Turkey’s Ambiguous Position Towards the Taliban
By: Shujauddin Amini
For the past twenty years, Turkey has been a part of NATO in Afghanistan, yet they have not engaged in any combat with the Taliban, nor have they been attacked by them. After the Taliban regained power, Turkey and Qatar attempted to take control of the airfields in Afghanistan. However, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a rival of the two and a long-time ally of the Taliban, signed an agreement with the group, thus taking control of the airfields in Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, and Balkh.
The Turkish Embassy in Kabul is open and its Ambassador meets with Taliban officials periodically. In 2022, the second phase of the Kajaki Power Dam, which was contracted to the construction company “77 Turki” during the previous government, was inaugurated in Helmand Province with the presence of the Turkish Ambassador and Taliban officials. This is likely the most significant undertaking Turkey has undertaken under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Another noteworthy move made by Turkey was the acceptance of a Taliban diplomat as Consulate General in Istanbul. The Turkish Foreign Minister met with the acting Foreign Minister of the Taliban, Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, twice in February 2022 in Ankara and in November 2021 on the sidelines of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in Islamabad.
Turkey has not been quick to recognize the Taliban, nor has it encouraged other countries to do so. Furthermore, it has not given the Taliban full control of Afghanistan‘s political mission, unlike some other countries in the region who have done so and are now regretting it.
- Turkey Committed to Advancing Women‘s and Human Rights in Afghanistan
The importance of the Taliban‘s provision of women‘s rights and human rights to Turkey is twofold: firstly, Turkey is seen as a successful model of democracy in the Islamic world, where women are not oppressed in the name of religion and human rights are respected; thus, leniency towards the Taliban, who treat women as servants, would be seen as a violation of this purpose. Secondly, Turkey values women‘s rights and human rights in order to join the European Union, though it has yet to be successful in obtaining membership. If Turkey were to recognize the Taliban against the will of the European Union, it would likely darken the prospect of membership. This issue will become especially important if Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu wins the Turkish elections.
- Turkey Cares about Afghan Turks
The authorities in Ankara have repeatedly expressed their concern over the lack of an inclusive government in Afghanistan with the Taliban. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey, has stated that the formation of an inclusive government is a prerequisite for the management of Kabul Airport. Turkey does not accept the arrangement of a cabinet led by the Taliban. Ankara officials consider it important for Turks to be included in the political structure of Afghanistan. Erdoğan is pursuing the Pan–Turkism project, which necessitates that Turks in the Middle East, Central Asia, South Caucasus, and Afghanistan are not marginalized. Turkey’s continuous hosting of Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, a figure opposed to the Taliban, and its support of him can be seen as evidence of this.
Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party and a prominent pan–Turkist and ally of Erdogan, once declared that there were purportedly 8 million Turks in Afghanistan and that Ankara could not remain indifferent to their fate. Additionally, he presented a map of the Turkic world to Erdoğan, which included the territories of Turkic–speaking countries and countries with Turkish minorities, annexed to the territory of Turkey. Pan–Turkism is not established by recognizing the Taliban, who do not take into account the presence of Turks in their cabinet.
- Turkey Cares about Refugees
Turkey is concerned about immigrants due to its role as a gateway to Europe, and is apprehensive about a potential influx of immigrants into its territory. Migrants from Iran have been entering Turkey, and from there, they have been travelling to Greece and other European countries. With the resurgence of the Taliban, Turkey has once again been exposed to an influx of immigrants. The manner in which the Turkish police handle immigrants has been a frequent topic of news, eliciting the response of human rights organizations. Reports indicate that there are more than 300,000 Afghan immigrants in Turkey, of which 44,000 were deported in 2022, and this process is still ongoing.
During Turkish election campaigns, the issue of immigration is still a highly contentious topic and is often used as a means to gain an advantage over the opposition. For example, President Erdoğan appears to be sympathetic towards immigrants, while his rival, Kılıçdaroğlu, has called for their immediate deportation. Furthermore, the influx of immigrants into Turkey has had a significant impact on the relationship between this country and its neighbours, Greece and Iran. In 2015, Turkey erected a fence along its common border with Iran in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants. Additionally, the alleged mistreatment of migrants by Turkish border guards has been used by Greece as an excuse to accuse Turkey of violating human rights. Ankara officials are aware that the survival of the Taliban will result in a continued influx of migrants into Turkey, and thus they have agreed to create a government that will slow down the immigration process.
- Taliban Do Not Care about Turkey
The Taliban are distrustful of Turkey and do not seem to comply with its requests. For instance, after negotiations between the Taliban delegation and the former government in Doha reached a stalemate, the Turkish government declared its willingness to restart talks between the two sides in its own nation, which was referred to as the “Istanbul Meeting“, yet the Taliban prevented it by refusing to take part. Turkey‘s membership in NATO may be one of the reasons why the Taliban are less likely to cooperate with Turkey compared to other countries in the region.
Following the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, Turkey, in coordination with the United States and the previous government, agreed to assume responsibility for the security of the Kabul airport, which elicited a strong response from the Taliban group, who declared that Turkish soldiers would be treated as invaders and that all foreign armed forces, contractors, advisers, and military advisers must leave the country. Additionally, Turkey is hosting the opposition forces of the Taliban. The Supreme Council of National Resistance for the Salvation of Afghanistan (SCNRSA), which was established by former political leaders in Turkey, is seen as a warning sign for the Taliban. By hosting the opposition forces of the Taliban, Turkey is demonstrating a different attitude from other countries in the region, as none of the other countries have allowed the forces opposing the Taliban to operate as freely as they do in Turkey.
Another factor that has prevented Turkey from intervening in Afghanistan‘s affairs, like other countries in the region, is that its own security is not directly threatened. For instance, there is no particular terrorist organization that is aiming to disrupt Turkey‘s security in Afghanistan. The borders of the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus region act as a protective barrier for Turkey. As long as these borders remain secure, Turkey will remain safe.