H.E. Dr. Burak Akçapar, Ambassador of Turkey in India

H.E. Dr. Burak Akçapar, Ambassador of Turkey in India

Asia News Agency spoke with the Ambassador of Turkey in India H.E. Dr. Burak Akçapar, to ascertain his views on the past and present bilateral relations with India. Excerpts from the interview are produced below.

ANA. Thank you Excellency for finding time for a Face to Face interview with Asia News Agency. India and Turkey have had relations that go back a very long time in history. We would like to begin with your assessment of the present status of bilateral relations – positives and negatives - between the two countries.

H.E.Turkey and India are united by common values including democracy, secularism and the rule of law. Our relations enjoy strategic value as well as great, yet untapped potential. Time now has come to act on that potential.

Political visits are always important instruments to give further impetus to bilateral relations. The last few years witnessed an increase in bilateral exchanges, with the visits of the Honourable President, the Vice President and External Affairs Minister of India to Turkey. We now attach great importance to hosting the Honourable Prime Minister in Turkey for a bilateral state visit. An invitation has already been sent.

Turkey has also extended some 20 concrete proposals to revitalize her bilateral relations with India during my tenure. These proposals include the adoption of an action plan between our two Ministries of External Affairs to establish a framework for the future of our relations, an updated trade agreement to boost commercial ties, increasing air connectivity to increase economic and touristic collaboration and opening cultural centres to increase cultural interaction.

We are encouraged by the dynamic performance of the Indian Government. We are now looking forward to achieve concrete results, which will take our relations to new heights in the near future.

As a personal note, I was truly impressed by the ongoing twitter diplomacy with the Honourable Prime Minister. On our National Day, Mr. Modi extended his greetings and best wishes to the people of Turkey and said that he is committed to making ties with Turkey stronger. I thanked him for his support and stated that we are looking forward to his visit to Turkey, with which trade investments and tourism will soar. This suggests that we will really have a shot in the 21stcentury.

ANA. There is a perception in India that relations between the two countries have been strained due to Turkey’s strong ties with Pakistan. Turkey has supported Pakistan’s position on Kashmir for example. Is this a correct perception Excellency?

H.E.If that is correct, then it is not Turkey’s fault. Deep, friendly ties between the peoples of Turkey and India date back to 16th century and more concretely to the Indian Medical Mission of 1913 and the Indian assistance to the Turkish War of Liberation. Pakistan chose to build on that legacy. India can also opt to do so. We consider both countries our friends.

One should not forget that India has sided against Turkey in the Cyprus question and as we now read from memoirs not out of conviction. This broke centuries of tradition of mutual support. In the 90’s, headway was made in bilateral relations when we agreed to leave these two issues aside and focus on our bilateral relations.

We are looking forward to a robust and mutually beneficial relationship with India. Turkey is committed to deepening her relations with India on its own merits. As I just mentioned, we extended some 20 concrete proposals to revitalize our relations. Also, the ongoing developments in our respective immediate and extended neighbourhoods now made broadening the scope of our consultations more important than ever.

In the complex world of intergovernmental relations, we cannot decide on the nature of relations we shall have with one country, solely with reference to that country’s relations with others or to this or to that position in the multilateral fora. I could also name some issues that we consider problematic. But our leaders in the past have wisely chosen to leave aside those issues and focus on improving our relations in mutually beneficial areas. I sincerely hope that we still have the wisdom to walk on their path.

ANA. Excellency, Turkey has also sought in the past, to block India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. What is the current stand of the Government of Turkey on the issue?

H.E.Turkey supports the greatest possible enjoyment of the benefits of nuclear energy by all States provided that they are in full compliance with their respective international obligations. This is all the more important for countries like Turkey which is at the threshold of its own nuclear energy program.
NPT remains the cornerstone of the whole global system of nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Turkey remains committed to a strong and effective nuclear non-proliferation and export control regime. Universalization of the NPT is therefore an issue Turkey attaches particular importance.

We see the NSG as an important export control mechanism that will help enable peaceful applications of nuclear energy, science and technology to the benefit of all humanity in a safe and secure manner, consistent with non-proliferation objectives.

Turkey sees merit in the outreach activities with the non-partners of this Group. We need to keep non-partners somewhat engaged. The NSG cannot lend a deaf ear on what is going on in other regions of the world.

As to the membership perspectives, however, a fair, balanced and even-handed approach consistent with our key principles is indispensable.

While there are benefits in maintaining contacts with non-partners, Turkey continues to view the NPT and its principles as central to the work of the NSG.

In this context, the cardinal question as to how non-NPT States will reconcile their nuclear policies with the NSG Guidelines still remains open for us.

We are pleased to see that these views are shared by a number of other NSG Participating Governments.

ANA. Excellency do you now see a growing convergence between India and Turkey over key strategic regional issues in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iran for example with the broader objective of working towards greater peace and stability? If yes, in what manner do you see this happening?

H.E.Turkey and India are among the global pillars of democratic rule, secularism and the rule of law. We are working together in many international organizations. There is a positive approach between them towards their respective candidatures in many international fora. In this respect, for instance Turkey has recently supported the resolution “Measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction” which was presented to the UN by India in October 2014.

Turkey and India are also working together in Afghanistan within the framework of the Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for a Secure and Stable Afghanistan. Turkey participates in all of the CBMs of the process and co-leads the counter-terrorism CBM. As you would know, India co-leads the Trade, Commercial and Investment Opportunities CBM.

ANA. There has been a great deal happening in Turkey’s neighbourhood with the IS activities in Syria and Iraq. There have been claims of Turkish support to some jihadist groups to counter Syria. Excellency, do you see a threat to Turkey from the increased militancy in the region?

H.E.Turkey shares a long, 1.295 km. borders with Syria and Iraq. We believe the stability, unity and integrity of these two countries are vital for the security of West Asia and beyond. Any threat coming out of this region, however, is firstly directed against Turkey. Giving priority to the DAESH, we consider all these extremist elements as major threats to our national security.

The international community is aware of Turkey’s position on extremist groups and the DAESH is no exception. Turkey considers the DAESH as a terrorist group since 2005 under its previous names, and since 10 October 2013 under its current name, long before some members of the international community acknowledged the threat.
Turkey has been actively working towards countering the DAESH. In light of their advancement, we have deployed additional military personnel along the border to further prevent illegal crossings. We also maintain a no-entry list compiled from information provided by source countries of individuals, who may try to join the extremist elements. The Turkish Government has already obtained a broad authority from the Parliament for potential actions we may take in Syria and Iraq.

Extremism is a shared menace which is threatening the whole West Asia and beyond. This kind of a transnational threat requires coordinated international cooperation. We need to develop a holistic and comprehensive approach to confront the deteriorating situation.

We believe that air operations against the DAESH should continue, along with the implementation of No Fly Zones with Safe Areas. Without NFZs/Safe Areas, it will not be possible to protect the opposition from air operations carried out by the regime and prevent large scale refugee movements. Increasing the international community’s support and helping the Syrian opposition to strengthen itself is essential in the fight against the DAESH.
Yet the DAESH cannot be eradicated by fighting it in Iraq alone. As we have been emphasizing from the outset, the threats emanating from the region cannot be stopped as long as the Assad regime remains in Damascus, whose brutal oppression of the opposition, including attacking its own population by aircraft, missiles and chemical weapons, has already claimed over 200.000 lives. Turkey currently hosts over 1,6 million Syrians in Turkey who have fled the regime. We have alone already spent more than 4 billion USD for their well-being. The contributions we received from bilateral or multilateral aids however only stands at USD 244 million. We lost over 70of our citizens due to the mortar shells fired from Syria, as well as to terrorist attacks linked to the Damascus regime.

It is obvious that we cannot view the regime and the DAESH separately during our efforts, if we are hoping to restore peace and stability in the region. A genuine political transformation on the basis of the Geneva Communiqué and the legitimate expectations of Syrian people continues to be our main objective.

ANA. Terrorism has become a global phenomenon with few countries immune to the threat that emanates from it. On many occasions, India and Turkey have expressed mutual concern over the continuing menace of terrorism, and agreed that both countries need to step up their cooperation in countering this threat more effectively. Excellency, how do you see the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan impacting South West Asia and in particular India? And what role can the Istanbul Process play in ensuring sustainable peace and stability?

H.E.Afghanistan is undergoing a challenging period. The withdrawal of the ISAF and the transfer of security responsibility to the ANSDF are the critical junctures we face. They are not the first challenges that Afghanistan faces nor will they be the last. Yet NATO is committed to supporting the ANSDF and despite all the speculations to the contrary, the ANSDF has become a force to be reckoned with.

The key aspect for the post 2014 period is the regional dimension, which is important in the context of political reconciliation, peace and security, as well as economic development of Afghanistan and its neighbourhood.

Within the framework of Turkey’s efforts to improve regional cooperation with Afghanistan at its heart, the Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for a Secure and Stable Afghanistan was initiated by Turkey and Afghanistan on 2 November 2011.

The Istanbul Process comprises of Afghanistan’s immediate and extended neighbours, supported by donor countries, as well as regional and international organizations. The Istanbul Process aims to enhance regional dialogue, strengthen regional cooperation and the implementation of confidence building measures in counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, disaster management, trade, commercial and investment opportunities, regional infrastructure and education.

The Istanbul Process has set out the fundamental ground rules of friendly conduct in the region and pointed the way towards a cooperative model of politics, economics and security around Afghanistan. Various nations are playing important roles in the process by leading confidence building measures in key areas for Afghanistan. And India is one these countries, which leads the trade, commercial and investment opportunities confidence building measure. We will continue and further our cooperation with India in the framework of the Istanbul Process in the post 2014 period.

The fact of the matter is that all regional countries are in this boat together. If Afghanistan succeeds, the region will celebrate it too. The success of Afghanistan will bring numerous benefits to the region in the areas of stability, reconciliation and security. This I believe is the most important contribution of the Istanbul Process. It is not an international organization, is light in its structure, but it is effective in bringing together the relevant stakeholders in the region around concrete themes.

In this framework, the Istanbul Process was in fact designed to serve in an anticipated future scenario of a significant drawdown of international military presence in Afghanistan. Therefore, the true potential of the Istanbul Process is only now becoming feasible and will matter more after the drawdown of international forces.
This year may or may not mark a turning point regarding Afghanistan and its neighbourhood. The need for positive energy and commitment is required as international presence winds down and Afghan control is established.
Turkey, as she has always been, will continue to stand together with her Afghan brothers and sisters in the post 2014 period. Our support to the brotherly Afghan nation is not linked to any date.

ANA. Excellency, would you like to say a few words on where you see India Turkey relations in the next 5 years.

H.E.Our two countries are historic friends, with ties of strategic value. Yet, we lost precious time to tap the vast potential in our relations in the past. Time has now come for both our countries to chart a new course for the future of our engagement. In this context, we should aim for a future where we have more high level contacts, greater numbers of mutual visits, improved cultural ties, increased connectivity, more tourists, mutually beneficial trade figures and broadened consultations. This cannot be achieved without political leadership. And I would be remiss if the opportunities would be lost to unviable conditionalities and endless red tape.