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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Erdogan Pushes Turkey’s Role in Afghanistan After US Troops Die

The Taliban has warned Turkey of severe consequences if its military were to remain in Afghanistan when other foreign forces withdrew. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a speech this week, appeared to play down those warnings and threats, and indicated talks were continuing.

Erdogan said whether it was discussed at the foreign ministry level or at the presidential level, Turkey was trying to see what kind of talks could be carried out with the Taliban and what results could be achieved.

Turkey has relied on its historical ties to Afghanistan and its status as the only Muslim-majority member of NATO to help defuse Taliban opposition. The 500-strong Turkish force in Afghanistan has also avoided engaging in a military confrontation with the Taliban.

Currently about 500 Turkish troops are still in Afghanistan (photo: doc).

But Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Affairs Institute who recently returned from the region, warned that Turkey was overconfident.

“Any participation by Turkey in terms of airport security in Afghanistan would be disastrous for Turkey’s foreign policy. The Taliban say they do not like Erdogan and the Turkish military presence. The Taliban are very determined to expel all forces there, and a Turkish presence there is clearly undesirable,” Bagci said.

Turkey is still continuing talks with America about the airport’s mission. Both sides described the talks as productive. Relations among NATO member states are very tense, especially over Turkey’s close relationship with Russia.

Ilhan Uzgel, a columnist at the Duvar news portal, said Turkey saw the mission at the Afghan airport as critical to restoring its relations with America.

“The most important thing is that the AKP government is trying to improve relations with the Biden government, and they want to offer something good. Turkey is trying to prove that it is a very good ally, a valuable ally and cannot be ignored,” Uzgel said.

Turkey is seeking to have its close allies — namely Pakistan and Qatar who some observers say have close ties to the Taliban — help overcome the group’s opposition to the role Turkey will play at Afghan airports.

However, Bagci warned that the Taliban believe they will soon be able to take power, and the interests of those countries are shrinking. “The Taliban do not see Pakistan, Qatar and Turkey as countries on its priority list. From a political point of view the Taliban sees Russia, China, America and maybe India as priority countries. The Taliban said ‘we will establish a state and then we negotiate’.

While there are only a few weeks before all American troops leave Afghanistan, Uzgel analysts warn that if the Taliban maintains its oppositional stance, Turkey could be trapped.

“If Turkey insists on keeping its troops there, it will be risky. If Turkey succumbs to the recent statements of the Taliban it will embarrass Turkey,” he added.

Seeing Turkey’s small influence over the Taliban, Uzgel assessed that the failure of the U.S.-Turkish negotiations on the airport operation at the last minute could provide a face-saving option for Turkey, but of course at the expense of its bilateral relationship with America. [em/jm]

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