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The fall of Kabul: Is Erdogan ‘Taliban’ to avoid?

It is very normal in life to ask each other: “Tell me your friend and I will tell you what (not who) you are. Indigenous African knowledge holds: “That (cow) which accompanies the one which trespasses in people’s farms, ends up stealing (crops) as well. The concept is all about character rather than a name.

Kabul has fallen to the Taliban ending the Afghan war that has seen four United States presidents step on the stairs of the White House in Washington. All along, the United States of America and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have been fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan under the anti-terrorism red tag.

It is common knowledge that among the U.S. allies, the Republic of Turkey ranks Number One. For this, the Taliban had every reason to take Turkey’s role in the war along the same lines. At the same time Turkey is known to have links with terror groups, whose activities it is supposed to fight against.

Tired of the non-delivering Afghan war, U.S. presidents have been trying to pull out without success. Maybe they saw this in the light of the devastating Vietnam War and the world’s biggest power humiliating departure from Saigon in the mid-1970. It could only take the likes of one-term President Donald Trump to declare it quits and set the August 31st 2021 withdrawal deadline for U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Enough is enough.

During the dictatorial rule of the Roman Empire, there was a saying: “Roma locuta, causa finita” – contextually translated, once the emperor’s office has made a statement, there is no cause (room) for further comment from any corner.  So, when ‘Rome’ – the U.S. – announced troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, all its NATO allies had to keep quiet and follow suit and prepare for withdrawal.

But rather than plan troop withdrawal, Turkey (Erdogan) set an equation for remaining behind after NATO troops have gone back home. This was under the excuse tangent or guise of taking care of security issues at the globally important Kabul airport. This he could not do without the blessing in deed and kind of the U.S. (Joe Biden) administration. 

At the same time, this is the very Biden who had put it clear, even before he became the U.S. president, that he was ready to support anti-Erdogan elements in Turkey for the sake of restoring democracy in the country. Biden’s go-ahead for Erdogan could have greatly helped to mend the walls between them.

However, the state of affairs looks like a very possible plan backlash for Erdogan. The speed at which the Taliban have brought Afghanistan back in their grip is a record. The whole world was caught napping, leaving allies in the war to take care of their individual interests.

Erdogan hoped that, as a caretaker-to-be of Kabul airport security, he would also talk to the Taliban. But the victorious Taliban are divided about him. Some are of the opinion that his country’s troops should be on the passenger manifest under the all-foreign-troops departure package. What is Afghan about the remaining behind of Turkish troops aligned with the U.S.?

Others are of the perspective of “better the devil you know” or the African indigenous knowledge which advises: “Entrust the care of your child to a witch.” This is on the premise that the witch would have to think twice before harming (killing) your child due to leading circumstantial evidence.

Iran and Turkey presidents, whose two countries have sunk in deep problems over the Afghan war due to the refugee crisis, are talking on different wavelengths. Their response to securing peace in Afghanistan is also at variance. 

While President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he was prepared to meet the Taliban leadership, his Iranian counterpart, President Ebrahim Rasi, who is a hardliner, was of the opinion that the U.S. military “defeat” in Afghanistan was enough.  What negotiations does one make after winning a war?

Trying to clear the path for Erdogan’s planned meet with the Taliban, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu commented on what he called “positive messages” from the other side on the protection for civilians and foreigners, expressing hope they (Taliban) would follow through with positive actions. But analysts see the Taliban takeover as having negatively impacted Erdoğan Kabul airport security plans.

One analyst, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, was quoted by the media as saying that  it is “hard to imagine”  Erdogan getting the Taliban go-ahead to control the airport. “A few days ago this looked like a golden opportunity for Turkey. Now it is a huge ticking bomb.”

Swedish Institute of International Affairs Rouzbeh Parsi has argued that all along, Shiite “Iran (has) accepted that the Taliban are not going to disappear and that no outsider will be able to militarily defeat them.” So, it had to at least appear keen at achieving peaceful coexistence with the Sunni Taliban along a more than 900-kilometer (550-mile) border with Afghanistan. 

On top of that, in a research note, the International Crisis Group argues that the Taliban’s diplomatic engagement “has shifted to a regionally focused approach,” emphasizing dialogue with Iran, Russia, Central Asian states and China.  Would these countries feel comfortable with Turkey, a strong NATO ally, representing the right agent to oversee whatever business they want to do with the Taliban or whatever government comes to power in Afghanistan?

For example, in as much as Turkey has acquired S-400 sophisticated air missiles from Russia, the two countries stood on either side in the Syrian crisis. Because of the refugee crisis, Turkey is building a war along its border with Iran. Turkey has a bone to pick with China in respect of Beijing repressions of a Muslim minority community members. This creates a fertile ground for some level of ‘mutual’ distrust between them and   Turkey. 

Even in the early days of the fall of Kabul, Erdogan, who looked forward to gaining a lot from the withdrawal of U.S. and its NATO allied troops, looks like having been kept out in the cold. Could he be in possession of Taliban (terrorism) traits to prompt even the Taliban themselves to keep some ‘political’ distance from him just as people are keeping social distance in the COVID-19 pandemic age?     

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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