Last year, the issue of granting a passport to Ghalib Guru, son of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, was politicized by many leaders in Kashmir. The youngster, who hates being called a ‘proud Indian’, wanted to go abroad and study medicine. Not to the United States, not the United Kingdom, not even China, but to Turkey which had offered him a medical scholarship. The Turkish government led by Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan had for long been luring young Indian muslim students – from Kashmir to Kerala – and Guru was meant to be a high profile catch who could easily be converted into a posterboy instantly. Their brainwashing however doesn’t happen upon landing in Istanbul or Ankara, it begins much before the flight takes off. It’s just that once in Turkey, the nationality of handlers changes to Pakistanis.
The Indian security agencies are aware of the massive efforts being made by the Erdogan regime to radicalize Indian muslims by funding Kashmiri separatist leaders, non-government organizations, student exchange programmes and also agitations against Article 370 and the Citizenship Amendment Act. The youngsters are also being lured by Turkish drama series like Dirilis Ertugrul which promotes incidents of radicalism from the past and are said to be a part of Erdogan’s wider plan to revive the Ottoman Empire.
The International Humanitarian Relief Foundation, operating from one of the most conservative districts of Istanbul; the Turkiye Diyanet Foundation (TDF) which brings in hundreds of youngsters from several countries to Turkey every year by providing them scholarships; the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) which is quite active in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and is being run by Serdar Cam, a minister in Erdogan government and Turkey-Pakistan Cultural Association, headed by Lahore-educated Burhan Kayaturk, an influential leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, have all been on the radar of the Indian intelligence agencies for nefarious activities.
“It is the duty of every Pakistani citizen, student, in Turkey to explain to everyone about Kashmir,” said Kayaturk while addressing several youngsters in Ankara on February 5, earlier this year at a function organized to mark ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’. The gathering obviously had many Kashmiris too who had arrived in Turkey after receiving scholarships. Yes, the same kind of scholarship which had been offered to Ghalib Guru as well.
Turkey’s ‘scholarship’ in radicalization and religious fundamentalism is up for grabs for everyone, of course. There’s this interesting case of Ruwa Shah, who had worked with a few major Indian publications before becoming “a student of cinema and TV” in Turkey. Ruwa is daughter of Kashmiri separatist leader Altaf Ahmad Shah and grand-daughter of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the master of hardline ideology. Altaf Ahmad Shah was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in May 2017 in the alleged terror funding case and is currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
Now, besides studying ‘cinema and TV’ in Turkey, Ruwa writes about the ‘plight’ of the Kashmiris in Turkish and Middle East media, participates in Zoom talks with the pro-Palestine activists, telling them about the ‘reality’ of Kashmir and also delivers talks on freedom of speech in the Valley at Islamabad’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
A recent report has revealed how the Turkish agencies, besides expanding their tentacles in India, are also hiring Pakistani radicals to fuel anti-India agenda from their bases in Ankara and Turkey. This includes hiring fundamentalist Pakistani journalists in state-run media and other organizations.
This isn’t the Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had dreamed of while founding the republic, almost 100 years ago after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Those who stand up against dictator Erdogan either end up in prisons or have to leave Turkey, just like Islamic scholar and religious leader Fethullah Gulen, a Sufi theologian known reverentially as Hocaefendi (respected teacher) to his millions of followers, who continues to live in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. The shift from Sufi to Salafi ideology, from madrasas of the past which taught sacred laws and other Islamic subjects to the madrasas of today which produce extremists, Turkey has undergone a significant sea change under Erdogan’s rule.
Turkey’s agenda is no longer hidden, it never was. Just before the Covid-19 lockdown, Erdogan, a regular at the Pakistani Parliament, had addressed a joint session for a record fourth time and likened the “struggle” of the Kashmiris with that of his country in World War I against the foreign domination. “There is no difference between Gallipoli and Kashmir,” he had said while drawing comparison with the battle of Gallipoli between the Allied Powers and the Ottoman Empire.
The Turks also continue to, though always unsuccessfully, raise the ‘K’ word at the UN. They did it again Tuesday – at the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva – by asking India to ease the restrictions in Kashmir and were, like always, given a befitting reply by India.
“We call upon the Turkish leadership to not interfere in India’s internal affairs and develop proper understanding of the democratic practices,” replied Pawan Badhe, First secretary, Permanent mission of India in Geneva.
Expecting ‘proper understanding’ from Erdogan would be the height of optimism though. As former Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos had questioned Turkish President’s intelligence a few years ago by saying, “you cannot answer to a madman.”
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