Fabian Blog
August 27th, 2016

The Attempted Coup in Turkey: What Next?

To the relief of most Turks and of most of the global community, the military coup attempt in Turkey failed miserably. But the coup attempt itself and subsequent events in Turkey raise a number of questions that are of concern to Turks and the well-wishers of that geopolitically important country. While the elected government of President Erdogan deserved to survive, it does not follow that, in that process, democracy in Turkey got strengthened. If the coup had succeeded, Turkey would have entered an unchartered and perilous territory. It now appears that Turkey is being led by Erdogan in a direction that is dangerous for the country.

To briefly recall the events in chronological order: When the coup started with rebel military units taking control over the Bosporus Bridge linking Asia and Europe at 10:29 p.m. local time on Friday, 15 July 2016, President Erdogan was holidaying in the beach resort of Mirmaris. The rebels took control of some airports and traffic hubs, bombed the parliament and deployed tanks in front of the palace of the President in Ankara. The rebels got the state television to read out their statement by 11:25 p.m., in which they claimed that they had taken over power and advised the people to remain indoors. Only a few minutes later, it became known that the army chief was under detention. By 11:47 p.m., Erdogan whose whereabouts was unknown, availed of his smart phone to address the people through private TV channels. He told the people that he was in charge and exhorted them to come out into the street and defy the ban imposed by the rebels. The mosques too got active and the faithful were told to be on the street to confront the tanks of the rebels. Hundreds responded, the rebels got cold feet, and many of them were beaten up by the enraged citizens. By 03:20 a.m., Erdogan’s business jet landed at Istanbul airport which had been secured by his supporters. By 04:00 a.m., Erdogan addressed the nation on television. By 06:39 a.m., he addressed a large crowd on the street. And by 06:49 a.m., the rebels guarding the Bosporus Bridge surrendered themselves to the police and the people, marking the collapse of the coup. In short, the coup started to collapse when Erdogan talked to the people through his smart phone and the collapse was completed in practical terms when the rebels surrendered at the Bosporus.

The coup failed for a number of reasons, the most important being Erdogan’s resilience and ability to think out of the box. In 2013, when he was weathering a political storm arising from allegations of corruptions against ministers and officials close to him, Erdogan had spoken of his contempt and hatred for the social media and had threatened to close down twitter. If the coup leaders had put down the internet, Erdogan would not have been able to tell the public that he was safe and that they should come out into the street and confront the rebels. By the same reasoning, if the rebels had shut down the private television channels, Erdogan would not have addressed the public from Istanbul airport. In short, if the rebels had acted smartly, the course of history might have been different. It does not follow, however, that even if the rebels had taken physical control of Erdogan, they would have succeeded in taking control of Turkey.

In all this, there is one matter that is rather intriguing. Reuters has reported that two F16 jets surrounded the business jet of Erdogan and that they could have destroyed the president’s aircraft. We do not know the facts, but it is possible that the report originating from Turkish sources was a ‘spin’ to suggest that Erdogan was under divine protection.

Scholars have listed a few other reasons for the failure of the coup: lack of support from the military as a whole; lack of public support; the facelessness of the coup with no known leader projected; and the lack of preparation. All the listed reasons make sense, but the essential fact is that a charismatic Erdogan acted infinitely smarter than the rather clumsy coup leaders.

We still do not know what motivated and who inspired the coup. The only statement we have is the one read out on state television, which claimed that the Turkish Armed Forces “have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and general security that was damaged.” Further, a curfew, martial law and the preparation for a new constitution were announced. The rebels also claimed in the statement that they had established a Peace Council at Home, a clear invocation of Ataturk who declared in 1931 ‘Yurtta sulh, cihanda sulh’ (Peace at Home and Peace in the World), a declaration that guided Turkey’s foreign policy during his rule. Obviously, through his interference in Syria and other actions, Erdogan had departed from the policy of Ataturk. However, we do not know whether the invocation of Ataturk was more for propaganda than for anything else.

