What are Turkey’s ambitions in Afghanistan after the US’ withdrawal?

After the United States completed its withdrawal from the two-decade conflict in Afghanistan on August 31, regional powers stay at work attempting to know what this new geopolitical actuality means for them. A Taliban dominated Afghanistan has been successfully cemented for the foreseeable future now {that a} slate of candidates has been named for a brand new authorities even within the face of continued resistance from corners of Afghan society. 

Turkey has been among the many nations rigorously minding new developments in Afghanistan. On the identical day a brand new Afghan interim authorities was introduced, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Ankara was watching the state of affairs intently and his overseas minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted that there was “no rush” to acknowledge the regime. This commentary mirrors statements from different involved observers like Russia, but it surely masks what’s in reality a extra refined thought course of in the direction of Afghanistan in Turkish overseas coverage.

To make certain, Turkey has an extended historical past of relations with Afghanistan. During the 1920s, Afghanistan’s King Amanullah Khan was an enthusiastic follower of the Turkish republic’s modernization underneath Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Under Khan, Afghanistan was the second nation to acknowledge the nascent Turkish state after the Soviet Union, and he was eager to emulate Ataturk’s packages in his personal nation.  

But Turkey has nonetheless remained one thing of a distant actor in Afghanistan. Since the September 11th assaults on the US in 2001, Turkey has maintained a army presence alongside NATO albeit in a non-combat position. Turkey has additionally performed an necessary position in negotiations between the United States, the earlier Afghan authorities and the Taliban although it remained a secondary location in comparison with Qatar the place the ultimate settlement to withdraw was finally brokered.

Turkey’s current curiosity in Afghanistan has been primarily understood as a method to restore strained relations with Washington. For the final decade, Turkey underneath Erdogan has shifted away from an in depth alliance with the US, owing to disagreements over Syria, Turkish aggression towards its fellow NATO allies within the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, and American sanctions over Ankara’s buy of the S-400 missile system from Russia. Years of stress uncovered the sensitivity of the Turkish economic system to fluctuations in its relationship with the US and left it has discovered itself in a way more remoted place throughout its neighborhood. 

A file photograph exhibiting Turkish troopers at Kabul’s worldwide airport.

Today, Erdogan is raring to color an image of a renewed Turkish-American partnership, and Afghanistan is taken into account a stepping stone in the direction of higher relations with Washington. Since a minimum of May, Turkey has spoken about sustaining a task in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal was accomplished. The kind it will take was via assuming management of safety at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, a task the Turkish army has performed for years. Turkey’s proposal was greeted with curiosity by the US and collectively they labored on the phrases of any cooperation after Erdogan conditioned it on continued American logistical, diplomatic, and monetary help. 

After Kabul fell to the Taliban, Turkey’s airport mission gave the impression to be lifeless. The Taliban had been by no means enthusiastic a few continued Turkish position in Afghanistan, viewing it with suspicion as a veiled means to keep up some American presence previous the withdrawal. After initially promising to withstand any overseas presence on Afghan soil, the Taliban shifted tone and stated it will welcome Turkish help, minus any troopers. Since then, stories point out that Turkey might depend on personal safety companies to manage the airport and Turkish technical groups are on the bottom working to convey Kabul’s airport again into operation. 

Like many Western nations which are thinking about participating with a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, the important thing to Turkey’s achievement of its mission might lie with Qatar. Since 2013, the small Gulf kingdom has saved an open channel with the Taliban via its political mission in Doha and Qatari help has been important to a number of American administrations who seemed for a negotiated finish to the conflict. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and different overseas diplomats have hailed Qatar for its help all through the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan as a testomony to its significance.

Qatar is Turkey’s most necessary ally within the Middle East. Turkish help saved it afloat when neighbors led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates initiated a four-year blockade in 2017 and the 2 have signed quite a few cooperation agreements over time. Compared to Turkey, Qatar stays the extra trusted interlocutor to the Taliban and this already seems to be working to Ankara’s benefit. In an interview with the Financial Times, Qatar’s overseas minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani stated that it was coordinating its efforts with Turkey to reopen Kabul’s airport. 

Turkey has benefits which are additionally separate from any supplied by Qatar. Whereas Qatar has been the Americans’ intermediary with the Taliban, Turkey can provide the identical for Europe. Already, the European Union has been anxious about any risk {that a} wave of determined Afghans will flee the Taliban for security within the bloc. EU leaders, conscious of their utter failure to successfully handle the tens of millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees that crossed its borders in 2015, have turned to Turkey for help with Afghanistan. Given Brussels’ eagerness to keep away from a repeat of 2015, Ankara is in a main place to leverage any relationship with a brand new Afghan authorities to curb refugee outflows in change for some concessions. 

