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March 2, 2021 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 260

Kashmir – The Next Military Objective For Azerbaijan, Turkey, And Pakistan

March 2, 2021 | By Tufail Ahmad
Turkey, South Caucasus | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 260

After the Pakistani military helped Azerbaijan's armed forces defeat Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh War (September 27-November 10, 2020), it appears that Azerbaijan is seeking, in an act of reciprocity, to assist Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir. This reciprocity – growing out of the trilateral military alliance, also involving Turkey, that engineered Azerbaijan's military victory – is now driving these war partners to target Kashmir as their next military objective.[1] The Indian portion of Jammu & Kashmir – the former independent princely state divided between India and Pakistan since 1947 – has witnessed more than three decades of jihadi terrorism backed by the Pakistani military, especially its Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI).

On February 5, 2021, a day that Pakistan marks as Kashmir Solidarity Day, Pakistan's Urdu-language television channel Hum News telecast clips of young Azeris saying: "We have been observing... the violation of human rights of the Kashmiri people"; "as brothers of the Pakistani nation and as a nation who knows how it feels to have a part of your motherland occupied by enemies, [we] feel the pain and sorrows of all Kashmiris"; "on the Kashmir Solidarity Day we stand by our brothers; we would like to express our condolences to all the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for their motherland."[2] It's clear that young Azeris are beginning to view India as an enemy.

On February 5, the iconic Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, was illuminated in the colors of Pakistani flag – not a Kashmiri flag. This effectively means that the Azeri government has declared Jammu & Kashmir to be a part of Pakistan. This position adopted by the government of Azerbaijan is in contradiction with Pakistan's own official view that Jammu & Kashmir is an independent nation – a reason Pakistan, at least symbolically, calls its portion of the contested region as Azad Kashmir, or independent Kashmir.


On Kashmir Solidarity Day, the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku illuminated in the Pakistani flag

Jammu & Kashmir was a peaceful region, though it did have a Kashmiri nationalist movement. After the 1980s jihad in Afghanistan in which the Pakistan-backed mujahideen defeated and forced the Soviet troops to withdraw, the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which had trained, armed, and shepherded the mujahideen with American and Saudi aid against the Soviets, felt victorious and began to seed a similar jihadi movement in Jammu & Kashmir. In the 2000s, there are multiple jihadi organizations in Kashmir all of whom, except the Islamic State (ISIS), are backed by the ISI of the Pakistani military.[3]

Despite being fully aware of Pakistan's material support for jihadi organizations in Jammu & Kashmir, both Azerbaijan and Turkey – having tasted military victory in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War – view Kashmir as their next target. Not only has this trilateral military alliance created, for the first time, a direct multilateral threat to India, but it also appears that Pakistan is set to transfer its nuclear capabilities to Turkey.[4]

China's recent occupation of portions of Indian-controlled land in the Arunachal Pradesh and Galwan regions has added a new dimension to the situation. Now, it seems that an alliance involving Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and China is emerging as a real threat to India.[5] Former U.S. Ambassador Alberto M. Fernandez wrote recently: "China's relations with these states can be seen within the context of its aggressive efforts to project economic and political power throughout Eurasia and beyond. China offers these authoritarian partners a non-judgmental (so unlike the United States) relationship..."[6]

Azerbaijan's Ambassador To Pakistan Ali Alizada: "Kashmir Issue Waits Resolution For More Than Seven Decades; Pray For Kashmir"

Turkey and Azerbaijan, who have traditionally no dispute of any kind with India nor do they share territorial boundary with it, are united singularly by their objective to create an Islamic military power, which they experimented with in the Nagorno-Karabakh War.

The Twitter timeline of the Azeri ambassador to Pakistan Ali Alizada has begun showing support for the Kashmir issue. On February 7, Alizada shared a video clip on Twitter from Pakistan's Bol television channel which declared in Urdu: "On Kashmir Solidarity Day, Azerbaijan has become one voice with Pakistan."[7] On February 6, Alizada tweeted a clip of the Heydar Aliyev Center lit up in Pakistani flag's colors.[8] On February 5, the Azeri envoy tweeted: "Kashmir issue waits resolution for more than seven decades. Pray for Kashmir."[9] Around this occasion, the Pakistan embassy in Azerbaijan organized webinars on Kashmir issue.[10]

Kashmir has not been a subject on the agenda of the masses in Azerbaijan. It is around the Nagorno-Karabakh War that Azeris begin to imbibe it as an issue as part of a larger military-to-military relationship involving Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. On January 15, Alizada tweeted: "Azerbaijan and Pakistan are strategic partner countries and bilateral #military & #defence cooperation plays a special role in our relationship."[11] The tweet was in response to another tweet from the Pakistani ambassador in Baku, Bilal Hayee, saying he had met Azerbaijan's defense minister Col.-General Zakir Hasanov and greeted him on "the glorious victory" in the Nagorno-Karabakh War.[12]

It is possible that Azerbaijan and Pakistan agreed a quid pro quo in January 2020 – much before the Nagorno-Karabakh War – as per which Azerbaijan is expected to back Pakistan's position on Kashmir in lieu of Pakistan's military support in the war. At a meeting in Davos, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev discussed the Kashmir issue.[13] As per an official statement issued by Pakistan, "The prime minister appreciated Azerbaijan's valuable contributions including as member of the OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir and reiterated Pakistan's support for Azerbaijan on the issue of Nagorno (Upper) Karabakh."[14]


A YouTube channel declares: "Pakistan gets one more alliance on Kashmir"

In February 2021, about a year after the Davos meet, Leyla Abdullayeva, the spokesperson for Azerbaijan's foreign ministry in Baku, issued a statement to mark the Kashmir Solidarity Day. Expressing Azerbaijan's "firm and principled position" on Kashmir, she also noted: "I would like to underline that during the meeting with Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan in Davos on January 21, 2020, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev noted that Azerbaijan constantly supports Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir issue" – according to a report carried by the official Azerbaijan State News Agency.[15]

On Kashmir, Azerbaijan Is Driven By Islam, Not By International Law

In 2017, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev wrote an article titled "The Strengthening of Islamic Solidarity is a Challenge of Time" in which he observed that Baku has emerged as a "humanitarian Davos" by hosting annual events like the Intercultural Dialogue Forum and the International Humanitarian Forum.[16] He also expressed commitment to multiculturalism and peace. However, the entire article placed Islam, not his country's interests or international law, as the criterion of relations between nations. Aliyev noted Baku would host the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017 which was declared the Year of Islamic Solidarity.

The Azeri president made several observations: "Major goals of 'The Year of Islamic Solidarity' are to strengthen unity in the Muslim world"; "Elevation of our economic cooperation with Islamic countries to the level of our political relations is one of our primary goals"; "Azerbaijan spares no efforts to contribute to resolution of the ongoing conflicts in the Islamic world"; "We have to admit that today the Islamic world is facing serious challenges and numerous problems, which await solution."[17] And he added Kashmir: "The Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Palestine and Kashmir problems, conflicts in the Middle East states..."[18]

Kashmir's emergence as a subject in the Azeri popular consciousness comes at a turning point, though major Islamic issues appear to have been on President Aliyev's mind and, Azerbaijan being a small nation, may have not been noticed by the West to be a factor in international relations. The 2017 article reveals that Aliyev's ideological thinking is clearly on the Islamic religious line, which, when merged with the militant Islamism of Turkey's Tayyip Erdoğan and the Islamic nuclear power Pakistan's long-held dream of being the leader of the Islamic Ummah, came to demonstrate its usefulness in the Nagorno-Karabakh War of 2020.