There is another possible explanation for the timing of the coup. After the coup collapsed, Erdogan had said that it was a gift from God giving him an opportunity to ‘cleanse’ the system of the ‘cancer’ that was spreading. On 16 July, the day the coup collapsed, as many as 2745 judges were sacked. The arrest and sacking of suspected persons has been proceeding briskly. By 19 July, more than 15,000 education staff have been suspended; more than 1500 university deans have been asked to resign; 6,000 military personnel have been arrested, with more than two dozen generals awaiting trial; 9,000 police officers have been sacked; 3,000 judges have been sacked; 24 radio and television channels have been de-licensed; 250 people in the Prime Minister’s Office have been sacked; and Col. Ali Yazici in the President’s office has been sacked. The final tally, as on 20 July, is 50,000 people sacked, suspended, or arrested. This number may increase further with time.

Obviously, it follows that the government has been preparing for a while a list of persons to be sacked. That list included many names in the military. It has been reported that there was a rumour that the purge in the military was to start by 16 July. The question is whether some officers who feared being sacked decided to pre-empt their sacking by resorting to a coup? We have to await more facts before coming to any definite conclusion.

Erdogan has blamed Fehtullah Gulen, living in self-chosen exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, as the instigator of the coup. Even when the coup was on and it was far from certain that it was going to collapse, Erdogan’s followers had accused Gulen. In fact, one minister even said that the US was behind the coup.

Erdogan and Gulen were strongly knit allies for many years until 2013 when a corruption scandal erupted and Gulen’s followers in the judicial system and the police conducted investigations on ministers and officials close to Erdogan. 52 individuals including family members of cabinet ministers were questioned. 14 were accused of bribery, corruption, fraud, money laundering, and gold smuggling. Many among the suspects are close friends of Bilal, Erdogan’s son. In March 2016, Bilal, who was doing a PhD at Johns Hopkins at Bologna (Italy), abandoned his studies as Italian prosecutors started investigating him following a case brought Murat Hakan Huzan, a Turkish businessman opposed to Erdogan. In February 2014, Turkey was stunned by an audio recording posted on YouTube in which Erdogan tells his son Bilal to get rid of tens of millions of dollars as investigators might come to his house. Erdogan denounced the recording as a “vile montage”. Obviously, it is rather simplistic to say that Erdogan and Gulen fell out because of the latter’s followers levelling corruption charges against persons close to Erdogan. The more pertinent question is why did Gulen’s followers do what they did? We do not have the answer as yet. The fall out might have started earlier.

Erdogan has spoken to Obama asking for the extradition of Gulen. Erdogan’s argument is that he has been agreeing to extradition requests from the US without insisting on evidence. Turkey has sent a dossier on Gulen to the US. We do not know the contents thereof. The official US position is that any demand will be dealt with on merit. On the whole, it would appear that some of Gulen’s followers were involved in the coup, but it does not follow that Gulen asked them to do it.

Another matter that has come up is the question of death penalty. In 2004, when the Kurdish leader Ocalan, kidnapped from Kenya by the CIA and its Turkish counterpart, was sentenced to death, Turkey was told by the European Union that a state that had the death penalty on its statute would not be admitted. Erdogan yielded and Turkey abolished the death penalty. Erdogan has signalled that he wants to restore the penalty. “Why should,” he asks, “the state feed these traitors till they die?” EU has repeated its warning about the death penalty. It seems likely that Erdogan has calculated, not incorrectly, that Turkey has no chance of getting into the EU even without the death penalty on its statute.

Will there be any changes in Turkey’s foreign policy after the failed coup? It seems unlikely. But the crackdown on dissent has already placed some strains on Turkey’s relations with the EU and US. Though the West has traditionally managed to keep cordial relations with autocrats in the third world, it will be increasingly difficult to do so with one in Europe.

There is also the danger that Gulen’s followers who have not resorted to violence so far might change their mind in the face of persecution and given Erdogan’s preference for suppression we do not know what might be in store for Turkey.

The Turkish lira fell by five per cent against US Dollar on the day after the coup but has recovered slightly. Moody’s has started scrutinising the credit status of the country. There is no reason to disagree that the failed coup and Erdogan’s subsequent actions have been bad news for the Turkish economy in general, especially in terms of foreign investment and tourism. The education system might need some time to recover after such a heavy haemorrhage.

