A new role designed for Turkey: A ‘pivotal player’ in Afghanistan

Erdogan attracted widespread criticism following a statement he made stating that the Taliban and Turkey were united through Islam and that a common ground between the two countries existed on that basis.

US' pull out from Afghanistan, as Taliban took over the control of the country after entering the capital city of Kabul, followed by the President Ashraf Ghani fleeing Afghanistan, Turkey takes on a new role: Taking a ruin from the West’s mission in a country which fell to pieces by decades of wars, occupations and Islamist extremism.

Moreover, Turkey is not only expected to exercise itself as a military force but also to take the role of mediator as it attempts to stabilise Afghanistan, and to work in cooperation with the hard-line Islamist Taliban group. 

The US, having fought for over two decades with the Taliban in a failed attempt to eliminate them in the wake of the events of the September 11th attack on New York in 2001, is now asking Turkey to act as an asylum centre for refugees fleeing Afghanistan from the Taliban’s regime.

Turkish troops are planned to be deployed in Afghanistan on the order to protect the Hamid Karzai International Airport – the only safe route for evacuation of people from the country in addition to serving as the route for delivering humanitarian aid to the war-torn nation.

Media news claimed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the US President Joe Biden cut a deal in June’s NATO summit for the role of providing military support and defence of the airport which has been denied by the Turkish government.

Erdogan attracted widespread criticism following a statement he made stating that the Taliban and Turkey were united through Islam and that a common ground between the two countries existed on that basis. Furthering that he had no qualm with the Taliban’s beliefs and stating that his government was in accord with them.

This he claims in defence of Turkey’s role as military aid as it secures the Afghan airport.

As the Western powers pursue their interests by ensuring Turkey putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan and the Turkish regime seems eager to ‘tame’ the fundamentalist group, Taliban already announced that any foreign soldier who stays in the country after September will be considered as the occupation force including the Turkish entity.

In turning its face westwards, the Erdogan regime is signalling more cooperation with the West in the wake of its long-standing dispute over the S-400 defence missiles it purchased from Russia. Other commentators have argued that the main motivation behind Erdogan’s change in deploying troops to Afghanistan is less related to repairing the damaged ties between Turkey and the West and more in keeping with its interests in receiving funding and logistical support from the US.

The Turkish economy is suffering from a high foreign trade deficit, high interest rates and a low exchange rate on the Turkish Lira. This coupled with high unemployment, rampant corruption and a decreasing lack of oversight on the political apparatus following the 2016 coup attempt.

However, the Western allies’ expectation of Turkey’s infamous regime is not limited to a mere military presence in volatile Afghanistan. In a recent remark, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that the UK planned to establish a series of processing hubs across the region outside Afghanistan, for Afghans, with Turkey and Pakistan expected to host them.

The UK’s vision is shared by its Western allies as they intend to establish asylum centres in Turkey for Afghan refugees. Ankara’s official stance is to deny this, however, another hot debate has begun in Turkey, which already has to deal with the millions of Syrians and thousands of Afghan refugees.

In spite of the belief that some experts and the Turkish regime claim that ‘Turkey has a vested interest in Afghanistan's stability’, public opinion polls reveal that 85 of the population is against further immigration to the country.

For some time, the West has regarded Turkey as the ‘door-keeper’ that prevents the influx to its lands of refugees rather than an equal ‘ally’.  Both Ankara and Brussels have long since abandoned the ideal of Turkey becoming a full member of the European Union. Now, in the wake of events there is a common interest with the West being willing to turn a blind eye to human rights violations committed by Erdogan’s regime in Turkey as Erdogan continues to increase the pressure on the country’s opponents in return.

The West obviously needs to review its policy towards Turkey if it does not want to face more blackmail by Erdogan over refugees.

Gulten Sari