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Caricature of Recep Tayyip Erdogan © DonkeyHotey

Erdogan Adds Fuel to Fire: Expect a Hot Summer in Kashmir

During a visit to India, Erdogan offered to play peacemaker on Kashmir to boost his credentials as the leader of the Muslim world.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ensured that the summer in Kashmir will be hotter than anticipated. While all indicators from the valley — with stone throwers refusing to back down and terrorists being brazen in their attacks on security forces — suggested that the summer of 2017 would be difficult, Erdogan’s call for “multilateral dialogue” on Kashmir has only added fuel to the fire. The president further queered the pitch with his call for a war on terror. Although he condemned the Naxalite attack on security forces in Sukma, Chattisgarh, he turned a Nelson’s eye to relentless terror attacks in Kashmir and did little to assuage India’s concerns.

ERDOGAN USES KASHMIR TO BOOST HIS ISLAMIST CREDENTIALS

Erdogan’s intemperate remarks and visibly stiff body language during photo ops with his Indian counterpart were a manifestation of the fact that he has decided to throw his lot with his “dear friend” Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and, therefore, the Pakistani army. Turkey, ever since the rise of Erdogan, has supported Pakistan’s position on Jammu and Kashmir, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu calling for “a fact-finding mission to India-held Kashmir to look into reports of atrocities being committed there by Indian forces.”

It would, however, be naive to presume that Erdogan’s undiplomatic remarks were meant only to encourage his “friend” in Pakistan. It needs to be understood that the Turkish president was trying to kill many birds with a single stone.

Despite gaining in strength after winning the recent referendum, Erdogan is apprehensive of his support back in Turkey. His wariness stems from the fact that notwithstanding a brutal suppression following the failed coup of July 2016, he is unsure of support from the army in his quest for an Islamist Turkey. The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt is too recent an event to forget.

President Erdogan’s effort to rewrite Turkey’s secular constitution and social fabric has won him admirers among Islamists. The army, however, remains a mystery for him. Ever since Kemal Ataturk initiated Turkey’s move toward secularism and modernity, the army has considered itself to be the defender of the country’s secular model. While the 2016 coup attempt was put down, Erdogan is still not convinced of the army’s support for his drive toward Islamism.

Like a shrewd operator, therefore, he has used every opportunity to portray himself as a successor of the Ottoman Empire and defender of Islamic identity. In a subtle message to the Muslim world, he delayed permission to Iraqi Kurdish fighters to enter Kobane in Syria to support besieged Kurds there. He even had the temerity to bring down a Russian fighter plane engaged in combating the Islamic State. The assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara epitomized the rising tide of Islamism in Turkey, for which Erdogan is greatly responsible.

Erdogan has also used Kashmir as a public address system to reach the original defender of Islamist ideology: Saudi Arabia. The friendly banter between the two countries does not hide their quest for being anointed as the leader of Sunni Muslims. Relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been strained since Islamabad turned down Saudi requests to contribute soldiers for the war in Yemen. The Pakistanis have since made serious attempts to placate the Saudis. The decision of the Pakistani government to permit General Raheel Sharif to lead a NATO-styled 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance — ironically meant to combat terrorism — was one such step. This military alliance is the brain child of the Saudi government, which is itself feeling jittery over rising militancy in the kingdom.

Through his statement on Kashmir, Erdogan has tried to present Turkey as the defender of Islam, compared to the Saudis whose economy, after decades of funding Wahhabism, is feeling under the weather due to the US discovery of shale oil. Kashmir has found itself being utilized as a ring for the shadow boxing match between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

STATEMENT IS A BOOST FOR PAKISTAN

Notwithstanding the nuances of Erdogan’s statement, it is bound to encourage both the Pakistani army and its proxies in Kashmir to indulge in wanton violence. Ever since taking the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations in 1949, India has refused to allow the internationalization of the matter. Despite repeated resolutions by the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) siding with Kashmiri separatists, India has refused to budge from its stand of Kashmir being a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has made desperate attempts to internationalize the Kashmir conflict. The violence in Kashmir, which has been relentless since the killing of Hizb-ul Mujahideen (HuM) commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, is part of a hybrid war designed and executed by the Pakistani army. Images of anarchists taking on Indian forces with nothing more than stones in their hands have been used to create David vs. Goliath imagery. In a war of perception being played out especially on social media, such images have the power to tilt sympathy toward the underdog. What has largely gone unnoticed in this war of ideas, however, is the repeated use of Islamic State flags and other militant Islamic symbols. Zakir Musa, Burhan Wani’s successor, has been more forthright in declaring: “Our stones and weapons should not be to fight for Kashmir. Use them for the supremacy of Islam and to enforce Sharia.”

Erdogan’s appeal for a war against terror, therefore, reeks of hypocrisy. This running with the hares and hunting with the hounds malaise has been the bane of the fight against terrorism. While Erdogan himself prefers to brutalize the Kurds and wink at the slaughter of the Yazidis, he displays no remorse in encouraging the Pakistani army, which continues in its relentless campaign of “bleeding India through thousand cuts.” Irony died a thousand deaths as a leader who rounded up coup leaders pitilessly — refusing to rule out the death penalty — and has been brutal in his dealings with the Kurds talked patronizingly of “keeping channels open for global peace.”

Pakistan, however, has received a shot in the arm from Erdogan’s verbosity. It has played its terror cards deftly ever since the Chinese finalized the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which connects the restive province of Xinjiang to Gwadar near Karachi. Like a bankrupt businessman willing to rent his shop to the highest bidder, Pakistan has virtually ceded its territory through which CPEC traverses to China.

The $46 billion that China proposes to invest in developing the corridor is expected to give a massive boost to an ailing Pakistani economy with a GDP growth rate of 5%. In addition to the economic push, Pakistan also assumes that the Chinese, like an anxious investor, will not allow India to undertake any military option against Pakistan despite massive provocations in Kashmir. The Pakistanis aim to use Chinese investment to ensure military protection, which they believe will follow.

Presumably cocooned under Chinese protection, the Pakistani proxies will therefore become more brazen in their attacks in Kashmir as summer advances. Summer is often when infiltration from Pakistan increases as snow melts, and it is generally the time when terrorists not only attack, but also prepare for winter. The beheading of Indian soldiers, the looting of banks, terrorists audaciously attacking security forces, mobs relentlessly pelting stones and young women turning furiously aggressive are ominous signs for Kashmir and India.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey