Turkey’s possible Afghanistan mission concerns not only relations with the United States, but also regional countries and even major powers such as Russia and China.
Turkey, which has troops in more than 10 countries, is now getting prepared to make its new military opening to Afghanistan. It might be claimed that Turkey, which aspires to secure the international airport in Kabul after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghan territory by using soft power in Afghanistan, aims to repair relations with the United States, which has been broken after the purchase of the S-400 missile systems from Russia as well as making the reputation gained in Afghanistan permanent after the withdrawal of NATO. However, Turkey’s possible Afghanistan mission concerns not only relations with the United States, but also regional countries and even major powers such as Russia and China.
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With the American troops evacuating the Bagram base, the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan turned into concrete steps. As of September, the United States and NATO will not be in Afghanistan. This is an indication that the Afghan Government will face a direct confrontation with a Taliban that has strengthened its hand even more. UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan Deborah Lyons states that "more than 50 of Afghanistan's 370 regions have fallen as of May", while Afghan Vice President Amrullah Salih states that "civilian casualties in Afghanistan increased by 30 percent compared to the same period last year”. It seems that the ground is already ready for disaster scenarios.
The Afghan Government is rather weak in standing on its own feet against the Taliban without outside support. The Taliban, on the other hand, warned that after the full withdrawal of NATO forces in September, all foreign soldiers still staying in the country will be treated as an occupation force. Most of the warnings addressed to Turkey. "Continuing Turkey's stay in the country will harm bilateral relations. We will respond to all parties that remain in Afghanistan, no matter what country they are,” stated the Taliban.
Turkey, on the other hand, aspires to the mission of ensuring the security of Hamid Karzai International Airport, which is of vital importance for the country's connection with the outside world. Turkey was already responsible for the operational management of the military part of the airport, but the desire to ensure the security of the airport raises the question whether it will put Turkey at greater risk as well. As a matter of fact, if the security of the airport is not ensured, diplomatic missions in Kabul will be withdrawn, and embassies and consulates will be closed, which will make Afghanistan an isolated state. This situation pushes us to think once again about the balances in the region and Turkey's role in these balances.
IN THE EYES OF IRAN AND RUSSIA, TURKEY IS THE WEST'S SUBCONTRACTOR
For Turkey, which is getting prepared to take over the Afghanistan mission from the USA, it is necessary to keep a close eye on the reactions of the countries in the region and the great powers. In the eyes of Iran and Russia, Turkey does not draw a very positive picture as a subcontractor of the West. As it is known, the Taliban, which has gained increasing power in the country, seized the Islamic Castle customs gate on the Iranian border in the last few weeks and reached the borders of Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Although this situation is not particularly encouraging for Iran and Russia, it also shows that he will not be against Iran and Russia to the extent that he is not harmed by the Taliban.
From the Russian point of view, it is obvious that Russia will not release the power vacuum that will arise after the withdrawal of the USA in Afghanistan. In this case, the Afghanistan mission, which Turkey is close to taking over as a NATO country, is a step that may bring it face to face with Russia. On the other hand, for Russia and Turkey, which are getting closer with the S400 issue, the Afghanistan issue may evolve into a controlled structure, just like in Syria. However, coming together in a new swamp with Russia, which seems to be the first enemy in the European field, will be a very risky undertaking for Turkey in any case.
Another issue for Russia is the temporary closure of the Russian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afgan territory due to a “security risk”. This move shows that Russia is worried about what will happen. Even if talks with the Taliban continue, Russia’s removal of its diplomats from the region should be read as a critical move. On the other hand, the neighbors of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, will take their positions according to the attitude of Russia.
From the perspective of Iran, Turkey, which has not ceased to confront itself from Syria to Libya, from Nagorno-Karabakh to Iraq, has been a rival country since its history. While Iran aims to break the Turkish influence in the Middle East, Turkey’s reaching out to Afghanistan after Iraq, Syria and Azerbaijan does not seem acceptable to Iran. When Iran thinks that Turkey is gaining too much power in Afghanistan, it will want to prevent it. As a matter of fact, Iran, which has used the Taliban against the USA, can use the same method against Turkey.
COMPROMISING WITH TALIBAN?
India is another country that is uneasy about Turkey. The reason is its concern about the close relations between Turkey and Pakistan. The scenario of Turkey's attempt to cooperate with the Taliban through Pakistan is also in India's file. However, it is a fact that for India, like other countries in the region, the containment of the Taliban depends on the international community's continued presence in Kabul. As a matter of fact, it is also an idea to believe that the US withdrawal will initiate the dialogue process between the parties in Afghanistan. The problem for India is that Turkey will assume the leadership of this international community.
Another country that Turkey should pay attention to in Afghanistan is Pakistan. Turkey has announced that it can act by taking Pakistan along with Hungary in its role at Kabul Airport. However, the fact that Pakistan is known as a supporter of the Taliban by the Afghan people opens the door to a dangerous perception towards Turkey. A viewpoint such as Turkey's reconciliation with the Taliban through Pakistan and thus consolidating its power in Afghanistan does not seem very likely. On the other hand, if Turkey acts together with Pakistan on Afghan territory, it may seem possible for China to join the equation due to Pakistan's close relations.
Turkey has increased its effectiveness in Afghanistan by undertaking NATO’s civilian operations since 2001. But now as the USA is withdrawing from Afghanistan, the departure of Turkey as a NATO force is part of the agreement between the Taliban and the USA. According to the Taliban, Turkey may manage diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in the future, but it should leave as part of NATO as of now. So there is a Taliban emphasizing most clearly that it does not want Turkey's move and will respond to this move.
Turkey, which entered into a dangerous structure including Russia, China, Iran, India, Pakistan and other regional countries, while trying to repair relations with the USA, will face quite tough days. It is certain that Turkey will play a key role in this process, but it is not yet clear what that role will be. Above all, how will Afghanistan's security be secured and how will Turkey find itself in this situation?
Dr. Selmin Seda Coşkun