ISTANBUL: Turkey is moving ahead with plans to take over the security of Kabul International Airport after US troops withdrew despite opposition from the Taliban. Ankara is in talks with Washington to secure the airport, which analysts say is the key to maintaining stability and an international presence in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has warned Turkey of dire consequences if its forces remain in Afghanistan when other foreign forces pull out, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in remarks this week, appeared to downplay those threats and indicated that the conversation will continue.
Erdogan says that whether at the level of the Foreign Ministry or at its level, Turkey is trying to see what kind of talks it can have with the Taliban and where these talks can take them.
Ankara is banking on its historical ties with Afghanistan and its status as the only predominantly Muslim member of NATO to help ease opposition to the Taliban.
The 500-man Turkish force in Afghanistan has also avoided any military confrontation with the Taliban.
However, Hussein Bagsi, the head of the Ankara-based Institute of Foreign Affairs, who recently returned from the region, has warned that Ankara is undermining its position.
“Any Turkish involvement related to the airport would be disastrous for Turkey’s foreign policy. The Taliban, they said, do not like Tayyip Erdogan and do not like Turkey’s military presence. The Taliban are too much to drive out all the forces there. is determined, and the Turkish presence there is certainly unwanted,” Bagasi said.
Turkey is in constant talks with Washington regarding the airport mission. Both sides consider the talks fruitful. Relations between NATO members have been very tense, particularly with regard to Ankara’s deep ties with Moscow.
Ilhan Uzgel, a columnist for dive Ankara sees the mission of Kabul airport as a key to improving relations with Washington, the news portal said.
“The most important thing is that the AKP government is trying to fix ties with the Biden administration, and they want to give something good to them. Ankara is trying to prove that it is a very good ally; It is a priceless ally and cannot be overlooked,” Uzel said.
Turkey is looking to its close allies, Pakistan and Qatar, which some observers say have close ties with the Taliban, to quell the group’s opposition. But Bagasi warned that the importance of those countries was diminishing as the Taliban believed it was on the verge of taking power.
“The Taliban do not consider Pakistan, Qatar and Turkey as countries that should be on the priority list; no, they are not,” Bagsi said. “Political speaking, Russia, China, Russia and the US, and probably India to a lesser extent. The Taliban say, ‘We establish our state, then we negotiate.’
With just weeks to complete the US military withdrawal, analyst Uzgel has warned that Ankara could find itself trapped if the Taliban maintain their opposition.
“If Turkey insists on maintaining troops there, it will be risky. If Turkey accepts the recent statement of Taliban, it will be a disgrace to Turkey,” Ujgel said.
With Ankara having little advantage over the Taliban, Uzgel suggested that a last-minute collapse in US-Turkey talks over airport operations could provide a face-saving option for Ankara, but at the cost of bilateral ties.