In 1887, Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Unless Erdogan does some course correction soon, he might be preparing the ground for a better prepared coup sooner or later.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

July 21st,2016   category: Uncategorized   | tags: , , , |    No Comments

The Chilcot Report on Blair and the War on Iraq

Sir John Chilcot

Sir John Chilcot. Image credit: hangthebankers.com

Sir John Chilcot has finally come out with his 2.6 million-word report that was actually due in 2010. It will take a person seven days to read the report in full, if read non-stop. In terms of length, the report is three times the size of the complete works of Shakespeare. We might assume that none outside the Chilcot Inquiry might have read it in full so far since its publication on July 7. Perhaps, none in the Inquiry Committee too – four others in addition to Chilcot, including Baroness Prashar of Indian origin – might have read the report in full. The hard copy costs Pound Sterling 767 and we do not know whether the families of the 200 British citizens killed in the war might get a copy gratis.

Let us see what British democracy has done after coming across enough evidence, before and after the 2003 war, that Prime Minister Blair had unnecessarily, unwisely, and immorally taken the nation into a war, which almost destroyed Iraq and begat the deadliest terrorist organization known as the Islamic State, especially when Iraq had posed no threat to the United Kingdom.

The BBC carried a report by Andrew Gilligan in July 2003 to the effect that the Prime Minister’s office had ‘knowingly embellished’ a dossier on Iraq’s military capabilities. The report was based on a conversation with Dr. David Kelly, a scientist and an authority on biological weapons working for the government. The BBC did not reveal the name of the scientist, but the government deliberately leaked it out. The government denied the veracity of the report and Kelly was questioned aggressively by a House of Commons Committee, which summoned him to appear before it on 15 July 2003. Kelly was subsequently found dead on the 17th.

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Beyond the border - India China Boundary Issues

India China Boundry Issues - Book by Ranjait Singh

India China Boundry Issues - Book by Ranjait Singh Kalha


The personal and professional experience of Ranjit Singh Kalha, who has dealt with China for over 12 years, makes his book refreshingly different from many others on the boundary issue

ALTHOUGH there are many books on the complex issue of the unsettled boundary between India and China, Ambassador Ranjit Singh Kalha’s book is a welcome addition. Broadly, there are two schools of thought among scholars studying China. The first one worships China with such devotion that we need to coin a new word, sinolatry, along the lines of idolatry, to describe it. Examples of two books in this school readily come to mind. One is When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World Order and the Birth of a New Global Order by Martin Jacques, which came out in 2009. The other is Eclipse: Living under China’s Economic Dominance by Arvind Subramanian, who was recently appointed Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India.

The second school, much less prolific and much less influential, propagates a sort of sinophobia, basically a mixture of hatred and fear of China. Kalha, neither sinolatrous nor sinophobic, is sober and scientific, and he writes with remarkable lucidity.

Kalha’s compulsory foreign language when he joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1965 was Chinese. In 1972, he was posted to China. He went to China via Hong Kong, and on the train in the mainland he asked for bacon as breakfast was being served. He was refused because some official had decided that the passenger was a Muslim and hence should not be served bacon.

Kalha’s showing his passport and declaring his Sikh identity did not change the decision. It is the personal and professional experience of the author, who has dealt with China for over 12 years, including three years of boundary negotiations, that makes this book refreshingly different from others.

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January 10th,2015   category: Book Reviews, Books |    No Comments

The Middle Path

jawaharlal-nehru-addressing-non-aligned-summit-conference


Nehru’s pragmatic diplomacy gave a newly independent India a stature in world affairs much above its economic and military power and guided it deftly in a world being polarised by the Cold War

THE PEOPLE OF INDIA HAVE GOOD reason to be upset about the manner in which the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of Jawaharlal Nehru have begun, marked as they were by petty partisanship and unseemly attempts at settling of scores. Most people would have expected the political leadership to rise above inter-party differences and to unite and celebrate in a mature manner an anniversary of such national importance. Sixty-five per cent of Indians are under 35 years of age and for them it might have been rather puzzling that their elders should find it difficult to behave in a mature manner on an occasion like this.

