Pakistan emerges as key pillar of Turkey’s Afghanistan policy

Turkey’s support for Pakistan’s participation in the NATO summit held »»

Turkey’s support for Pakistan’s participation in the NATO summit held this month in Chicago showed that it considers Pakistan to be one of the prominent players for security and stability in Afghanistan.

“Turkey believes that it is difficult to implement an Afghan policy that does not have Pakistan’s support,” Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of Ankara’s International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), told Sunday’s Zaman, adding that Afghanistan was an important country in terms of Turkey’s Central Asia policy. “Afghanistan is an integral part of Turkey’s ‘strategic depth’ policy,” said Erol.

Turkey has close ties with both Afghanistan and Pakistan and has spearheaded efforts for peace between the two countries, whose ties are often strained due to Afghan distrust of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban.

Erol stated that Turkey has undertaken an important mission in trying to resolve the disputes between the two countries. “There are border disputes between these two countries, and Turkey is playing the role of mediator to help them reconcile. To date, Turkey has helped overcome a crisis in the region and even pushed the region to a new process,” said Erol.

Turkey and Pakistan have been supportive of each other in all international platforms. Turkey’s recent push for Pakistani participation in the NATO summit resulted in a last-minute invitation to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Pakistan’s participation in the recent summit has raised hopes that the country may be ready to reopen its borders so that the US and NATO can dispatch military supplies to neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan closed its borders after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in US airstrikes on the Afghan border in November.

Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Hasan Kanbolat, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) in Ankara, stated that Pakistan’s participation in the NATO summit was of great importance. “Turkey’s relations with Pakistan are extremely good, both politically and militarily, and these relations continued to improve during the period when Turkish troops were in Afghanistan. Pakistan is currently experiencing a difficult period, and cooperation with Turkey in the military field is extremely important,” said Kanbolat.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Parliament recently approved a protocol concerning the training of Afghan and Pakistani military personnel. The protocol commits members of the armed forces from all three countries to take part in further training and cooperation.

Afghanistan was one of the main agenda items at NATO’s Chicago summit, where alliance members discussed plans to withdraw most of their troops by the end of 2014. Member states discussed ways to continue supporting Afghanistan beyond 2014, following the end of NATO’s peacekeeping mission there. Turkish officials have said Turkey will continue supporting Afghanistan beyond 2014 through a military training mission, underlining that Turkey is determined to continue the training mission with or without NATO.

Touching on Turkey’s pledge to support Afghanistan beyond 2014, Kanbolat stated that Turkey should not leave Afghanistan, adding that Turkey’s presence in Afghanistan does not harm its stability. “Every group in Afghanistan supports Turkey’s presence, in fact Turkey is welcomed by the Afghans. Furthermore, Turkey’s presence in Afghanistan would help maintain stability in the region,” said Kanbolat.

“Turkey will never leave Afghanistan on its own and will be in the country until their ‘Afghan brothers’ say the Turkish mission is done,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a joint press appearance with Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani held during Erdoğan’s official visit to Pakistan last week. When asked how to read NATO’s Chicago summit, Kanbolat replied that the most important topic should be how to maintain stability in the region after NATO’s withdrawal, which was also discussed at the summit.

Kamer Kasım, vice chairman of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), told Sunday’s Zaman that Turkey played an important role in bringing Pakistani and Afghan leaders together. “After the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s relations with the new Afghan government were strained. Only with Pakistan’s active support can stability in Afghanistan be maintained. Additionally, Pakistan has the potential to influence Afghanistan’s domestic politics. Turkey is aware of this risk and has taken an active role to maintain good relations between both countries,” said Kasım.

Kasım underlined that Turkey’s role would become more important after NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. “For instance, the Turkish prime minister was in Pakistan for talks while the Turkish president was in Chicago where the main topic was Afghanistan. In this context, the visit to Pakistan was very meaningful. Turkey has close relations with Pakistan, and if NATO members want to draw up a roadmap to gain Pakistan’s support of the Afghanistan issue, it would definitely be drawn up by Turkey,” said Kasım.

When asked what kind of support Turkey could provide to Afghanistan beyond 2014, Kasım replied that Turkey’s future role would be across several fields. “Firstly, İstanbul is where the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan meet regularly, so Turkey will continue its mediator role after 2014. Secondly, besides Turkey’s security support to Afghanistan, there are Turkish regional construction teams that will continue their construction activities in Afghanistan after 2014. Thirdly, the Afghan-Pakistani border must be improved in terms of logistics, and Turkey could act as a coordinator,” said Kasım.

Touching upon NATO’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, Kasım stated that NATO’s influence on Afghanistan would continue both in terms of security and logistics even if it withdraws.