Erdogan may take a calculated risk on the Taliban

Erdogan may take a calculated risk on the Taliban

Erdogan may take a calculated risk on the Taliban
Turkish troops who were operating Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, march during a ceremony at Ankara airport, Turkey, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. (AP)
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The uncertain situation in Afghanistan is likely to remain as such for the foreseeable future. The settlement of accounts of various hostilities that took place during the last two decades of foreign intervention cannot be expected to die away quickly.

An offshoot of Daesh, known as Daesh-Khorasan, last week carried out an attack at Kabul airport, leaving about 170 civilians and 13 US soldiers dead and many others wounded. The attack targeted mainly the US, but most of the victims were Afghans. Meanwhile, in the Panjshir area of Afghanistan, Ahmad Massoud, the son of the legendary leader of the same name who resisted the Soviet invasion of 1979-1989, launched an anti-Taliban movement. However, it looks doomed to fail if foreign aid does not arrive to save it. In another incident, nine innocent members of the Hazara community were tortured and killed by the Taliban in Ghazni last month because they were Shiites. These three incidents are harbingers of similar incidents in the future. Whether they will be perpetrated by the Taliban or their opponents, they will end up destabilizing the country.

Daesh-Khorasan claimed responsibility for Thursday’s Kabul airport attack, but this should not shift the attention away from another terrorist organization: Al-Qaeda, which the Taliban have intricate relations with. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month submitted to the UN Security Council a report that underlined Al-Qaeda’s strong presence in Afghanistan and stated that the country may become a haven for global terror. The Taliban may hope that it can keep such groups under control, but it has too many constraints to achieve this task.

Al-Qaeda and Daesh are both still present and fairly active in Afghanistan. Washington may cooperate with the Taliban in order to stem their activities, but the Taliban, as a heterogeneous movement, may not be able to cope with so many problems.

A big majority of the international community is unhappy at the Taliban’s takeover of the country, but this should not be transformed into a punishment for the entire nation. The Afghan population is not composed of the Taliban alone. There are many Afghans who disagree with the Taliban’s practices and are focused on earning their daily bread. The international community would therefore do well to focus on ordinary Afghans’ problems and aim to improve their standard of living.

The international community would do well to focus on ordinary Afghans’ problems and aim to improve their standard of living.

Yasar Yakis

Many countries blame the Taliban not for what it has done in seizing power, but for its past practices, fearing what may happen in the future. The strict application of Shariah during the Taliban’s previous rule between 1996 and 2001 weighs on the minds of many around the world. After the group’s recent takeover, the Taliban banned people from listening to music in public places, as it considers this to be un-Islamic. Women will be allowed to travel only for short distances if they are not accompanied by a man. Even if the Taliban’s restrictions are confined to these measures for the moment, more conservative adherents of the Taliban ideology may be tempted, on their own initiative, to impose stricter rules. Therefore, the future of the Taliban’s rule is full of uncertainties.

In the field of international relations, the Taliban’s rejection of Turkey’s proposal to guard Kabul airport may have caused disillusionment in Ankara, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not adopt an entirely negative attitude because of this. Instead, he positively responded to another Taliban proposal to provide assistance in the airport’s civilian and technical areas. This opens a window of opportunity for Turkey to remain in touch with the Taliban during the critical period of the country’s government taking shape.

Last week’s airport attack was carried out a day after the Turkish detachment started to withdraw from Afghanistan. This caused widespread relief in Turkey, as Turkish soldiers narrowly escaped the calamity.

After the attack, Erdogan started to use less enthusiastic language regarding Turkey’s assistance to Afghanistan, as it was a timely reminder that any type of involvement in the country has its risks. However, Erdogan’s disposition for the Taliban probably remains unshaken. Therefore, he may take a calculated risk in getting Turkey involved in various types of activities in Afghanistan.

Turkey’s Afghan refugees issue will come on to the agenda sooner or later, with increasing numbers of Afghans trying to flee their country. Despite Turkey’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Turkish Embassy will continue to function and it may become one of the few embassies to remain open in Kabul.

The present stage of the Afghanistan crisis has taught the international community to think twice before it engages in any serious cooperation with the Taliban, as the latter’s interpretation of Shariah varies from what it is prepared to accept.

  • Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar
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