Two months after the Nagorno-Karabakh War, Pakistan hosted on January 13, 2021, the second trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan. Meetings were also held separately between Pakistani leaders and visiting officials from Azerbaijan and Turkey. The News, a Pakistani daily, headlined the developments as: "Azerbaijan Assures Pakistan Of Support On Kashmir Issue."[19] Similar headlines had appeared when the Nagorno-Karabakh War was underway in October 2020, notably in The Nation, which titled a story: "Azerbaijan Supports Pakistan's Stance On Kashmir Dispute."[20]


Azerbaijan's Ombudsman Sabina Aliyeva addresses a Kashmir event in Baku

Amid this war, the Pakistan Embassy in Baku had organized an event on Kashmir where Azerbaijan's Commissioner for Human Rights Sabina Aliyeva also spoke. The title of the event was "Indian Troops' Brutalities in IIOJK [Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir] Constitute War Crimes." Sabina Aliyeva declared that she was "proud to stand with Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir" and "made a special mention of the killing of children by the Indian forces."[21]

It is not clear why Aliyeva and Azeri diplomats ignore the UN Security Council resolution on Jammu & Kashmir (No. S/RES/47 of 21 April 1948), which requires Pakistan – the original invader state in Kashmir – to vacate its portion of the territory first, to be followed by India reducing its troops as a second step, and a plebiscite to be held as a third step.[22] Since Pakistan has not vacated Azad Kashmir as a first step, the second and third steps do not follow.

However, these international legal issues are of no importance to Azerbaijan, Turkey, or Pakistan, since all three states seem to be guided solely by Islam. Since the late 1980s, the state of Pakistan has nurtured jihadi terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan's refusal to withdraw its troops from its part of Kashmir is not the only transgression of the UN Security Council's resolution. That particular resolution had also explicitly ordered Pakistan "to prevent any intrusion into the State [of Jammu & Kashmir] of such elements and any furnishing of material aid to those fighting in the State."[23] Pakistan continues to violate both these points, as well as not vacating Kashmir.

Pakistani YouTuber Maria Ali: "Very Soon, Pakistan, Turkey, China, Azerbaijan... Together Are Going To Start A Decisive Battle For The Liberation Of Kashmir"

In the months surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh War, there has been a flood of content – which appears to be backed by Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan – calling for Kashmir to be targeted by Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan. In mid-October 2020 when the Nagorno-Karabakh War had not yet ended, a YouTube channel declared the following in Urdu: "Kashmir's freedom is near. Tayyip Erdoğan's promise to take Azerbaijan's disputed land [Karabakh]...; the next battlefield will be arranged in Kashmir. Turkey has given the plan for liberating disputed the territories of Muslim countries..."[24]

In mid-January 2021, a YouTube channel noted that Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan have agreed on a "Kashmir issue solution plan."[25] On Pakistan's emergence as a major player in the trilateral military alliance, the channel's host Maria Ali commented: "The goddess of fate has blessed Pakistan in a way no one had ever thought of. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have come begging on their knees, have started sending messages to Pakistan: 'Do not leave us [for the Turkey-led alliance]; we are with you.' [Prime Minister Imran] Khan also stood his ground, saying: There will be no compromises in the name of Islam; now talks will be only on equal basis; nobody should blackmail us."[26] In recent years, Pakistan has felt disenchanted with its traditional ally Saudi Arabia for not supporting the Kashmir issue at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).


Pakistani YouTuber Maria Ali: Pakistan will become "Islam's military leader"

Observing that Pakistan was being pressured to recognize Israel, Maria Ali added: "Imran Khan had told Arab countries in clear words: nobody's father can get Pakistan to recognize Israel."[27] She observed: "Arab countries at this time are caught badly in Israel's trap. Saudi Arabia has carried out changes in textbooks; either most of the content against Jews has been removed or the strongness of words has been relatively toned down... This policy's objective is to promote moderation... The part according to which Jews by permutations and combinations control the world has been removed so that their wicked aspirations can be materialized. Similarly, a part [of the syllabi] was removed that said Muslims should be always ready for jihad and martyrdom. Jihad is the peak [of life] in the path of Allah, but it too was eliminated."[28]

