Turkey and the Afghan quagmire

It is no secret that Turkey has relations with jihadist movements such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria, which includes fighters from the Uyghur Muslims, which is active in Idlib. It has good relations with Qatar, which has strong relations with the Taliban movement and sponsors negotiations between the Taliban and the United States, and is considered the largest supporter of some terrorist organizations. Turkey enjoys positive relations with Pakistan and Iran, which border Afghanistan, in addition to strong Turkish Relations with Turkic-speaking Countries, where the Turkish Council – an international organization of Turkish-speaking countries – an Istanbul-based intergovernmental agency established in 2009 has served as an important diplomatic umbrella for increasing solidarity and cooperation between Central Asian countries and Turkey, as Turkey aims to create an economic union among the member states of the Turkish Council by 2040. Currently, Turkey enjoys strong relations with Moscow and pursues its geopolitical and economic interests in the Middle East and Central Asia. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stipulated that the allies be committed to providing the necessary political, financial and logistical support for it, and Erdogan suggested that Pakistan and Hungary be involved with Ankara in this mission.

Turkey’s relations with the United States, Russia and China can be determined by its future policy in Afghanistan and what is going on and will be going on in Syria, due to the involvement of these countries in the Syrian crisis. and the presence of Uyghur militants in Idlib. There are about 50,000 Uyghurs reside in Turkey. This constitutes the largest gathering of the Uyghur refugees in the world, in addition to the jihadist organizations in Afghanistan. Turkey, through its current regime, can pursue its policy in dealing with the three countries – the United States, Russia and China – to some extent, but in the end it may have two options: either the collapse of the Turkish relations with Russia and China or the collapse of the Turkish-American relations.

China and Russia: Turkey, as it is known, heavily relies on its mercenaries in its foreign interventions, and the announcement of the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the foreign forces will soon leave Libya and the withdrawal process will take some time. It is expected that Turkey will transfer its mercenaries from Libya to Afghanistan. Since Turkey sponsors the Turkistan Islamic Party in Idlib and Afghanistan on the Chinese borders, especially in the Xinjiang region (East Turkistan), this may lead to major differences between China and Turkey, as the latter is promoting itself as the leader of the Central Asian nations, and for the first time, China’s provision of advanced weapons and military equipment to the regime in Syria to launch a military campaign against the Uyghur fighters who take shelter in the villages of the Ghab Plain, the Idlib mountains and the Latakia countryside, can be linked to Turkey’s receipt of the Afghanistan file. It is worth noting that Washington has removed the Turkistan Party from the list of terrorism, as part of a series of measures taken by the Trump administration to hold China accountable for its violations in Xinjiang.

Russia is afraid of the penetration of the sleeper cells of the jihadi organizations into its territory as Afghanistan is the stronghold of jihadist organizations such as Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS, in addition to the presence of Chechen militants in Idlib. So that any crisis that may occur between Russia and Turkey in Syria will have a negative impact on it and Russia will be facing the danger of these organizations. Therefore, the relationship between Turkey and the jihadist organizations will create Turkish-Chinese and Turkish-Russian differences.

The United States is naturally concerned about Turkey as an entity executing the interests of the United States at this juncture, given their strong differences on a number of key issues such as S-400 system and its relationship with countries that the US considers its enemies like Iran, Russia and China. Turkey has signed an agreement with China to “hand over criminals”, especially the Uyghurs, to China. Activists on social media reported a change in the Turkish position towards the Muslim Uyghurs, noting that the Turkish authorities have arrested hundreds of people and coordinated deportations with Beijing for several months. This means strengthening relations with China, which has the One Belt One Road project, were Afghanistan and Turkey are an important part of this project. Thus, deepening Turkish-American differences. Therefore, the relations between them depend on the amount of concessions that will be offered by both sides, whether in Syria, the S-400 deal or restricting Turkey’s relationship with Russia and China to serve the interests of the West.

Despite the pragmatic policy followed by the Turkish regime in its international relations and playing cards such as its relationship with terrorist organizations, the S-400 deal and sending its mercenaries to some regional countries with the aim of passing its policies and obtaining gains, this will cause Turkey, in the end, many problems that it can only get out of by providing great concessions to the major powers. It is difficult for Turkey, which suffers from economic problems and whose intervention in Afghanistan will increase its economic burdens, to play a middle role, as each country has interests and strategic goals that cannot be neglected, given that Afghanistan is located in the heart of the Central Asian region on the edges of West Asia, the Indian subcontinent and East Asia, and therefore it is a region of very important to the great forces such as the US, China and Russia. Also, the withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan at this phase, will encourage some regional rivals to Turkey and Pakistan to try to fill the void in multiple ways, and among the countries interested in this are Iran, India, Russia and China in addition to the extent of Turkey’s ability to control the Taliban movement, which aims to control all of Afghanistan and rejects the Turkish presence under the umbrella of NATO. In this context, Afghanistan may turn into a huge quagmire for Turkey, from which it cannot escape.