Ankara gets closer to Kabul / News / News agency Inforos
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Ankara gets closer to Kabul

Turkey is getting more actively engaged in the Central Asian and Afghan agenda, particularly as a possible opponent to China

Ankara gets closer to Kabul

In the light of a new situation in Eurasia (specifically in Central Asia), Turkey is returning to the way it was about thirty years ago. Back then, Ankara, which had not yet given up on its secular model of state and society in favor of the Islamist one, was favorably viewed by the American administration of President George H. W. Bush as a regional "watchman".

At the moment, the situation has fundamentally changed in some aspects, while ensuring consistency in other ones. Under Erdogan, Turkey has moved towards a more Islamist model, with its geopolitical aggressiveness retained and stepped up. Now it blends elements of pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism. The outlined limits of expansion are beyond those of times past. Turkey has pretty much spoiled relations with its main ally – Washington, but is ready to coordinate action with it if necessary.

To a certain extent, this made itself felt even under Donald Trump's Republican administration. It did already have relations with Ankara, although noticeably tense, but it still directed the Turks where necessary. This trend was noticeable in the second Karabakh war, for one thing. Turkey, given its strong ties with China and anxiety to be its chief partner in various transport "belts", was unobtrusively pushed to ram those. At the turn of autumn 2020, Iran was negotiating strategic partnership with China, and Turkey, along with its loyal ally Azerbaijan, became a destabilizing factor for this partnership for a while.

Something of the sort is being observed today as well. Ideologically, Biden's administration seems even further away from Erdogan than Donald Trump. However, the Turks are still important to the White House as a Eurasian counterweight to China and a balance-beam for Iran, whom the Democrats are actually ready to fix up with.

This trend got clearly manifested during the first meeting between Biden and Erdogan as leaders of their countries. It took place on the sidelines of the European NATO summit. On the one hand, the parties were a far cry from agreeing to resolve their numerous geopolitical contradictions. On the other hand, a press conference following their talks saw Erdogan make it clear that Ankara is ready to enter into certain liabilities to control Afghanistan, which now hang in the air following the withdrawal of American forces. We are particularly talking about control over the airport of Kabul.

Actually, this capacity of the Turks appears valuable to several participants in the situation at once. For NATO and Washington, they are allies, even though extremely obstinate, disturbing and inconvenient. For the Taliban, which is about to take over the whole of Afghanistan and still banned in the Russian Federation, it is the lesser of two evils, given the Islamic-Sunni nature. However, the Taliban are now a franchise-type umbrella organization, which refers to some factions only. But more aggressive ones may deem the Turks as a kind of "darling enemy".

A late June meeting between Turkish security officials and groups of the Syrian National Army controlled by them, held at the Syrian-Turkish border crossing of Hawar Kilis, was devoted to maintaining this fragile balance. The meeting was attended by commander of the Hamza Division Sayf Abu Bakr, commander of the Samarkand Brigade Sair Maarouf, commander of the Falcons of the North faction Hussein Kheiri, commander of the Sultan Murad Division Fahim Eisa, commander of the Sultan Shah Brigade Muhammad al-Jasim aka abu-Amsha, and commander of the Al-Majid Corps Yasser Abdul Rahman.

The "functionaries" agreed to fulfill their duties for a fee (few thousand dollars per "fighter"). Thus, Turkish forces will be present in Afghanistan, who are formally non-NATO but actually subordinate to one of its member states (Turkey proper). None of them will annoy either the still-functioning government of Afghanistan or, as Ankara hopes, the Taliban.

Performance of the Turks in post-Soviet Central Asia is also subordinate to missions of penetrating deep into the region. A striking example is the abduction of Orhan Inandi by the Turkish special services in Kyrgyzstan. He is a Turkish native and head of the Sapat network of schools taking cue from Fethullah Gulen (once Erdogan's associate, and now his staunch opponent). The Kyrgyz state and society are dissatisfied with this kind of Ankara's high-handedness. However, in the course of Kyrgyz President Zhaparov's visit to Turkey a month and a half ago, the parties agreed to deepen cooperation and, by the way, reached a consensus over Gulen''s evil nature; disagreements may only exist as regards methods of combating this evil.

Turkey's role and weight in post-Soviet Central Asia and Afghanistan will only grow in the short term. Including its role of a potential counterweight to China, coerced or not, but pushed into such a role by frenemies from overseas. However, China has its own sights in this regard. Including its relations with the Taliban.

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