Can Turkey and India see eye to eye in Afghanistan without a reset?
With the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan nearing its completion, Turkey is preparing to step into the gap and may find support from a surprising partner, India. Nayanima Basu, the diplomacy editor for online newspaper ThePrint, explained to Ahval News that India welcomes a Turkish role in a post-war Afghanistan despite all their disagreements in recent years.
“India realises the role Turkey wants to play and has played in Afghanistan,” Basu told Ahval in a recent podcast. She said that for India, a Turkish role after the U.S. exit is, in fact, considered something of a welcome move in New Delhi.
At first glance, this sentiment can be considered surprising given the years of disagreements between the two countries, particularly over the Jammu-Kashmir region situated between India and Pakistan, a Turkish ally.
These disagreements boiled over in 2019 when Turkey rejected Indian accusations that Pakistan was responsible for an attack on security services in the town of Pulwama that left 39 Indian personnel dead. Relations suffered further when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, criticised India’s repeal of Article 370 from its constitution, which granted Jammu and Kashmir special status within the country.
However, Turkey has signalled it is ready to look past these disagreements and seek better ties with India. In an interview with the online newspaper ThePrint published last week, Firat Sunel, Turkey’s new ambassador to New Delhi, said good relations “should not be a prisoner of their differences on some specific issues.” To that end, Sunel said Turkey and India needed no ‘reset’ and should pursue “new horizons” on shared interests.
Basu, who interviewed Sunel for ThePrint, said this message could find some reception in India’s foreign policy circles. Regardless of Turkish views on Jammu-Kashmir or its ties to Pakistan, there is an understanding in the halls of power in New Delhi that these positions are unlikely to change and that cooperation with Turkey should be embraced not shunned, she explained.
This is especially the case in Afghanistan, where India has played a major role in the country’s development and now fears a resurgent Taliban will affect regional stability if it returns to power. To this end, Turkey’s close relationship with Pakistan and its ability to talk to the Taliban can be important.
For India and much of the international community, Pakistan’s patronage of, and influence over, the Taliban is well-known, giving Islamabad an outsized importance in any post-war settlement in Afghanistan.
Basu says that India, at this point, understands that Turkey desires a role in Afghanistan, which fits into a wider desire to see regional players taking on more responsibility in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal. To this end, she adds that Ankara’s strong ties to Islamabad and its readiness to continue negotiating with the Taliban could play well in New Delhi.
India knows that at this point in time that Turkey speaks to Pakistan and can speak sense into it on the Taliban violence, she said.