Turkey-on-J&K: India to pay in coin, hints at E. Mediterranean forays

Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: A century ago, victors of the World War I had dissolved the last Muslim Empire, that of the Ottomans, centred around the present Republic of Turkey. Mehmed VI Vahideddin was the last and 36th Sultan of the dynasty from July 1918 to November 1922. He also doubled up as the last Caliph, world leader of the Sunni Brotherhood, even if titular.

Ever since, several attempts have been made to resurrect the Caliphate, the last one being by the terrorist outfit Islamic State (IS), led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (2014-16), in Syria and Iraq. Now Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to resurrect the Empire.

But no one, especially not the Arabs, is interested. On the contrary, the Arabs are moving closer to Israel. In fact, the Arabs rejoiced at the demise of the ‘barbarian’ Turk-led Ottoman Empire and became independent nation-states in the 20th century.

Interestingly, it was an infidel country, India, where the confused Muslims tried to whip up pro-Caliphate sentiments by launching the Khilafat Movement in the early 1920s. It was supported by Mahatma Gandhi who knew it was a zero-sum game; it died of its own inherent contradictions and lack of traction at home and abroad.

A hundred years later, history has turned full circle.

In an attempt to get Pakistan’s support, Turkey has been raising the Kashmir issue. India has disliked this Turkish interference in the Jammu and Kashmir issue. And New Delhi is likely to pay Ankara in coin: by throwing its hat into the Eastern Mediterranean hotspot.

Indications of this outreach have begun to emerge.

Last week, the Director-General of the proposed national university for security hinted that India could play a role in the Eastern Mediterranean, a new geopolitical hotspot, amidst tension between Turkey and Greece.

Significantly, the region included the Syrian coast and is rich in hydrocarbon reserves. It holds reserves to the tune of 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 3.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas with corporations from various nations such as Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), U.S.-based ExxonMobil and Noble Energy, France’s Total, Italy’s Eni energy company, South Korea’s Kogas, Qatar Petroleum, British Gas (BG) of the U.K. and Israel’s Delek Drilling and Avner Oil, operating in the region.

Dr Vimal N. Patel, who is currently the Director-General of Gandhinagar-based Raksha Shakti University, soon-to-be upgraded as a Central university, the Rashtriya Raksha University (National University of Security), led a discussion on this matter.

He unveiled the possible pro-active policy at a webinar organized by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), a top think-tank funded by the Ministry of External Affairs. It is currently headed by the Vice President of India, M. Venkaih Naidu.

Speakers on the theme, “The Eastern Mediterranean: A new geopolitical hotspot amidst Turkey-Greece Tensions”, discussed various contours affecting the region. It has become an area of heightened geopolitical relevance in the recent months due its rich oil-and-gas wealth, being eyed by energy-hungry Turkey.

Dr Patel stressed that India has extensive strategic and economic interests in ensuring peace and stability in this region. New Delhi also enjoys unprecedented mutually-beneficial bilateral relations with a large number of Eastern Mediterranean countries like Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Jordan, and Palestine, among others.

He categorically stated that the global maritime commons cannot be unilaterally regulated by any one nation. He affirmed that India emphasises the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)-led and UNCLOS-based approaches must be adopted to resolve the various challenges being faced in the region.

Dr Patel iterated that as India is set to begin its term as the Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) next year, it is imperative for all the stakeholders in the realm of geo-strategy to be well-versed with this region which is poised to hold significant relevance in the functioning of this high-profile UN body.

The other participants in the event included Priya Singh, Associate Director at Asia in Global Affairs (AGA), Teiborlang T. Kharsyntiew, Assistant Professor of European Studies in the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui from the ICWA.