Turkey And India In Centralasia Convergence Of Interest And Scope For Cooperation

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Associate Professor Aswini K. MOHAPATRA Jawaharlal Nehru University, India ...

With the end bipolar international system, regional powers have not mere­ly experienced an extension of their influence within their respective areas, but also scope for enhanced engagement between them. After years of mutual exclusion, India and Turkey, the two ambitions regional middle powers have, for instance, made remarkable headway in their efforts to forge close ties founded on shared values like democracy and secularism. Nowhere has it been more glaring than in the recent spurt in economic interaction, raising Indo-Turkish relationship to a qualitatively new level. As compared to the earlier decades marked by the absence of the ubiquitous Indian trader in the bustling city in Istanbul, more than 60 Indian companies have today registered business in Turkey either in the form of joint ventures of trade or establishing trading offices. Thanks to the resumption of direct air links in 2003, the number of Indian companies investing in Turkey has grown rapidly as is the bilateral trade, which has increased over 300 per cent in the past five years. In absolute numbers, the total trade volume was up from $ 800 million in 2002 to over $ 3 billion in 2008. With the free trade agreement (FTA) between the two coun­tries in an advanced stage of negotiations, the trade is certainly set to boom.

Major projects undertaken by the Indian companies in Turkey include the railway construction by the Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON), consultancy services by the National Building Construction Cooperation (NBCC) for the Marmara Engineering Emergency Reconstruction Project for the earthquake affected areas, construction of a segment of the Baku- Ceyhan pipeline by the Punj Lloyd in association with the Turkish construction com­pany LIMAK, and power transmission line by Kalpataru, Gujarat along with the Turkish company BARMEK. In July 2007, the Bangalore -based GMR

Infrastructure, a part of the three -member consortium, won the tender for construction of a new international passenger terminal at the Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul. Other sectors where Indian companies currently active in Turkey include automobile, information technology (IT) and last but not the least, energy sector. While the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) is partly con­structing the Samsun - Ceyhan pipeline, the ONGC Videsh LTD. (OVL), a subsidiary of Indian's leading Public Sector Petroleum Company is working with the Turkish Petroleum Cooperation (TPAO) in a Libyan exploration block. The IOC is reportedly trying to rope in foreign firms for building a refinery in Ceyhan as part of a joint venture with Turkish Çalık Energy at an estimated cost of $ 4.9 billion. Likewise, Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL), India's largest gas transmission and marketing company and BOTAŞ, Turkish public sector company dealing with gas and oil pipelines, have signed an MOU for cooperation in CNG conversion of vehicles in Turkey.

Topping them all is Turkey's recent offer to facilitate India's access to Central Asian oil via Israel through a combination of overland pipelines and supertankers. This is part of the multipurpose Mediterranean pipeline project Med stream and India was formally invited to join. Under the plan, oil trans­ported through Turkey's expensive pipeline infrastructure from Central Asia to Ceyhan port on its Mediterranean coast would be sent across by tankers to the Israeli port of Ashkelon. There it would be fed into Israel's Ashkelon -Eilat overland pipeline, and from Eliat port in the Gulf of Aqaba supertankers would carry oil to India over the high seas. Given the uncertainty surrounding the proposed Iran-Pakistan- India (IPI) pipeline and Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) project, Turkish offer is seen as a potentially viable alternative.

The recent growth in trade ties and economic cooperation together with the direct air- links has facilitated a level of interconnectedness between the two nations never experienced before. A steady movement of entrepreneurs and capital, goods and information, scholars, artists and tourists in addition to intergovernmental visits would help dispel mutual misgivings and mispercep-tions based on gross historical distortions. On the whole, though geographic ally apart, the two countries have successfully focused their diplomatic efforts on augmenting as well as diversifying contacts notwithstanding Turkey's spe­cial relations with Pakistan.

Apart from long-standing historical ties (from the early medieval period through Moghul rule and the different phases of the Turkish War of Independence, and shared values like democracy and secularism, some other factors that account for the recent upswing in bilateral relations between Turkey and India include the following

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