Islamabad, Kabul, Delhi, 17 June 2021 (Anadolu News)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s proposal of a new trilateral mechanism involving Turkey for protecting Kabul’s airport after the US pulls out of Afghanistan has drawn mixed reactions from experts in South Asia.
Speaking to reporters on Monday at the end of a series of meetings with NATO leaders on the sidelines of the alliance’s summit in Brussels, Belgium, Erdogan said Turkey was also seeking Pakistan and Hungary’s involvement in the new mission in Afghanistan following the departure of the US-led NATO force.
Turkey, whose forces in Afghanistan have always been of noncombatant troops, is reported to have offered to guard Hamid Karzai International Airport as questions remain on how security will be assured along major transport routes and at the airport, which is the main gateway to the capital Kabul.
According to an announcement in April by US President Joe Biden, all foreign troops will exit Afghanistan by September 2021.
“We welcome President Erdogan’s announcement. It’s a very positive development,” Mushahid Hussain Syed, who heads Pakistan’s Senate Defense Committee, told Anadolu Agency.
He said Islamabad and Ankara are key players for “peace, security and stability” in Afghanistan amid a deep-rooted trust, friendship and camaraderie between the two countries.
“The US and the foreign troops are leaving Afghanistan high and dry as they did in 1989 after the (Soviet Union) Red Army’s exit from the war-ravaged country,” he noted, adding “Pakistan has a strategic stake in Afghanistan’s peace, security and stability and so does Turkey.”
He said the two countries have also been part of the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process which aims to spearhead ongoing desperate efforts aimed at resolving the decades-long conflict through a politically negotiated settlement.
Meanwhile, Manoj Joshi, a New Delhi-based political commentator, views Erdogan’s proposal as “workable.”
“I think it is workable because it is limited to the airport. Also because Kabul is a non-Pashtun city with a lesser Taliban influence,” Joshi told Anadolu Agency.
“Pakistan’s involvement would make the Turkish mission easier since Islamabad has the ability to control Taliban logistics,” he said, referring to a degree of influence Islamabad reportedly enjoys over the militia mainly due to the vicinity.
Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based expert on Afghan affairs, however, feels that the proposal may not get a nod from both the Taliban and the Kabul government.
“The Taliban have fought against foreign troops for two decades. It is unlikely that they will accept the presence of foreign troops, no matter from a Muslim country, on Afghan soil after the US pullout,” he told Anadolu Agency, while noting that the Taliban’s spokesman has openly expressed the group’s respect for Ankara.
For the Kabul government, he said, it would be even more difficult to accept the presence of Pakistani troops on its soil.
Sher Shah, a student from Islamabad, while hailing the proposal to deploy Muslim countries’ troops in Kabul, said such a decision would also need the support of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), apart from taking the warring Taliban into confidence.
“In my opinion, Turkey and Pakistan need to take the Taliban into confidence before the deployment of troops at Kabul airport because if they avoid the Taliban, in that case, they would face resistance from them,” he said.
Imranullah Nasir, who is studying international relations at the University of Peshawar, also supported Shah’s view, saying the US has lost the war and now they will try to get Muslim troops involved in Afghanistan against the Taliban.
“Turkey and Pakistan should also involve other Muslim countries and talk with the Taliban before taking any decision because without consulting the Taliban, they could face resistance,” he said.
“If it is through consensus, Turkey’s presence in Afghanistan after the US pullout can prevent a civil war-like situation there,” he noted.
In the wake of the latest spiral of violence across the country, Afghans in Kabul view the proposal with caution.
“It is due to the internal bickering and divisions among Afghans that foreign countries, including friendly Muslim countries such as Turkey, see the opportunity and need to keep its forces here,” said Khan Saeed, a Kabul resident.
Ultimately, he said, the Taliban and the Afghan government need to reach a political settlement for the sake of peace and harmony in the country.
The Afghan government has so far not reacted to the proposal of keeping Turkish forces engaged that are currently stationed at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The Taliban last week warned against keeping troops of any country in Afghanistan for the proposed security of Kabul airport after the withdrawal of international forces. In a statement issued Saturday, the group declared that the presence of any foreign forces is “unacceptable.”
“Every inch of Afghan soil, its airports and security of foreign embassies and diplomatic officers is the responsibility of the Afghans. Consequently, no one should hold out hope of keeping a military or security presence in our country, nor should steps be taken that could strain relations between people and countries,” it said.
Analysts, on the other hand, believe the continued stay of Turkish forces might be necessary for keeping the airport functional for the moment.
“Turkey has deep-rooted ties with Afghanistan, but their military presence here at a time of war is divisive. I hope it does not hurt the historic relations between the two brotherly nations,” Afghan Army veteran Brig. Mohammad Arif told Anadolu Agency.
Syed Abrar Hussain, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, said: “I think it’s too early to comment on any such proposal. Let’s see how the Pakistani leadership responds to it.”
Turkey, he said, is a sincere friend of both Pakistan and Afghanistan, but Pakistan should not get involved in any such activity unless requested by Afghans themselves.
“We should be there to help and facilitate only when asked by both parties in Afghanistan,” he maintained.
In January 2021, the Turkish army took the lead of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) in Kabul, placing thousands of soldiers on standby, ready to deploy within days. Units from Albania, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, the UK and the United States also serve on the force, which is part of the alliance’s larger NATO Response Force.
Turkish Brigadier General Selcuk Yurtsizoglu heads the NATO-led unit Train, Advise, Assist Command–Capital in Kabul which conducts functionally based security force assistance to train, advise and assist the 111th Capital Division (CAPDIV) in the Afghan capital. Albania, Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Republic of North Macedonia, Turkey and the US are contributing nations.
*Aamir Latif in Karachi contributed to this story