A good part of the electronic media, with their debates where often more than one person speaks, or rather, the persons involved shout at each other with the anchor not able to enforce minimum courtesy levels, has only enhanced confusion in the minds of the viewers. Nehru, if he were to come back today, would have been appalled at the level of discourtesy displayed in such debates. He had a quick temper, but he was always courteous. Perhaps the debaters and anchors can consider paying a tribute to Nehru by taking a pledge to be courteous to each other from now onwards as their contribution to the ongoing celebration.

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December 20th,2014   category: International Affairs : Articles, Politics |    No Comments

Genocide in Gaza and Israel’s tunnel vision – analysis

Gaza school shellingHumanity heaved a sigh of huge relief when UN and US together announced that both Israel and the Hamas had agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire starting from 8 a.m. local time on Friday Aug 1 and that the negotiations between the two sides mediated by Egypt would begin in Cairo the same day. Alas, the relief was short-lived, only 90 minutes. The Israeli airstrike on Sunday (Aug 3) on a UN-run school only confirms the fragility of hope.

The Western media true to its tradition of biased reporting basically said that both sides were accusing each other to be the first to break the ceasefire. This assessment does not tally with what Israel’s military spokesperson Peter Lerner has told the media. According to him, around 9.30 a.m. a small number of Israeli soldiers, possibly three, inspecting a tunnel in the Rafah area were attacked by Hamas militants coming out of the tunnel. One of them had a vest with explosives; he killed himself and two Israeli soldiers; the third Israeli soldier, Hadar Goldin, 23, was missing.

It is important to analyze what has happened and why. Did the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) expect the Hamas fighters to surrender meekly once they were spotted? Did the fighters know that there was a ceasefire? The most important question is: How did any one expect the ceasefire to last when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had made it clear that the operation of locating and destroying tunnels would go ahead despite the ceasefire? In other words, was it a ceasefire? It follows that the ceasefire promoters did not think through the implications of Netanyahu’s caveat about the tunnels. Read the rest of this entry »

August 11th,2014   category: International Affairs : Articles |    No Comments

Israeli impunity and global helplessness

gaza-011-1It is difficult, almost impossible, to envisage an early negotiated ceasefire to put an end to the unconscionable carnage in Gaza. US Secretary of State John Kerry has been working hard, but with his hands tied. President Barack Obama has spoken more than once to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the need for a ceasefire, but always deferentially.

In his public statements, President Obama starts with an endorsement of Israel’s right to self-defence in a manner implying that Israel alone has that right, and not the Palestinians. The US gives enormous support to Israel, financially, militarily and diplomatically. One might have expected that such support would enable the US to have some influence on Israel. But, the truth is that the more the US gives, the more Israel’s clout to influence US policy, and the less the US’s influence over Israeli policy.

Students of international relations cannot find another instance of such an asymmetrical relationship between the recipient and the giver. Hence, the principal cause of the delay in arranging for a ceasefire to be followed by negotiations is the lack of leverage of the US vis-à-vis Israel. Read the rest of this entry »

July 28th,2014   category: International Affairs : Articles |    No Comments

Can Iraq’s disintegration be prevented?

iraq-sunni-sia-kurd-statesAt present (July 2, 2014), it is difficult to see how the ongoing implosion of Iraq can be stalled and reversed. The world  started taking note of ISIL and its leader Abu Bakri al-Baghdadi, 43, who has been declared as ‘caliph’ of an  ‘Islamic State’  claiming sovereignty over a stretch of territory from Aleppo in north western Syria to Diyala in north eastern Iraq only when Mosul fell on June 20th. But, his forces had taken over Raqqa in Syria March 2013; and Falluja in Iraq in January 2014.

ISIL, a breakaway group from Al Queida in Iraq, is basically a part of the Sunni Resistance to the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq. US had made unsuccessful, half-hearted, and not always judicious attempts to build an Iraq that could accommodate the three groups there, namely, Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds. But, Prime Minister Maliki, who got his office in 2006 thanks to support from US and Iran carried out a policy of alienating the Sunnis and the Kurds. His reckless partisan policies created the conditions for the emergence of a formation called Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) to grow and derive support from the Sunni population.

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July 2nd,2014   category: International Affairs : Articles |    No Comments

V. K. Krishna Menon Memorial Lecture 2014

krishna_menon14It is indeed a high honor and privilege to be addressing this august audience assembled here to pay homage to Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon whose life and work reminds one of Thomas Carlyle’s dictums:

NO GREAT MAN LIVES IN VAIN…HISTORY OF THE WORLD IS BUT THE BIOGRAPHY OF GREAT MEN.

