Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 62

As Turkey broadens its military and economic contacts eastwards, it is now deepening its ties with a growing Asian superpower, India.

On March 31 Turkish Land Forces Commander Gen. Ilker Basbug arrived in New Delhi, India, to begin a five-day official visit. Basbug will be busy during his time in New Delhi. Besides meeting with India’s new army chief General Deepak Kapoor, appointed in September 2007, Basbug also scheduled meetings with India’s Defense Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony, Minister of State for Defense Mallipudi Raju Pallam Mangapati, Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of Naval staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta and Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major (Hurriyet, April 1).

The officers had an ambitious agenda, which ranged from United Nations peacekeeping missions to developing bilateral military cooperation between the two countries, and they discussed a common problem both countries face: terrorism (Haber, April 1). Following the initial meeting between Basbug and Kapoor, the Indian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying, “Both chiefs shared a common platform on matters such as global terrorism and UN peacekeeping missions. Both countries have pledged to improve military bilateral relations in terms of training at defense institutions” (Indo-Asian News Service, March 31).

Basbug’s visit is the first by a Turkish Army Chief to India (KUNA, March 31). Not limiting himself solely to top-level meetings, Basbug paid a visit to Amar Jawan Jyoti, where he participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at India Gate, which was followed up with excursions to the Defense Research and Development Organization and National Defense College.

While striking, Basbug’s visit builds upon more than two decades of contacts between the military of the two nations. Defense cooperation between Turkey and India began in March 1986, when Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal visited India, which built upon Turkish President Suleyman Demirel’s visit to India the previous year. While the major accomplishment during Ozal’s visit was the signing of the civil aviation agreement, the promotion of bilateral military ties was also discussed. The discussions bore fruit in 1987, when India reopened a defense attache office in Ankara, which had lain vacant for two decades. Quickening the pace, in May 1989 India participated in Turkey’s second International Defense Equipment and Avionics Exhibition (IDEA ‘89) in Ankara. Unfortunately for both countries, neither was a significant producer of weaponry at the time, so contacts were largely limited to staff interaction.

Further high-level contacts continued: In September 1993 Indian Minister of State for Defense Mahbubnagar Malikarjun visited Turkey at the invitation of the Turkish Defense Minister Turhan Tayan to attend the “IDEF Turkey 1993″ International Defense Industry and Civil Aviation Fair, hosted by the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation at the Turkish Air League Airport facilities in Ankara, Turkey. The exhibition provided an opportunity for both the Turkish and Indian military to network extensively, as government and military delegations from 108 nations were invited. India’s Defense Ministry stated that the fair “was a big step towards establishing close relations in the defense field between the two countries” (Headlinesindia Bureau, April 1).

While intermittent high-level contacts continued through the 1990 and the early years of the 21st century, the most common point of contact between Turkish and Indian troops was various United Nations peacekeeping operations throughout the globe. More than 85,000 Indian military and civil police workers participated in 42 of 60 UN-led peacekeeping operations, while Turkey has contributed personnel to 18 different United Nations peacekeeping initiatives over the past two decades (Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations, January 31).

It is in the economic sphere however, that New Delhi and Ankara have registered the most dramatic progress, as bilateral trade has increased by over 300 percent since 2002-2003 from $800 million to $2.6 billion (Indo-Asian News Service, March 31). Future trade is certain to grow, as the two countries are currently in the final stages of negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Furthermore, the Indian government is strongly behind efforts to promote Turkish investment in India. Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath is soliciting for Turkish companies to invest in Indian markets. Last month Nath met with Turkish State Minister for Foreign Trade Kursad Tuzmen in New Delhi. Both ministers agreed that India and Turkey could collaborate in research and development and their commercial spin-offs in the high-tech fields of bio-, nano- and information technology (Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India Press Information Bureau, March 19).

Nath’s calls for increased investment are mirrored by Ashwani Kumar, Minister of State for Industry, who has noted that the GDP in both countries is dominated by private sector, which also share pluralist, secular democracies and free market economies. Currently Indian investments in Turkey are diverse, including railway construction, electricity transmission, pipelines, energy and IT services. Turkish investments in India include tourism and travel, textiles, road construction and maintenance, while Turkish exports to India include petroleum, machinery, inorganic chemicals and spices (Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India Press Information Bureau, March 19).

Despite their geographical distance, India and Turkey share a number of common traits. Their geographical distance has precluded clashes between the two nations, both of which instead devote their military forces to the less glamorous, if vital, mission of peacekeeping. Furthermore, both are democracies in areas of the world where that political system is in rather short supply. Thirdly, both nations are deeply committed to economic advancement, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the Turkish military would send General Basbug to New Delhi, since he is fluent in English, increasingly the global language of business.