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Why Turkey was so keen to protect Kabul Airport?

Last month, Turkey offered to assume the responsibility of running and protecting Kabul’s strategic Hamid Karzai Airport landlocked Afghanistan’s main gateway to the world after American and NATO troops complete their withdrawal from the war-battered country. By providing security to the Kabul airport and thus ensuring that NATO will present in Afghanistan after the US’s exit, Ankara hopes to mend its ties with Washington.

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Last month, Ankara offered to protect Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Airport –Afghanistan’s primary gateway to the world – after US and NATO forces complete their exit from the war-battered state. As a deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government continues to prove slippery, and the security situation in Afghanistan worsens rapidly, there is a need to find Turkey’s aims for making the offer. Turkey has been influential in Afghanistan diplomatically and politically and it is the only Muslim majority state part of NATO.

Turkey enjoys cordial ties with Pakistan. Ankara hosted many summits between Afghanistan and Pakistan’s governments to improve bilateral relations in the past. Turkey has connections with different segments of Afghan society, including the Taliban. Ankara has over 500 soldiers in Afghanistan, but these soldiers do not take part in combat – their doing are limited to supporting security to the military segment of the Kabul airport and training the Afghan military. Turkey has better connections with the Taliban than other NATO members, Due to its non-combatant role in Afghanistan.

Read more: Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan to participate in Turkey defense expo

Ankara is in a solid position to protect Kabul airport in the post-US era

The Taliban has already warned Ankara not to keep its forces in Kabul beyond September 2021; Turkey insists on the insurgent group drop its objections to these plans through its friends, Pakistan and Qatar. Ankara has also made its mind to talk to the militants on this matter directly. Turkey has a lot to get from taking on this crucial responsibility, thus remaining a critical factor in Afghanistan after the American withdrawal. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is evident in his intentions to increase Turkey’s clout in the Muslim world. Under his regime, Ankarasignificantly enhanced its influence through media and educational projects.

Turkish dramas are helping to turn public opinion in favor of Ankara in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In recent years, Turkey has made various efforts to sideline Saudi Arabia and position Ankara as the new leader of the Sunni Muslim world. Ankara actively took part in regional issues like the Syrian war, Qatar blockade and murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Ankara’s efforts to maintain its presence in Afghanistan by providing security to the Kabul airport are in part an extension of these geopolitical aims. Erdogan wants to challenge Saudi Arabia’s leadership of the Sunni-Muslim world and demonstrate Turkey’s soft power capabilities to the broader international community by protecting Kabul airport.

Turkey and US distorted ties 

The most important thing is Turkey wants to repair its ties with the US and Ankara’s presence in Afghanistan after America’s withdrawal will provide a chance for Turkey to mend its relations with the US and strengthen its positioning in NATO. Turkey got S-400 missiles from Moscow in July 2019, which were made initially to destroy NATO hardware. NATO considered this move a threat to their security. America imposed sanctions on Ankara to express its anger. America supports Kurdish militants in Syria. Ankara’s operations against these groups and the US refusal to hand over the preacher Turkey holds responsible for the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan also strained the ties between Turkey and America.

Read more: Will post-Erdogan Turkey move from Islamist to secularist authoritarianism?

By providing security to the Kabul airport and thus ensuring that NATO will present in Afghanistan after the US’s exit, Ankara hopes to mend its ties with Washington. By portraying itself as an essential factor in Afghanistan, Ankara is also hoping to increase its position in NATO. NATO members are unhappy with Ankara’s interventionist policies in Libya, Iraq and Syria. The Kabul airport has strategic significance for NATO members to maintain a diplomatic presence in the future. The security of the airport will undoubtedly help Ankara to gain respect in the eyes of these states. Ankara and Washington are still talking, and no final result has been made as to who will be tasked with protecting the Kabul airport after America’s withdrawal.

The US looks interested in Ankara’s offer, but so far did not meet Ankara’s conditions; Turkey wants financial, logistical and diplomatic support in return. On the other side, the Taliban are rapidly occupying territory, and Tehran and Moscow have already hosted the delegations of the Taliban and the Afghan government to revive the stalled peace talks. New Things are happening every day in Afghanistan and the month of September will show a clear picture.

 

The writer is a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Government College University Faisalabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at Aamirjunaid798@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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