When Krishna Menon started speaking for India on the world stage, the establishment in the West started a cottage industry of demonizing him.

Some in India obediently joined the demonizing game.

Why did US want to demonize him?

Because, he was seen as ‘dangerously persuasive’

That is what the CIA told MI5.

The MI5 once seriously considered assassinating Krishna Menon when he was High Commissioner in London. Fortunately, the Agency reconsidered the matter.

This is revealed in the book Defence of the Realm, written by Professor Christopher Andrew of the Cambridge University, published in 2009. He was commissioned to write a history of MI5 at the time of its centennial. MI5 was set up in 1909.

Our IB (Intelligence Bureau) was established in 1887.  Did any one think of publishing its history in 1987?

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June 30th,2014   category: Speeches, Uncategorized |    No Comments

Chess Game over Crimea

Crimea Russia Ukraine Map

Crimea Russia Ukraine Map

Russia has won the chess game. President Putin played well. The other side consisting of the fledgling government in Kiev, President Obama, and the European Union could have played a better game. There was a significant failure on the part of Obama, his advisers such as Ambassador Samantha Power, the European Union, and the rest of the West in understanding the ground realities and grasping the big picture. For example, Obama and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seem to have believed that Russia was not serious about annexing Crimea and that by threatening dire consequences Putin could be made to change his course.

Part of the reason for West’s failure lies in their habit of ignoring history. The Russian Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol was established by Prince Potemkin in 1783. This is the only warm water base that Russia has. The 1997 treaty between Russia and Ukraine divided the fleet between them, 81.7% for Russia and 18.3% for Ukraine; Russia was given the right to use the port of Sevastopol for 20 years. In 2009, Ukraine sent out signals that the treaty would not be extended when it expires in 2017. Finally, an agreement was made in 2010 to extend the treaty by 25 years in 2017 with a provision for an additional 5 years taking it to 2047. Read the rest of this entry »

March 20th,2014   category: Uncategorized |    No Comments

Italy Erred in Dealing with Marines Case

“Masters of the art of diplomacy have failed to tackle the Indo-Italian imbroglio, emerging out of the killing of two fishermen of Kerala, in a mature way,” K P Fabian, former Indian Ambassador to Italy and the diplomat-in-residence of KPS Menon Chair for Diplomatic Studies, School of International Relations and Politics (SIRP) at Mahatma Gandhi University has said.

“Masters of the art of diplomacy have failed to tackle the Indo-Italian imbroglio, emerging out of the killing of two fishermen of Kerala, in a mature way,” K P Fabian, former Indian Ambassador to Italy and the diplomat-in-residence of KPS Menon Chair for Diplomatic Studies, School of International Relations and Politics (SIRP) at Mahatma Gandhi University has said.

He was delivering a special lecture on ‘Indo-Italian Imbroglio’ at the KPS Menon Chair here on Wednesday. Ambassador Fabian said the Italian government has erred in dealing with the marines case right from the day of the incident.
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March 6th,2014   category: Uncategorized |    No Comments

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Posts

July 21st, 2016

The Attempted Coup in Turkey: What Next?


July 12th, 2016

The Chilcot Report on Blair and the War on Iraq


January 10th, 2015

Beyond the border - India China Boundary Issues


December 20th, 2014

The Middle Path


August 11th, 2014

Genocide in Gaza and Israel’s tunnel vision – analysis


July 28th, 2014

Israeli impunity and global helplessness


July 2nd, 2014

Can Iraq’s disintegration be prevented?


June 30th, 2014

V. K. Krishna Menon Memorial Lecture 2014


March 20th, 2014

Chess Game over Crimea


March 6th, 2014

Italy Erred in Dealing with Marines Case


February 20th, 2014

Where is Egypt going?


September 12th, 2013

Book Review: AN UNCERTAIN GLORY


August 15th, 2013

Book Review: INDIA’S FOREIGN POLICY


July 21st, 2013

Book Review: SAMUDRA MANTHAN


May 5th, 2013

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July 30th, 2012

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March 18th, 2012

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