OPED By Aparna Rawal
Azerbaijan perpetuated its firm, supportive position in favor of Pakistan on its Kashmir narrative, as stated by the outgoing Azeri Ambassador to India, Ashraf Shikaliyev, in an interview.
Azerbaijan has maintained an amicable relationship with Pakistan, a policy in line with the the country’s affinity for a stance similar to its Turkish brother. Turkey has consistently maintained its cordial relations with Pakistan.
Most analysts would attribute this attitude to Erdogan’s growing aspirations to execute more clout in the South Asian region, directly or indirectly through its friend, Pakistan. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has staunchly maintained that Turkey would continue to extend its aid to Pakistan’s socio-economic development.
Since Erdogan visited Pakistan in 2020, he has pledged his country’s support to Islamabad over Kashmir.
Earlier in January 2023, a Turkish private military company called SADAT, also known as Erdogan’s private army, reportedly declared to send mercenaries to Kashmir to fight against the Indian Military.
Also, Pakistan’s unwavering support to Turkey regarding the Cypriot matter, has gained several brownie points with Ankara.
In 2021, Pakistani President Arif Alvi pledged solidarity with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
That year, Turkey and the TRNC tried to garner support for an independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which was quickly acknowledged by both Azerbaijan and Pakistan.
Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Pakistani parliament speakers accepted the Baku Declaration at a ceremony in the Azeri parliament. The goal of such a declaration was to strengthen ties and cooperation between the three countries.
Following such an initiative, Pakistan, remaining in cohorts with the Turkish agenda, also showed support to Azerbaijan regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Similar to Turkey and Azerbaijan, Pakistan has refused to acknowledge Armenia as a sovereign state.
With the existing tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, there is also a more remarkable development and the involvement of both nations seen on the Nagorno-Karabakh front.
There have been reports of Pakistan and Azerbaijan conducting joint exercises since 2016 and maintaining extensive strategic security contacts. There is also a strong likelihood of Islamabad selling Pakistani and Chinese-designed JF-17 fighter jets to Azerbaijan.
India, on the other hand, has maintained friendly relations with Armenia. In 2022, both nations tried to explore the potential of military cooperation.
With Pakistan supporting Azerbaijan, it is by default expected of India to support Armenia to balance Pakistan’s influence in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Earlier in 2020, it was reported that the Indian government and private defense contractors had successfully sold various weapon systems, such as weapons tracking radar systems, multi-barrel rocket launchers, and ammunition to Armenia.
Media reports suggested that Armenia was keen on purchasing loitering munitions and drones from India as well.
In 1995, India and Armenia signed a Friendship and Cooperation Treaty. This was followed by the signing of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement in 2019, which facilitated further cooperation in trade, investment, defense, and culture.
India ramped up its support to Armenia in 2022. It supplied Armenia with arms and ammunition worth $250 million. This included ePinaka Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL), anti-tank missiles, rockets, and ammunition. India has also signed a deal with Armenia to supply Akash air defense missiles to the country.
With India becoming an arms supplier to Armenia, it helps fill the vacuum created by the downsizing of Russian arms and strategic influence due to its war in Ukraine. Previously, in 2020, India had also exported a $43 million order of four Swathi weapon-locating radars to Armenia.
In 2022, the Armenian Minister of Defense, Suren Papikyan, met his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh, during the Defence Expo 2022. Earlier this year, the Armenian government announced it was posting a military attaché to its embassy in New Delhi to build a stronger bilateral military cooperation with India.
On September 23, Armenia appointed a new Ambassador to India despite the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenian concern for purchasing Iranian weapons due to the sanctions and the West’s position against Iran was also ameliorated as Iran initiated the transit of weapons from India to Iran.
These developments were not received well by the Azeris, as they tried to admonish India by asking the Indian government to “reconsider selling and weaponizing Armenia.”
Armenia, too, has expressed its support towards India regarding Kashmir. This stance openly set the stage for the strengthening and restructuring of alliances among the three Islamic nations of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan, with Armenia and India in the opposition.
