Turkey avoids dealing unilaterally with Afghanistan dossier
As the world has become “a single country” in the last century, the issues of the countries not only concern them but their issues are for the international community as well. In the post-9/11 era, security and conflict-resolution issues have become the main problems to be addressed by the international community. How effective international organizations are in dealing with crises worldwide is a matter of debate. However, it is still significant for countries to act collectively rather than unilaterally in crises that are likely to have region-wide implications.
It is not a choice but a necessity for the countries to pursue a collective policy in order to avoid facing the adverse consequences of their unilateral moves in regional crises. This is what Ankara seems to have understood from the Afghanistan crisis. Although Turkey has been a fierce critic of the passive policies of international organizations in regional crises such as Syria, Yemen, and Palestine, Ankara has called the international community to deal with the Afghanistan dossier as it understood that delving into the Afghanistan quagmire alone will only bring loss rather than gain.
Turkey has recently proposed the establishment of a special working group at the G20 to address Afghanistan-related issues and warned the international community that the Afghan people cannot be left to their fate.
“I am proposing the establishment of a working group at the G20 in order to bring about a systematic solution to this problem. As Turkey, we aspire to the leadership of this group,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at Tuesday’s extraordinary meeting of G20 leaders via videoconference, which was held weeks before the face-to-face G20 summit to be held in Rome. Following this proposal, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hinted that he would visit the Afghan capital Kabul with a group of counterparts from friendly countries.
Amid these statements, a delegation led by the acting foreign minister of Afghanistan’s Taliban government visited Turkey on Thursday to hold talks with senior Turkish officials. This marks the first high-level contact between Turkey and the new administration in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power on Aug. 15. The Taliban’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said the delegation was invited by Cavusoglu. The visit was read by observers as one of the Taliban’s efforts to receive recognition. However, Ankara has highlighted the necessity of an inclusive government.
Ankara expects that the situation in Afghanistan and proper contact with the Taliban will provide some kind of leverage for Turkey.
Turkey has also hosted the Extraordinary Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Turkic Council on Afghanistan held in Istanbul in September with the participation of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, with Hungary as the observer state.
Turkey’s efforts to keep Afghanistan at the center of the international community, especially as the international spotlight on Afghanistan fades, are related to both domestic and regional concerns. Firstly, Ankara expects that the situation in Afghanistan and proper contact with the Taliban will provide some kind of leverage or political gain for Turkey on the international level. Ankara’s possible influence on the political authority in Afghanistan is seen as a way to improve relations with both Washington and Brussels, particularly on the refugee issue with the latter. Also, having a say in the post-crisis era and gaining a share in the reconstruction of the country may serve Turkey’s objective to enhance its foothold in Central and South Asia. Besides these, Turkey’s plan to run the Kabul International Airport and play a pivotal role in Afghanistan has been harshly criticized by Turkish opposition parties and the public itself which was highly concerned over a new wave of refugees.
Afghans make up one of the largest refugee populations worldwide and the growing refugee issue is not only Turkey’s concern but also the EU countries’ main problem. Because the EU governments are alarmed about the prospect of new waves of Afghan refugees heading to the continent, they are keen to work with Turkey — considered a transit country — on the matter.
Although Turkey and the EU signed a migration deal back in 2016, Afghanistan poses a new risk and migration is now the top of the agenda between Ankara and Brussels. However, neither Turkey nor the EU can estimate the size of such a refugee flow. Ahead of the election in 2023, the Turkish government, which is already facing criticism at home due to the Syrian refugee issue, will avoid a new Afghan refugee wave, which would undermine the government’s popularity. Therefore, engaging in a dual dialogue with both the Taliban and EU countries has become a necessity for Ankara.
Also, Turkey wants to gain its place as a “strategic ally” of the US, so Afghanistan would be an important dossier in Ankara’s hands in talks with Washington. Nonetheless, the US recognizes that Turkey could play an increasingly significant role in the region in the future, and that is why NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has also described Turkey as having a “key role” in dealing with Afghanistan.
Despite all these expectations from Western allies, Turkey seems less enthusiastic about dealing unilaterally with the Afghanistan file. Therefore, it pushes for collective efforts with the international community. The problem in Afghanistan is an international one, not a problem of neighboring countries such as Pakistan or Iran. As it will have implications from the Middle East to Europe, the Afghanistan dossier has to be dealt with by using a united approach from the international community to counter the economic, political, and security implications created by the humanitarian crises there.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz