual business potential of their ties.

"This meeting marks a new era of business relations," he said.

Erdogan said the two nations can complement each other in several areas, including research, and added that his country can assist in India's need for rapid development of infrastructure.

"Joint trade volume should be balanced. Steps should be taken to achieve that," Erdogan said.

Erdogan's visit comes a week after India hosted the President of Cyprus, and sent vice president Hamid Ansari to Armenia- the two countries with which Turkey has territorial and diplomatic disputes.

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