Amidst the latest upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, which has recently kept Ankara extremely busy, the Turkish capital hasn't for a moment lost sight of Afghanistan and preparations are under way for hosting a huge regional conference on Afghanistan in the autumn.
“At such a critical time through which Afghanistan is going, having close contact with third countries and partners involved in assisting Afghanistan is very important,” Burak Akçapar, deputy director-general for South Asia at the Turkish Foreign Ministry, told Today's Zaman on Sunday. “As Turkey, we have intensified our efforts in order to help Afghanistan through these hard times,” Akçapar said, referring to intense and frequent consultations held with Turkey and other countries.
Akçapar, recently appointed as Turkey's new ambassador to India, was speaking after a visit to Washington D.C. where he led a high ranking and broad Turkish interagency delegation for the third round of consultations with the US government on Afghanistan since 2009.
“Welcoming the delegation, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Marc Grossman thanked Turkey for its important contributions in Afghanistan … both with a strong ISAF presence and a robust civilian assistance program. Referencing Secretary Clinton's February 18 Asia Society speech, he highlighted that Turkey has a very important role to play in the ‘third surge,' which Secretary Clinton characterized as the diplomatic initiative to bring the Afghan conflict to an end and chart a new and more secure future for the region,” the US State Department said on Friday concerning the meeting held on April 4.
“Akçapar confirmed Turkey's resolve to continue to contribute to better regional understanding,” the statement said, recalling that Turkey hosted the İstanbul “Summit for Friendship and Cooperation at the Heart of Asia,” the fifth Afghan-Pakistani-Turkish Summit in December 2010 and, recently, a successful joint military exercise between the Afghan and Pakistani armies, and that it will host a second regional summit in the fall of 2011. Ambassador Grossman welcomed these initiatives, it said.
“The agenda of the consultations included a broad range of topics centered around the three ‘surges' -- particularly the civilian and diplomatic. Turkish and American government representatives met with their counterparts to review ongoing projects, determine opportunities for strengthened cooperation, confluence and synergies on the ground, and discuss the strategic outline for the year ahead,” it added.
Just on the day when the meeting at the State Department was held last Monday, US President Barack Obama made a statement and called for tolerance in Afghanistan after the burning of a Quran in Florida that reportedly prompted an attack that killed UN workers and sparked violent protests across the country. “Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. “The desecration of any holy text, including the Quran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous,” he said.
As part of consultations on Afghanistan, a British delegation led by the country's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Karen Pierce, was in Ankara on April 1, holding talks with Akçapar, the Turkish representative in the International Contact Group, before the Turkish delegation visited Washington for the third round of consultations with the US government. The visit was actually a reciprocal visit as the second meeting was held in Ankara last year. Following the Washington talks on Afghanistan, a Norwegian delegation visited the Turkish Foreign Ministry for consultations on Afghanistan. Akçapar confirmed that such talks and consultations with related countries will continue in the coming months. The consultations are apparently also related to the arrangement and debates over modalities of the upcoming regional conference to be held in Turkey.
“In concluding the meeting, SRAP Grossman noted with satisfaction the depth and strength of U.S.-Turkish cooperation on Afghanistan, as shown by the broad spectrum of current and prospective joint activities and the common strategic vision on the way forward. The two delegations agreed to follow up on a number of specific joint initiatives, including by continuing annual bilateral consultations, and by closely coordinating work in Kabul as well as in the framework of the UN, NATO and the International Contact Group,” the US State Department, meanwhile, said.