File photo of Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (R) shaking hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Photo: Hafiz Itam/Handout via AFP

After winning the diplomatic battle over Kashmir, India is now gearing up to take on Turkey and Malaysia, the two prominent nations that sided with Pakistan’s stance on the disputed region. This comes in the wake of the August 5 decision by the government of India to abrogate Article 370, which gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status and autonomy.

Unlike in the past, when India preferred diplomatic measures to push back on Kashmir, it is now looking at economic measures to retaliate against nations it deems as “hostile” to India’s foreign policy objectives. In some ways, Turkey and Malaysia are the first countries to face India’s displeasure over a diplomatic dispute.

While India has been largely successful in convincing major global powers that the decision on Kashmir was an “internal” issue, Turkey and Malaysia have emerged as the most prominent critics of the move after its traditional rival, Pakistan. All three countries are part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has traditionally been opposed to India’s stance on Kashmir.

However, the last couple of years has seen the OIC change its stance on India, with key members like the UAE and Saudi Arabia inviting India as an “observer” to its deliberations. This has also led to a split in the OIC, with Malaysia and Turkey continuing to support Pakistan.

Pushing back

“Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession like all other princely states. Pakistan invaded and illegally occupied parts of the state. The government of Malaysia should bear in mind the friendly relations between the two countries and desist from making such remarks,” said Raveesh Kumar, the official spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

This came as a swift retort to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) speech. He remarked that India had “invaded and occupied Jammu and Kashmir.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also accused the international community of having “failed to pay enough attention” to the Kashmir issue. “In order for the Kashmiri people to look at a safe future together with their Pakistani and Indian neighbors, it is imperative to solve the problem through dialogue and on the basis of justice and equity, but not through collision,” he said during his address at the UNGA.

But New Delhi moved quickly beyond diplomatic protests to the Turkish president’s comments at the UN. A US$2.3-billion project to build a 45,000-ton fleet support ship was under discussion between the Turkish firm Anadolu Shipyard and India’s public sector firm Hindustan Shipyard Limited. India has now decided to call off the talks and take Anadolu Shipyard off the table. While it is not clear to what extent this will impact Anadolu’s order book, India has effectively closed off all future collaboration until Turkey reverses its stance.

“While the contract is yet to be signed, it is clear that Anadolu is no longer in the running as a partner for us,” a senior Indian government official confirmed to Asia Times. “The government is clear that Turkey’s remarks at the 74th UNGA was unacceptable and does not foster a better bilateral relationship. So starting major joint projects at this stage will be wholly unacceptable,” the official said.

Building strategic ties

While in New York, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also made a point of meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as a not-too-subtle message to President Erdogan. “It was the prime minister’s way of showing to the Turkish delegation that India can also play ball and take sides when it comes to international territorial disputes,” a senior Indian diplomat said.

Meanwhile, India is also contemplating reducing the number of flights from India by Turkish Airways, which carries a fairly large number of Indians to Turkish tourist hot spots like Istanbul. This is one of many options that New Delhi has kept on the table to send a message to Ankara that business will no longer be as usual.

India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval also dashed off to Saudi Arabia to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) soon after the UNGA. According to top Indian diplomatic sources, New Delhi is keen to exploit Saudi Arabia’s displeasure at the emergence of Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia as a possible new voice for the Islamic world. The leaders of the three nations had announced plans to create a new TV channel that represents the “voice” of the Islamic world globally.

“This has not gone down well with the Saudis,” the Indian diplomat said. “They were never happy with how Al Jazeera has been reporting on the region and they see the Turkey-Malaysia-Pakistan plan as a challenge to their influence within the Islamic world. Clearly, this creates an opportunity for New Delhi and Riyadh to work together on matters of mutual interest.”

Pakistani newspapers also reported earlier this week that the Saudis recalled a private jet it had loaned to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for his trip to the US to address the UNGA. Khan had to return home on a commercial flight. It was reported that MBS was upset with Pakistan’s efforts to build a coalition of sorts with Malaysia and Turkey.

Meanwhile, Malaysia, which has also been harboring a radical Indian Islamic preacher, Zakir Naik, who faces terrorism-related charges in his home country, is increasingly seen as “hostile” to India’s strategic ambitions. Trade continues to be on an even keel between the two, and India has attracted investment from its major airline, Air Asia, in the past. However, if New Delhi chooses to maintain a tougher stance on planned Malaysian business ventures, things could get ugly very quickly.

“Right now, we are only examining what can be done if Malaysia is not sensitive to India’s sensitivities,” the Indian diplomat said. “But the Malaysian government must understand that this kind of hostility towards India’s issues will take all bets off the table and see a downside for the bilateral relationship.”

Also read: Kashmir: 9-year-old among 144 minors detained

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