Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Twitter)
Snapshot
  • In Kashmir, Turkey has made deep inroads among the separatist leadership, business groups, religious clerics and Islamist organisations.

    It is important to closely watch Turkey’s outreach activities in India.

Following the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, India faced a month- and-a-half long diplomatic ordeal across various multilateral diplomatic platforms. It was only Turkey that came up as the most active supporter of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

Traditionally, Turkey has supported Pakistan on Kashmir at OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) summits. However, its more recent activism on Kashmir is motivated by Islamist ambitions going beyond Kashmir.

Caliphate 2.0

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to revive the institution of Caliphate by 2023, when the country celebrates 100 years of becoming a republic, to claim the spiritual, moral, religious, and political leadership of the Muslims all over the world.

According to this GASAM report, South Asia Strategic Research Center, a Turkish think-tank, suggests that Turkish establishment has significant revisionist plans to alter the geography of the Middle East by reviving the old Ottoman Empire.

In the Middle East, Erdogan’s Caliphate ambitions are likely to encounter resistance from Arab Islamic countries led by the Saudi monarchy and its state Wahhabi clergy. Hence, Turkey has enormous hopes from non-Arab nations like Iran, India, Pakistan, and Malaysia.

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Additionally, Turkey has historical ties with South Asia. Mahatma Gandhi’s Khilafat movement (1919) for the restoration of the Ottoman caliphate laid a substantial edifice of Turkey's bonhomie with Indian Muslims, and the "edifice" was entirely religious in nature.

After the Khilafat movement, the Muslim politics in India took a sharp communal turn and maintained a distance from Congress-led freedom movement. Post Khilafat, 1920s also witnessed bloody communal riots in various parts of India. Later, Ali Brothers, who were the prominent Khilafat leaders in Punjab, drifted towards communal politics and supported the Pakistan movement.

Erdogan’s Darker Side

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Erdogan's dubious and murky links with various terrorist organisations such as Hamas, Hizbullah, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir-Al-Sham (Al Qaeda affiliate in Turkey), and Islamic State (IS) have been brought out by various intelligence agencies time and again. Turkey's former chief of counter-terrorism unit, Ahmet Yayla, said in an interview that jihadis of IS were buying all the explosive materials from Turkey, in addition to what MIT (Turkish intelligence) was supplying.

South Asia

Based on OSINT (Open Source Intelligence), analysis of GASAM reports and interviews with Gulenists who fled to India to escape persecution at the hands of the Turkish government, the GASAM's caliphate strategy for South Asia includes the following:-

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  • Project Turkey as religious, political and cultural leader of Muslims in South Asia.
  • Motivate Muslims to actively participate in the mainstream politics. Though it has to be done within the framework of India’s Constitution, which allows generous freedom and protection to minorities, the backbone of such an initiative will be the Islamic religious and cultural identity.
  • Capitalise on the fears of majoritarianism and Hindu extremism in India’s 20 crore Muslim minority. Such fears are already strengthening because of the widening communal fault-lines and, some recent developments — Supreme Court of India’s decision to award the land to Hindus in the Babri mosque-Ram temple dispute, abolition of Islamic practice of triple talaq, and revocation of Kashmir’s special status (India’s only Muslim-majority state).
  • Offer scholarships to South Asian Muslim students to study in Turkey. Several students from Kashmir, Kerala and other parts of India are studying engineering, medicine, human rights and Islamic teachings in Turkey.
  • Funding Islamic organisations in India.

Turkish establishment is making strong outreach efforts to woo Muslims in South Asia. Its relations with Pakistan's Islamist organisations like Jamaat-i-Islami are well known. In South Asia, Turkey provided money and weapons to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and Jamaat-i-Islami (Bangladesh), an extremist organisation with a belief in political Islam. Its several leaders are facing trial in war crimes.

In India, the extremist Islamic clerics are acting as the primary conduits for establishing a support base for Erdogan among Indian Muslims. Sheikh Salman Nadwi, a controversial cleric from Lukhnow (India) who earlier issued statements supporting Baghdadi but later withdrew it after backlash, emphatically supported Erdogan after the 2016 coup.

Another controversial Wahhabi preacher Zakir Naik, notorious for inspiring the Dhaka terror attack, reportedly enjoys cordial relations with Islamist Turkish clerics like Nurettin Yildiz and delivered a speech at TUGWA (Islamist group run by Erdogan's son Bilal) in 2017.

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Notably, diplomats and consular officials (Hyderabad and Mumbai) are approaching prominent Muslim clerics, business people, community leaders, Muslim politicians, and bureaucrats.

In his outreach, Erdogan is getting an enthusiastic response from Kerala, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Calcutta, Deoband and Aligarh. Interestingly, the areas mentioned above actively participated in the Khilafat movement.

As compared to Saudi-funded Wahabism, Turkey has better prospects of acceptance among the Muslims of South Asia because he represents a moderate Islam that aligns well with Deobandis and Barelvis, the dominant Islamic schools of South Asia. Due to doctrinal differences, Barelwis and Deobandis are bitterly opposed to Wahabism.

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Mission Kashmir

In Kashmir, Turkey has made deep inroads among the separatist leadership, business groups, religious clerics and Islamist organisations like Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). Hailing Erdogan’s election victory (2018), Kashmir's separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farookh called him, "an ardent supporter of Kashmir's right to self-determination". Further, he observed, "be it Palestine or Kashmir, Erdogan has raised a voice in support of the suppressed people." Turkish establishment regularly invites JI leaders from PoK to Turkey for seminars and conferences on religious matters and Kashmir issue.

One casual glance at the titles of videos of Turkey's TRT, the national public broadcaster of the country, exposes the agenda. Further, the videos are loaded with false narratives and one-sided stories. One of the videos, "Kashmir Conflict in under four minutes," blatantly lies that in 1947, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh massacred Muslims in Kashmir with the figure ranging anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000.

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The alleged release of ISIS prisoners in the recent Turkish invasion of Syria also poses a grave threat to India. With the American withdrawal on the cards and Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) deeply entrenched in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, there is a strong possibility of some of these fighters finding their way to the region with Turkey’s support.

Finally, Turkey’s strong links with transnational terror groups and its deep penetration in India can be immensely helpful in facilitating the entrenchment of terrorist outfits like ISIS and Al Qaeda in India. Such an arrangement can play an extremely critical role in fomenting communal riots, creating false narratives to influence popular perception, executing terrorist acts, civil unrest and aiding insurgencies and sabotaging the country’s economy and communication lines.

The recent punitive actions by the government, such as cutting defence ties, cancellation of the Prime Minister's visit, criticism of Turkey's invasion in Syria, and a travel advisory warning Indians not to visit Turkey are praiseworthy. The intelligence machinery of India should have a significant focus on Turkish outreach activities in India.

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