What’s the best way to kick off a state visit to India? Make an offer your host will almost certainly refuse.
Shortly before Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in India for a two-day state visit, the Turkish president called for a multilateral dialogue to settle the Kashmir dispute—a subject that New Delhi has for long treated as strictly bilateral.
“We shouldn’t allow more casualties to occur (in Jammu & Kashmir),” Erdogan told Indian news channel WION in an interview before travelling to New Delhi. “And by strengthening multilateral dialogues, we can be involved. And through the multilateral dialogues, we have to seek out for ways to settle this question once and for all, which will provide benefits to both of the countries.”
For India, it is an unacceptable approach, given its consistent stand that the Jammu & Kashmir dispute can only be resolved bilaterally and that the involvement of any other party is not welcome. It’s a position that most major powers, including the US and the UK, have backed, even though Pakistan has repeatedly sought to internationalise it. Last September, for instance, Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif spent a substantial chunk of his speech at the United Nations General Assembly focusing on Kashmir and even eulogised Burhan Wani, a militant killed by Indian troops last year, as a “young leader.”
Erdogan, however, insisted that dialogue was the only way forward, a view shaped by his conversations with Sharif.
“My dear friend, Mr Prime minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan is an individual with whom I have been discussing these issues at length and I know that he is a man of good intention,” the Turkish president said. “I have heard him personally speaking about his will to settle this question once and for all. So, if we keep the dialogue channels open, we can settle this question once and for all.”
Erdogan’s comments, just as he arrives in New Delhi for talks with prime minister Narendra Modi, have likely put India’s ministry of external affairs in a bit of bind. But damage control may have already begun. “We are working on a more positive language in the joint statement. It will become clear after the talks between the two leaders,” a government official told the Indian Express newspaper.
Considering the kerfuffle, it’s about time both leaders sat down, and talked turkey.