Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

What the rise of pan-Turkism means for India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Lapis Lazuli corridor

Mains level: Paper 2- India-Turkey relations


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been playing internationalist card for national benefit. India, which has been worried about Erdogan’s Islamist politics, must now begin to pay attention to another political idea from the Turkish president — promoting pan-Turkism.

Impact of political ideas on global politics

  • Internationalism based on religion, region or secular ideologies has always run headlong into resistance from sectarianism and nationalism.
  • Yet, these ideas have a profound impact on global politics.
  • Calls for regionalism and internationalism as well as religious and ethnic solidarity often end up as instruments for the pursuit of national interest.

The rise of pan-Turkism

  • Foundation of OTS: The international symbol of solidarity among peoples of Turkic ethnicity has been the Council of Turkic States, formed in 2009 by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
  •  At a summit of the Council’s leaders last week in Istanbul, it was announced that the forum has been elevated to an “Organisation of Turkic States”.
  • Hungary, which has a long history of association with Turkic people, and Turkmenistan have observer status.
  •  At least a dozen other countries have apparently shown interest in getting observer status.
  • Implications: There is no escaping the fact that Turkey is determined to rewrite the geopolitics of Eurasia.
  • The rise of pan-Turkism is bound to have important consequences for Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Central Asia and, more broadly, India’s Eurasian neighbourhood.

Rise of Turkey in Central Asia

  • Soft power initiatives: Over the last three decades, a number of soft power initiatives — in education, culture, and religion — have raised Turkey’s profile in Central Asia and generated new bonds with the region’s elites.
  • Military power: It is in the domains of hard power — commercial and military — that Turkey’s progress has been impressive.
  • Turkey has stunned much of the world with its military power projection into the region.
  • That Kazakhstan, a member of the Russia-led regional security bloc, is moving towards strategic cooperation with Turkey, a member of US-led NATO, points to the thickening pan-Turkic bonds in a rapidly changing regional order.
  • The dominance of economy and trade: Nearly 5,000 Turkish companies work in Central Asia. Turkish annual trade with the region is around $10 billion.
  • This could change as Turkey strengthens connectivity with Central Asia through the Caucasus.
  • For the Central Asian states, living under the shadow of Chinese economic power and Russian military power, Turkey offers a chance for economic diversification and greater strategic autonomy.
  • Connectivity: Turkey has also made impressive progress in building transportation corridors to Central Asia and beyond, to China, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
  • The so-called Lapis Lazuli Corridor now connects Turkey to Afghanistan via Turkmenistan.

What should be India’s approach towards Turkey?

  • Pan-Turkism is a good reason for India to explore a more purposeful engagement with Turkey.
  • Issues: There is no denying that the current differences between Delhi and Ankara over Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan are real and serious.
  • Need for dialogue: The current political divergence only reinforces the case for a sustained dialogue between the two governments and the strategic communities of the two countries.
  • Lessons for India: Turkey’s own geopolitics offers valuable lessons on how to deal with Ankara.
  • That Turkey is a NATO member has not stopped Erdogan from a strategic liaison with Russian.
  • Purchase of advanced weapons like S-400 missiles from Moscow  does not stop Erdogan from meddling in Russia’s Central Asian backyard.
  • Criticism of China’s repression of Turkic Uighurs in Xinjiang — that was once called “Eastern Turkestan” — goes hand-in-hand with deep economic collaboration with Beijing.
  • What does this policy tell India? One, Erdogan’s enduring enthusiasm for Pakistan does not preclude Turkey from doing business — economic and strategic — with India.
  • Limiting Turkish hegemony: Erdogan’s ambitions have offended many countries in Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Caucasus.
  • Many of them are eager to expand strategic cooperation with India in limiting Turkish hegemony.
  • This opens a range of new opportunities for Indian foreign and security policy in Eurasia.
  • Imperative to engage: Sceptics will point to the fact that Erdogan’s time is running out.
  • That does not, however, alter the Indian imperative to engage with Turkey.

Consider the question “Turkey’s influence in Eurasian region is expanding. In this context examine the issues that adds friction between India and Turkey and suggest the approach India should adopt in dealing with Turkey.”


Independent India has struggled to develop good relations with Turkey over the decades. A hard-headed approach in Delhi today, however, might open new possibilities with Ankara and in Turkey’s Eurasian periphery.

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