Maria Ali argued that in the coming days Pakistan will become "Islam's military leader" and added: "The same war model that Turkey and Azerbaijan used in Nagorno-Karabakh has begun to be used for the independence of Kashmir now. The time has come for the Muslims to hold their heads high. Very soon, Pakistan, Turkey, China, Azerbaijan, and [presumably when the Taliban take over] Afghanistan together are going to start a decisive battle for the liberation of Kashmir. And we hope, Allah willing, that Pakistan will be successful in this."[29]

Pakistan Could Insert Special Forces From Turkey And Azerbaijan Among Jihadis Who Regularly Infiltrate Jammu & Kashmir

Amid the Nagorno-Karabakh War, another YouTube channel noted the strategic importance of the trilateral military alliance. "Do you know what strategic development has occurred? In the matter of Kashmir, Pakistan has a robust partner... Earlier, three-four countries used to talk [in support of Kashmir], who were they – China, Turkey, and Malaysia. Who was the fourth? Our Saudi Arabia? Not at all. They [Saudis] never spoke about it; they have their own problems. Right, now the fourth partner has come: that is, Azerbaijan."[30]

Given that the present era is also the era of fake news, one of the YouTube channels announced that Turkey and Azerbaijan have landed their troops in Kashmir.[31] It appears unlikely that Turkey and Azerbaijan have deployed troops in Kashmir, though such troops, in the form of special forces from Turkey and Azerbaijan, Pakistan could simply insert special forces from Turkey and Azerbaijan among the jihadis who regularly infiltrate Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan is known for inserting its military personnel among jihadi groups.


A YouTube channel declares: "The Time Nears For Kashmir's freedom"

There are three things to keep in mind here: one, Azerbaijan feels militarily emboldened after the Nagorno-Karabakh War and has been giving sufficient evidence of its interest in Kashmir; two, Turkey won the Nagorno-Karabakh War for Azerbaijan with the help of its drones while in recent months, amid reports that Pakistan has bought mini drones from Turkey, the Indian armed forces have shot down several drones along the border with Pakistan;[32] three, it could be worrying for India that Turkey and Pakistan might have reached a secret agreement involving the jihadi groups. Roughly a year ago, MEMRI published a report examining how Ehsanullah Ehsan, a former spokesman of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was issued a Pakistani passport and Turkish visa, allowing him to emerge, one fine morning, in Turkey.[33]

These developments indicate that Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan might use jihadi commanders in Kashmir, with Pakistan having at least four decades of experience in creating, training, and deploying jihadi terrorists in Afghanistan and Kashmir – according to a revealing interview of Adnan Rasheed, a former Pakistan Air Force (PAF) employee who was recruited for that purpose in Afghanistan and remains a key TTP commander.[34] Fears of Turkish and Azeri special forces infiltrating Jammu & Kashmir are real.

The Trilateral Military Alliance Is A Few Years Old

Like most nations, the three countries have historical contacts, bilaterally and at multilateral forums such as the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process on Afghanistan. However, the trilateral military alliance between Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan is just a few years old. Perhaps, the earliest the three nations met together was in 2016 as members of the Contact Group on Kashmir (CGK) – a body created within OIC at its Tehran conference in 1994 – which tasked the OIC's Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission with monitoring human rights in the Indian part of Jammu & Kashmir.[35]

Within a year, the first meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan was held in Baku on November 30, 2017.[36] By October 2018, Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, at a meeting in Islamabad, was thanking Azerbaijan and Turkey "for categorically supporting the Kashmir cause."[37] Six months later, in March 2019, Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Colonel General Zakir Hasanov was among the foreign dignitaries watching Azeri troops participate in the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad where then Pakistani President Arif Alvi emphasised that "there is no parallel" to the Pakistan's armed forces' professionalism and capabilities.[38]


January 13, 2021: The foreign ministers of Turkey, Pakistan, and Azerbaijan in Islamabad

While Azerbaijan and Pakistan have discussed Kashmir in bilateral meetings, Baku's position on Kashmir appears to have been crystallized over the past decade. It was around the Nagorno-Karabakh war that Azeris became interested in Kashmir. Azerbaijan's military victory against Armenia seems to have cemented the public's faith in these countries in the formal birth of a trilateral military alliance.