In January 2021, foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan met in Islamabad to issue a joint declaration that addressed several issues. In the statement, the three nations also outlined concern over “human rights violations in and efforts to change the demographic structure of Jammu and Kashmir.”
The same year, the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan conducted their first joint military drills, known as “Three Brothers – 2021,” in Baku.
It is evident, since Pakistan’s assistance to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, that Azerbaijan appears to be trying, in an act of gratitude and reciprocity, to facilitate the Pakistani stance on the issue of Kashmir.
This stems from the trilateral military alliance, which also involves Turkey, credited with strategizing Azerbaijan’s military victory. It is clear that for the triad of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan, the subsequent military objective spells Kashmir.
Despite the ongoing developments, the Indian Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC)/ ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL)has also invested in an oilfield project in Azerbaijan, and GAIL (India) is exploring the prospects for cooperation in LNG.
Azerbaijan is a part of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) route. The route joins India with Russia through Central Asia and can also connect India with Turkey and from the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars passenger and freight rail link.
India’s strategic approach in the Mediterranean region comes from its interest in increasing its energy security, which can be sustained through the region’s profuse supply of oil and gas.
Additionally, India looks forward to magnifying its regional trade and investment. This also acts as a countermeasure against China’s growing regional influence.
India’s ambitions to tap into the region with a strong alliance with Armenia, Greece, and Iran raises several red flags for Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan, who are also cooperating to counter the Indian influence in the Middle Eastern and Central Asian region.
The region of the South Caucasus becomes a crucial area for India to construct a transportation corridor, the International North-South Transportation Corridor, or INSTC.
This area would act as a junction to link Europe through the Iranian plateau. The planned Rail link by India would pass from North Western Iran through the Southern Caucasus to Russia or the Black Sea.
In this case, India and Iran could either build the link via Armenia’s Southern Syunik Province or the other via the Caspian coast through Azerbaijan.
INSTC provides an excellent advantage for India as it circulates Pakistan, accessing different routes to Europe and Central Asia, which remain blocked. The second beneficial factor also lies in building a closer relationship with Iran.
This move could also assist in countering the growing relationship between Iran and China and their Belt Road Initiative (BRI) in the region.
In January 2023, at the Voice of the South Virtual Summit, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan mentioned that Armenia is interested in “advancing cooperation within the framework of North-South connectivity, as well as the Persian Gulf-Black Sea international transport corridor.”
He further stated, “Armenia considers India’s potential and prospective role for these projects quite significant.”
With the growing relationship between India, Armenia, and Iran, it is expected that miffed Turkey, along with its cronies, will most likely try to entangle India in Pakistan-supplied false narratives on Kashmir to acquire a negative perception of India globally and also to hinder the capacity with which India aspires to take on its ventures in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Central Asia.
Pakistan struggles politically and economically while also failing to meet the requirements of the Universal Periodic Report on Human Rights in its homeland. However, it continues to point fingers at one of the world’s largest democracies, India, by raking up the false narratives on Kashmir at the United Nations.
As a result, nations such as Turkey and Azerbaijan, who are aligned with Pakistan, also back the latter as a form of reciprocity while diminishing their ties with India.
Turkey has consistently brought up the Kashmir matter at the UNGA, to which India has asked the country to refrain from interfering in its internal affairs. However, Pakistan’s determination to wage Gazwa-i-Hind and Turkey’s wishes to utilize Pakistan for its gains in South Asia will hardly deter the two from interfering in the Indian matter.
As for Azerbaijan, it acts as a proxy nation for Turkey due to the cultural similarities between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Heydar Aliyev, too, about the Turkish-Azeri relation, referred to the region of Azerbaijan as a part of “one nation” with “two states.”
- Aparna Rawal is an Indian research analyst specializing in the Af/Pak region and counter-terrorism. VIEWS PERSONAL.
- The author can be reached at aparnarawal (at) gmail.com