By Shantanu Mukharji
March 17, 2017
Ever since Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan survived the July 2016 coup attempt, he appears to have lost his sense
of diplomacy, his statecraft and arguably even his mental equilibrium. This is
visible in ample measure in the insecure President’s body language and rhetoric
in the wake of a diplomatic row snowballing into a major crisis before the
referendum he is seeking from the Turks, both within and outside Turkey, for
unbridled and sweeping powers to strengthen his Presidency. This also displays how
desperate Erdogan is to derive more power.
Against this backdrop, the Netherlands
refused (and perhaps rightly so) permission to Turkish foreign minister Mevlut
Cavusoglo who was on his way to the European country to canvas for Erdogan
ahead of the referendum. Erdogan, with his huge ego, couldn’t swallow the
denial of entry to his foreign minister.
His impulsive anti-Netherlands remarks were unsavoury, intimidatory and
fell well short of diplomatic niceties.
Matters got complicated when the Turkish
minister Fatima Betul Kaya, who arrived at Rotterdam via land from Germany,
insisted on holding a rally in the port city. The Dutch, acting as any
sovereign state, did not allow a rally to be held leading to huge protests by
the local Turks which also saw use of force and violence. Finally, Minister
Fatima was escorted out of the Netherlands by land further infuriating the
Turkish president. Erdogan labelled the Dutch as Nazis, vowed punitive action
and threatened to teach them a lesson. Such undiplomatic remarks, punctuated
with aggression and belligerence, speak of a head of state who is in a hurry to
consolidate power and is not sure how to handle a smaller country like the
The Netherlands has 400,000 Turks holding
dual nationality and eligible to take part in the referendum. They look
confused and sadly such acts of immaturity and tactlessness have put them into
a state of dilemma. They hitherto thought of the Netherlands as their home. The
latest imbroglio has upset them and they may start nurturing anti-Dutch
sentiments causing unpleasant problems. Dutch society now stands threatened
with a division on religious lines - Islam vs the rest.
This is dangerous as Erdogan is tainted
with his excesses on the Kurds and his leaning towards Islamic fundamentalism.
He perhaps thinks he has nothing to lose if Dutch society is Islamised. The
Netherlands already has a vocal and active politician Geert Wilders who is
pressurizing Prime Minister Mark Rutte to act against Islamic activists to
clear the country of extremism and terror.
He cites instances of Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans causing
terror-linked problems in Belgium and France.
The Netherlands too has refugees from
Syria. Dutch intelligence is keeping a hawkish eye on them lest some of them align
with other Islamic forces (now possibly Turkey included) to spark terror. The
fresh Turko-Dutch tension is a bad sign and needs urgent redressal to calm down
communal forces, ready to light fires and split the society. Possibly the new
UN Secretary General and diplomats of the European Union ( EU) must brainstorm
sooner rather than later. This is a moment to act and not react. In the
meantime, the Dutch ambassador to Ankara, who is out on an assignment has been
told by the Turks not to return. Anti-Dutch statements continue to flow
incessantly. In a very recent statement Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim
has threatened the Netherlands that his country would respond in the harshest
ways for this ‘unacceptable’ behaviour. Such fiery rhetoric may push things to
a point of no return. This is all the more reason for restraint and a
statesmanlike approach. Already ties between European nations and Turkey have
been impacted. The first step for calming down passions and angst needs to be
taken by Erdogan.
Erdogan must also remember that he has few
friends on this planet. Putin is his newest ally yet he should not expect that
Russia will get involved on this issue. Pakistan, another amongst the few ‘friends’ of Turkey, has been muted in its response. In the present
day, the last thing a sovereign country can afford is to remain in isolation.
Erdogan should be wise enough to refrain from falling into this situation.
Shantanu Mukharji is a security analyst and columnist on matters of
security. He is also the Senior Fellow with the India Police Foundation.