## Experts express concern as Erdogan emerges as a threat to India ##
With rising hostility of Turkey towards India inside the Indian territory and at international platforms, experts at a webinar under the aegis of Usanas Foundation discussed emerging concerns on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s mission of radicalizing the world and its effect on India.
Titled “Erdogan’s Caliphate Project and Jihadist Organisations: India Connection”, the webinar saw CEO of Usanas Foundation Abhinav Pandya and Turkey expert and Sweden based investigative journalist Abdullah Bozkurt share their views on Erdogan’s strategies.
Bozkurt began by highlighting that under Erdogan’s regime, Turkey is increasingly becoming isolated and insulated from across the world.
“Turkey has never been so alienated in the world till date. There is something very wrong with standard operating procedures as well as policy choices of the Erdogan government. When one sees the current policy decisions of Erdogan’s Government, it makes sense from the point of view of the personal interest of Erdogan and doesn’t necessarily reflect the national interests of Turkey. Turkey’s interests have hardly mattered in policy decisions in the past few years,” Bozkurt said.
Erdogan, Bozkurt said, primarily uses three methods for furthering his agenda.
“First, he capitalizes on Salafi players. Turkey is predominantly a Sunni nation. By playing with Salafi players, you are radicalizing your own population. It shall further become a national security threat to your own nation. These policies shall inflict self-harm to Turkey.
“Second, there are so many Muslim groups in neighboring countries on whom Erdogan is banking to create proxies. Thirdly, Erdogan is working to radicalize countries like India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and even Europe.
“Preachers like Zakir Naik come to Turkey and have affiliation with radical NGOs endorsed by Erdogan. He doesn’t engage on the front line, but with the proxies, with the NGOs propped up by Erdogan. When Zakir Naik came to Turkey, he worked with the IHH, the ‘humanitarian aid’ body of Turkey – an organization listed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for aiding and abetting ISIS in Syria. They have also been supplying arms and logistical support to terrorist outfits. IHH is an extension of Turkish intelligence,” Bozkurt explained.
Responding to a question on Erdogan ruling over Turkey despite all odds, Bozkurt said that there are three major reasons behind this. First, it is the control over narrative in the public domain which is helping Erdogan to remain in power. “Erdogan took over all the media and brought them under his control. From TV to newspapers, the entire media is under his control. In the guise of a fake coup, he shut down at least 200 media outlets. No independent and dissident media is left in Turkey, which is why Erdogan is successfully propagating his narrative. Consequently, the Turkish population is not getting real facts and issues,” he said.
Second, Bozkurt added, in a country going through a financial crisis and numerous problems, “people don’t really feel the immediate effect of political Islam, therefore they don’t resist”. They are unable to see the far-reaching consequences of this.
“Third, the crackdown on all the segments of the society and administration is massive. For example, 30 per cent of the entire Foreign Service officials were pushed out from the Turkish Foreign Ministry on allegations of being indulged in terrorism. In the military, 70 per cent of generals were pushed out. This severe crackdown on government institutions, civil society, educational institutions, etc. have made people afraid and they refrain from responding against the government,” he further said.
On the question of persecution of Uighurs in China, Bozkurt argued that Turkey has a complex relationship with China.
He explained: “Due to the ongoing economic crisis, Erdogan had to turn towards China and had to keep himself silent on Uighur human rights issues in turn. Since 2011, we have seen how the Erdogan government has radicalized the Uighur community in Turkey.
“In 2014-15 Uighurs were on the top of the list of radicalized extremist groups. They moved in large numbers through Turkey to go to Syria and fight. With the support of Turkish intelligence, they were moving to Syria from China. In numerous cases, they moved to countries like Thailand and then moved to Turkey to go to Syria. Some of them also had Turkish passports. They were using the route of Turkey to pass to Syria.
“The Chinese government has been using the excuse of this radicalization to persecute Uighurs. This shows a kind of hypocrisy in political Islam. Most of the time it’s rhetoric and has no flesh. We see a double face of Erdogan in this issue.”
On the effect of the Iranian Islamic Revolution on Turkey’s political Islam, the Sweden-based journalist said that narrative is the key, “the cultural element is extremely important, and Erdogan is using these cultural elements to promote his agenda”.
“A similar thing was done during the Iranian Islamic Revolution. Most of the prominent personalities in the current Turkish government are inspired by this. They were young during the revolution and had participated in some way or the other,” he said.
“The head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization is very much influenced by the Iranian Islamic Revolution. The Chief Advisor of Erdogan is also a pro-Iranian guy. And there are numerous others sitting at top posts in the Turkish government who are inspired by the Revolution. They are looking up to Iran as a model. They also replicate the Iranian model in policy decisions. It is unprecedented. Iran has also been doing favours to acquaintances of Erdogan, which is why Erdogan has called Iran as his ‘second home’,” he added.
On the global ambitions of Turkey, Bozkurt highlighted that Erdogan mentions so many different countries during his speeches. “He assumes that he has already become the Caliph. He sends the message of his leadership to all the Islamic countries. The narrative built by him connects to many communities.”
“These communities, already going through crisis and sufferings, found a venue with Erdogan. We need to develop a mechanism to push back this. I don’t see a lot of effort being spent on building a counter-narrative,” Bozkurt said.
