By Serkan Demirtas
Under normal conditions, Turkey and Afghanistan would celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties throughout this year. One of the first decisions taken by the Turkish Parliament after its foundation in 1921 was to open a representative office in Kabul. Afghanistan became the second nation for recognizing the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, thereby supporting the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.
Turkey has had a very special relationship with Afghanistan despite going through difficult times, especially in the past 40 years.
Maintenance of unity and integrity of Afghanistan, providing security and stability in the country, and restoration of peace and prosperity by eliminating extremism and terrorism constitute Turkey’s primary pillars of its Afghanistan policy.
In that line, Turkey has been an active partner of NATO’s Afghanistan missions, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) between 2001 and 2014, and the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) from 2015 until now. It has been running various multilateral initiatives with other regional countries for the well-being of Afghanistan. Plus, Turkey is preparing to host a historical conference in Istanbul where the Afghan government and the Taliban are being expected to sign an agreement to end the chaos in the country.
These days, Afghanistan is at a very crucial point of great historical importance.
The United States officially started to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan on May 1 with expectations to complete the process by September 11, on the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda’s attack against it. With the completion of the RSM, all other NATO countries will also pull back from Afghanistan, marking the end of NATO’s longest-ever mission.
Despite concerns that the Taliban may take entire Afghanistan under its control in two or three years and drag the world’s one of the poorest nations into a new dark age and a civil war, U.S. President Joe Biden kept his promise to repatriate around 3,500 troops.
Though, it’s not sure whether the start of the withdrawal will be sufficient for the Taliban to accept to attend the Istanbul Conference slated to take place after Ramadan and sign the peace agreement with the government. Recent statements by the Taliban are not very much promising to this end. Even worse, some Taliban officials threatened to attack the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on the ground that they broke the 2020 agreement for a complete withdrawal of foreign troops by May 1. At this point, there are two important processes for the fate of Afghanistan.
The first is whether the Taliban will accept to attend the conference and launch a political transition with the Afghan government. So far, there is no positive sign to this end.
The second is about what NATO can do for Afghanistan as its 20-year mission terminates. As can be recalled, NATO has decided to withdraw troops at a meeting held in Brussels on April 14. At a press conference on the same day, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg underlined that NATO would continue to provide support and work with Afghanistan, vowing to start a new chapter in ties with Kabul.
Political efforts and diplomatic presence will form the core of NATO’s engagement by continuing to provide support to the Afghan security forces. “And we will also have to look into how we can make sure that we do not jeopardize the gains we have made in the fight against international terrorism. Exactly how we will do that, exactly what role NATO will have, is not yet decided. But all of these issues are on the table,” he said.
One thing is pretty probable: There will be no new NATO mission in Afghanistan. Some countries, such as Turkey, which believe that Afghanistan should not be left alone at this very crucial milestone, are pondering how to assist this country in the coming period.
Given the vastness of the problems in Afghanistan and the fact that further deterioration of political stability and socio-economic conditions can cause the resurrection of even more dangerous armed extremist groups, the international community should find a way to continue its presence in this country.
Afghanistan and Afghan people, who are already very much worried about the future, should not be left to its fate.
By Serkan Demirtas