In this military alliance, it seems Erdoğan's Turkey is in the driver's seat. It can be said that Kashmir is being eyed by the Turkish state, while Azerbaijan seems to be driven both by the principle of reciprocity for Pakistan and a belief in an Islamic military alliance. Ideologically resurgent states, as Turkey currently is, look outside their territorial borders for issues that could burnish their global image.

In view of the military victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, social media accounts, especially on Twitter and YouTube, posit Kashmir as the next battleground. "There is now growing sentiment amid the Turkish and Pakistani masses, and even in Azerbaijan... to resolve to fight for Kashmir," observed a YouTube channel just days after Azerbaijan defeated Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh War.[39]

But the ideological scripts about Kashmir seem to originate from Turkey. Prominent Turkish Twitter user Ali Keskin tweeted recently: "Pakistan is not alone;"[40] "If there is a war against Pakistan, do not forget... Turkey;"[41] "We swore to 1victory. Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey is ready. Enemies are afraid;"[42] "Karabakh victory today, Kashmir victory tomorrow InshAllah [Allah willing]."[43]

* Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow at MEMRI

 

[1] On Pakistani-Turkish military role in the Nagorno-Karabakh War, See: MEMRI Daily Brief No. 258, Pakistan's Military Involvement In The Nagorno-Karabakh War, February 9, 2021.

[2] YouTube.com/watch?v=J1t0ZLP_uGs, February 6, 2021.

[7] Twitter.com/Ali_F_Alizada, February 7, 2021.

[8] Twitter.com/Ali_F_Alizada, February 6, 2021.

[9] Twitter.com/Ali_F_Alizada, February 5, 2021.

[10] Facebook.com/PakinAzerbaijan, accessed February 26, 2021.

[11] Twitter.com/Ali_F_Alizada, January 15, 2021.

[12] Twitter.com/ BilalHayee, January 15, 2021.

[13] YouTube.com/watch?v=RDx-5CVTBhk, January 22, 2020.

[14] AA.com.tr (Turkey), January 22, 2020.

[15] Azertag.az (Azerbaijan), February 6, 2021.

[16] AzerNews.AZ (Azerbaijan), May 10, 2017.

[17] AzerNews.AZ (Azerbaijan), May 10, 2017.

[18] AzerNews.AZ (Azerbaijan), May 10, 2017.

[19] The News (Pakistan), January 15, 2021.

[20] The Nation (Pakistan), October 29, 2020.

[21] The Nation (Pakistan), October 29, 2020.

[22] SecurityCouncilReport.Org, accessed February 26, 2021.

[23] SecurityCouncilReport.Org, accessed February 26, 2021.

[24] YouTube.com/watch?v=qv2vrHDkSDQ, October 14, 2020.

[25] YouTube.com/watch?v=poDHsnBGIsk, January 14, 2021.

[26] YouTube.com/watch?v=poDHsnBGIsk, January 14, 2021.

[27] YouTube.com/watch?v=poDHsnBGIsk, January 14, 2021.

[28] YouTube.com/watch?v=poDHsnBGIsk, January 14, 2021.

[29] YouTube.com/watch?v=poDHsnBGIsk, January 14, 2021.

[30] YouTube.com/watch?v=vcdYwst8ub8, October 19, 2020.

[31] YouTube.com/watch?v=iZDeufoVCo4, October 15, 2020.

[35] The News (Pakistan), July 20, 2017.

[36] Apa.az (Azerbaijan), November 30, 2017.

[37] The News (Pakistan), October 25, 2018.

[38] The News (Pakistan), March 24, 2019.

[39] YouTube.com/watch?v=RDYdGvVQxuY, November 15, 2020.

[40] Twitter.com/alikeskin_tr, August 6, 2019.

[41] Twitter.com/alikeskin_tr, January 29, 2020.

[42] Twitter.com/alikeskin_tr, February 14, 2021.

[43] Twitter.com/alikeskin_tr, November 10, 2020.

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