“He (Erdogan) was successful to some extent in Egypt, Libya, and dubbed everything in Syria to ensure that Bashar al-Assad gets toppled and a Muslim Brotherhood guy takes over. He has supported anybody and everybody in Syria who can fight Assad. A huge amount of Jihadist in Syria has ended up from Turkey. We are facing a non-state leadership in Turkey. He is making a number of proxy groups across the world, including NGOs, educational institutions, terrorist organizations, etc. and using them during the crisis to further his agenda.
“When it comes to Arab countries, the population really believes that they support Erdogan as they have fed up with their own leadership. Erdogan plans to mobilize them and take to streets to take over, whenever he wants,” he added.
CEO of Usanas Foundation Abhinav Pandya began by talking about the historical connection of Turkey with Indian Muslims.
“When the Slave Dynasty came to India, it used to call itself Turkish, coming from the Eastern Turkistan area. When the Mughals came, they had Mongol and Turkish blood. The Mughal kings in India declared themselves as Caliphs. Akbar declared himself as the Caliph as well. The Khutba began to be read in the name of Mughal emperors. Then came the revolt of 1857, when a big chunk of them migrated to Turkey. Britishers believed that Mughal Muslims were behind the perpetration of the revolt and started to be partial towards them, restricting them from government jobs and benefits.
“Later, William Hunter came up with the book ‘Indian Musalman’, in which he said that Hindus are becoming seditious, so you should start promoting Muslims to take on Hindus.
“Mahatma Gandhi started supporting the Khilafat movement in 1919 – primarily to restore the Turkish Caliphate. Muslim community joined the movement as it was a rallying cause for Islam. But Gandhiji did not realize that it shall become a Frankenstein’s monster. This whole thing left a whole set of political Islam amongst Muslim leaders and the Islamic society. The Mappila (Moplah) communal riots happened because of the sentiments generated from the same movement,” Pandya explained.
In the past few years, he said, Erdogan has been working a lot on Indian Muslims.
“In Kashmir, he has emerged as a huge leader of the Muslim Ummah. (Turkish Radio and Television Corporation) TRT is doing a huge amount of biased coverage on Kashmir. The sophisticated content adds legitimacy to Erdogan’s propaganda. However, TRT has never spoken on terrorist organizations like LeT, Jamaat-e-Islami, Hizbul Mujahideen, killing hundreds of innocent people and minorities in Jammu and Kashmir,” Pandya said.
Turkey is giving a large number of scholarships and inviting the young generation of Kashmir to Turkey. In the last 3-4 years, a number of youngsters have preferred Turkey over SAARC nations or India itself for higher studies.
This, Pandya said, is one of the most prominent factors favoring Erdogan’s outreach amongst youth. He further argued that Erdogan is parallely working on three channels to further his agenda.
“First, he (Erdogan) is rallying the support of radical Salafists. In the second way, he is garnering the support of Sufis and Barelvis, who generally do not have affection to political Islam, but love Erdogan. In the third, he is attracting youngsters by raising human rights issues, liberty, self-determination, etc. He is also using soft power like the Ertugrul Ghazi series, which is becoming very famous in Kashmir and people have started to name their kids on the names of characters of the series. They are also reaching out to Salafist preachers in India which include famous names like Salman Nadwi and Zakir Naik,” he explained.
Zakir Naik also spoke at TUGWA – an Islamist group managed by President Erdogan’s son, Bilal Erdogan.
“They are also making outreach in the political circles of India like the Popular Front of India (PFI) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) – who believe in Maududi ideology,” Pandya said.
“He (Erdogan) is also approaching prominent personalities of India. The recent meeting of Aamir Khan with the First Lady of Turkey is an example. TRT Urdu has also come up with several propaganda materials for India. They are also actively using WhatsApp groups and trying to create a new Islamic identity in India. A new Muslim identity is being created by combining Muslims of India, Pakistan, Kashmir, and entire South Asia,” he added.
On the possible threat of Erdogan’s agenda for India, Pandya said that the strategies of Erdogan can be very detrimental in terms of fallouts.
“On one hand, he projects himself as an Islamic leader. At the other, he is facilitating terrorism across the world including the promotion of Al Shabab, Boko Haran, ISIS, and what not? All those linkages can be used to promote terrorism in India,” he said.
“Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) has become a huge power in Afghanistan, which has been propped up as a proxy by Pakistan. Turkey is certainly going to have a deep footprint in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of US forces. Erdogan is then going to most likely promote Kashmir centric groups in terms of training, logistics, and finances,” he added.
Talking about Turkey’s strategies, Pandya further said: “Turkey has also come up with impressive drone technology. If these drones end up at hands of terror groups, they can very well use them to bomb civilians and Indian security forces.
“These terrorist groups have strong sleeper cells all over India. Erdogan can use them further to ferment a communal riot or terrorism in India. In the last few Muharram processions, Shia leaders were seen along with separatist leaders. Strong links of the Shia community have emerged with Hezbollah. Pakistan, through ISI’s Kashmir desk, has brought some Shia officers on board, who are working on the plan to promote terrorism in Kashmir.”