Turkey may see a presence in Afghanistan as a risk to appreciate a long-held aim of increasing its affect into Central Asia. Resisted by Russia, and economically outdone by China, Turkey has did not make deep inroads with the largely Turkic-speaking ex-Soviet republics, the place cultural ties run deep. 

Since overtly backing Azerbaijan in its victory in Nagorno-Karabakh final 12 months, Turkey’s place, relative to Central Asia, has strengthened significantly. Infrastructure tasks are underway to benefit from the now shared border between the 2. These investments are pictured as a technique to probably rework Turkey right into a transit route for the circulate of Central Asian gasoline to European markets and cut back Turkish reliance on Russian or Iranian power imports. It may assist the Central Asian gasoline suppliers in diversifying their relationships by opening them additional to new export companions. If Turkey can contribute to any stability in Afghanistan, the area might hearten to future overtures that assist Ankara additional its grand technique within the east. 

For all of the doable rewards Turkey might hope to realize from remaining in Afghanistan, there are simply as many dangers. The most blatant amongst them being safety which stays precarious as a fragile Taliban-led authorities takes form. 

The menace to the Taliban from resistance fighters within the mountainous Panjshir province seems to be restricted, however it might nonetheless create complications for the unconventional militant group. Members of the overthrown Afghan authorities, together with former Vice-President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the son of the legendary resistance fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, have urged Afghans to proceed resistance towards the Taliban with some impact. The Islamic State via its native department ISIS-Ok additionally stays a menace as demonstrated by the August 27 assault on Kabul airport that left 170 lifeless, together with 13 American service members. 

Protests are additionally persevering with towards the Taliban from ladies and different teams cautious of taking the militants at their phrase that they’ve moderated away from their brutal rule from the 1990s. Some of those protests have been blocked by the Taliban, whereas others had been dispersed with gunfire shot into the air. 

Turkish leaders like Foreign Minister Cavusoglu have cautioned that Afghanistan might return to civil conflict if extra isn’t achieved to bridge its political divisions whereas additionally assembly the dual crises of widespread starvation and poverty. Qatari officers have equally warned {that a} decline within the safety state of affairs is probably the most rapid threat to reconstruction in Kabul and elsewhere. 

Turkey’s insurance policies in Afghanistan may also backfire if the issues are felt nearer to home. For all the EU’s issues about refugees, Ankara can be afraid of a rise in Afghans crossing over its borders. For months, the federal government has fortified its frontier with Iran by developing a concrete wall outfitted with superior sensors and patrolled by Turkish troopers. Turkey has additionally balked at proposals from the E.U. and the U.S. that known as on it to deal with extra Afghan refugees with Erdogan himself stating that Turkey wouldn’t be “Europe’s migrant warehouse”. He has refused to decide to internet hosting extra Afghans and any EU proposals that might imitate the Syrian refugee deal by offering funds in change for holding the Afghans in Turkey itself.

Anti-refugee sentiment has reached a boiling level in Turkey over the Erdogan authorities’s internet hosting of 4 million Syrian refugees, a fervor that has not spared the over 100,000 Afghans who additionally reside within the nation. This has been a legal responsibility for him because the Turkish opposition has adopted aggressive rhetoric on migration, together with guarantees to ignore any worldwide offers they consider Erdoğan to have struck with the West on the subject if they arrive to energy. 

The anti-migrant fervor of the Turkish public boiled over final month proper when an enormous riot broke out proper exterior Ankara with looters ransacking Syrian neighbourhoods over the homicide of a Turkish teen in a dispute with two Syrians. At a time when the Turkish economic system stays weak and the political ambiance stays extremely polarized, Erdogan faces severe dangers to his twenty years of uninterrupted rule in Turkey.

If Turkey stays insistent on remaining in Afghanistan, these challenges will information it in a cautious and calibrated path. Support from allies in Qatar and the West would be the most crucial components to Turkish technique as will developments that hinge on the Taliban’s capacity to determine management over a nonetheless restive Afghanistan. For Erdoğan particularly, the dangers are acute and it’ll doubtless maintain his ambitions in examine lest they arrive again to hang-out him at home. 


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