President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a very experienced politician. He has always found a way – so to speak – to ‘pull a rabbit out of a hat’ when he is stuck.
With being trapped in foreign policy and tensions with the U.S., the rabbit to be pulled out of a hat will most likely be Afghanistan. Turkey has officially proposed to undertake the security and operation of the Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan where U.S. and NATO withdrew after a 20-year mission. Neither Washington nor NATO has replied in the affirmative yet to this proposal made at the NATO Summit in May when the U.S. NATO decided to withdraw from Afghanistan.
The issue will be discussed with the U.S. President Biden and Erdogan at the NATO Summit to be held on June 14m where a decision is likely to be made.
CAN A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH BIDEN BE ESTABLISHED THROUGH AFGHANISTAN?
The calculation of the Erdogan administration seems to make way for bargaining with the Biden administration through Afghanistan in strained relations with the U.S. There are many areas of tension in the Turkish-American relations, such as the S-400s, American assistance to the YPG, and Fethullah Gulen’s U.S. residency. The most irksome problem is the lack of trust between the AK Party government and the Biden administration. The AK Party government considers negotiations to start with Afghanistan and rom there spread it to other areas.
THE TENSION WITH UAE
The ‘hostile relations’ with United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also influenced negoatiations over the AK Party government’s request regarding the Kabul airport. The consortium formed by GAAC and G42, both of which are UAE companies, signed an agreement with the Civil Aviation Authority of Afghanistan in October last year to undertake the operation of all airports across the country. Ankara believes that the UAE’s promise to the Afghan government to ‘donate’ substantial amounts was behind the agreement.
There are real world consequences to this dispute: flights to Kabul or Kandahar, for instance, can be disrupted for companies such as Qatar Airways.
The AK Party government calculates that if it takes over operations at Kabul airport, it will also have a say in how flights operate after the withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO.
KEEPING TURKEY OCCUPIED
Turkey’s NATO file is full of many troubled issues, notably S-400s.
The most trouble-free issue in the file is the collaboration in Afghanistan. It seems unlikely that the Biden administration will dispense with the easy option of transferring the Afghanistan file to another NATO member.
That’s not all.From the point of view of the Biden administration, keeping Turkey ‘occupied’ with Afghanistan can also be used to ‘keep it away’ from the files that AK Party competes with the U.S., such as Libya and Syria.
Turkey, which is in an economic crisis, should additionally allocate military, financial and logistics resources for the control of Kabul airport. The bargaining with the U.S. is already heading on this front. In fact, Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar stated that additional financial and logistics support is necessary in order to undertake control of Kabul airport and pointed out that this is being discussed with the Americans.
Even if the U.S. and NATO members provide support to Turkey, it’s inevitable that a large part of the burden will be left to Ankara. This puts a big question mark over how it will affect Turkish military operations in other parts of the world, for instance, cross-border operations in Iraq… President Erdogan made some hints about what will be done about the Makhmour refugee camp, which he described as ‘a nest of terrorists’ on a television program. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas, who examined border regions in Turkey and met with Turkish officials in Ankara, responded on her social media account that “she made it clear to Turkish officials that any attack targeting civilians at Makhmour refugee camp would be a violation of international and humanitarian law.”
Silence dominates the Libya operation launched by the AK Party government. News about its quiet withdrawal of hired fighters from Libya and U.S. pressure ‘for all foreign soldiers to leave the country’ was reported in the international press. The bargaining table is being set for the TSK advisors deployed for training in Libya. However, no guarantee has been given yet by anyone. Afghanistan as political cover
From the point of AK Party, the Afghanistan move can be an opportunity to ‘cover’ reversals in foreign policy. Steps to establish Turkey’s role in Afghanistan can be turned into an extremely favorable file for the AK Party to be use in domestic policy.
Apparently, the Afghanistan issue will be the only concrete progress to come out of Biden-Erdogan meeting.