The Af-Pak transformation: What is Turkey’s place in the restructuring process? by Emrah Usta*
Presidents Karzai of Afghanistan (L), Gül of Turkey (C) and Zardari of Pakistan (R) are seen during a press conference in İstanbul in 2008. The three countries have since made joint efforts for the maintenance of peace in the AF-PAK region. (PHOTO AP, İbrahim Usta)
The overall situation in Afghanistan, which has faced serious troubles in the aftermath of 2001, is entering a new phase with the involvement of the Islamabad administration with which it has strong ties.
In the new era, it is almost certain that Turkey will serve as the sole partner between the parties. A recent three-day visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Islamabad opened a new page in Turkish-Pakistani relations. Turkey’s interest in Asian affairs and its attempts to expand the sphere of its economic activities to this region will bring the countries in the region closer. A process of high level cooperation is beginning in an attempt to increase the overall amount of bilateral trade between Turkey and Pakistan to $2 billion by 2012.
Turkey’s role as a mediator at the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) summit last year in İstanbul has contributed to an alleviation of the tensions in the region. The sincere dialogues between Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Turkish President Abdullah Gül and the joint message in the summit implied that additional tensions would not be tolerated in the Af-Pak area. The joint fight against terrorism tries to ensure that tension between the two countries does not escalate in the aftermath of the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
At the summit Turkey’s support for the countries in the region and how Pakistan’s position relates to the matter is important. The cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan really matters after 2014. Pakistan’s invitation to the 2012 NATO Chicago Summit could be viewed as a concrete example of the US’s desire to sustain this relationship. Erdoğan’s visit to the region and Turkey’s financial assistance after the floods and quakes hold a special meaning for the Pakistani people; these steps were also praised in Afghanistan. It could be said that Erdoğan’s emphasis on the ties of friendship and brotherhood between Turkey and Pakistan during a speech he delivered at a joint session of the Pakistani parliament and senate during his official visit has improved and polished an image of a strong Turkey among the Pakistani people and politicians.
The Taliban issue will remain the main source of disagreement between Pakistan and Turkey, which claims to have assumed a regional leadership role in the Af-Pak region. The reluctant attitudes of the parties on this matter also prevent the emergence of strategic cooperation and alliance. Cooperation in the field of terrorism will help the parties overcome the psychological threshold and deal with the troubles of the process of transition. Pakistan, which boycotted the Bonn Conference last year, will carry out joint operations with Afghanistan by way of the Taliban. To overcome this threshold, the capacity of the Afghan army should be increased, the link between the Taliban and the people should be disconnected, lasting economic reforms should be introduced in both countries and a common ground to fight the Taliban should be established.
Dangerous move: regional war
The lengthy wars in the Af-Pak region and the ongoing tensions between the parties in the region lead to economic and civilian losses and a state of crisis between the governments. This period of transition requires a high level of cooperation and efforts; it may also bring about a state of collapse. The sectarian separatist movements between tribes are the greatest obstacle to the establishment of close relations between the Afghan and Pakistani governments. In addition, the borders between these two states are artificial. Religious affiliations and national identity play large roles in unifying the people in different parts of these countries. There are strong similarities between the people in Pakistan, the people of the Durrani community in south Kabul and the Ghilzais in east Kabul. Anthony H. Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), based in Washington, D.C., an expert on Afghan and Pakistani affairs, attributed this deep division and schism in Afghanistan to the weak government led by Karzai and the reflection of the divisions within the Afghan parliament; he also signals that this period of transition will lead to deep ethnic and sectarian divisions.
A policy report by Cordesman, “Afghanistan from 2012-2014: Is a Successful Transition Possible?” is also interesting. In this report, Cordesman analyzes the potential reflections of the process in Afghanistan and sheds some light on the future of the Af-Pak region. He also includes the following recommendations: The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) need to cooperate to fight the militarist groups until 2014; the Afghan army should be advised by ISAF and the US; militarist groups like the Taliban, Haqqani, Hekmatyar and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan should be involved in the peace process; stability should be ensured in areas where these groups are dominant and influential; an election that will consider the political factors and priorities in the country should be held; US-Afghan relations should be strongly supported by Congress; Afghanistan should be restructured as a strong neighboring country of Pakistan and both countries should be supportive of each other. These may improve the overall situation in the region but they may also escalate the tension.
*Emrah Usta is an İstanbul-based political analyst and op-ed writer. He can be followed on Twitter @Emr_Usta