ISTANBUL – Turkey is seeking to play a vital role in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US forces by offering to provide security to Kabul’s international airport. But Ankara faces formidable obstacles.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says the operation and security of Afghanistan’s Kabul airport are vital not only to the country but also to the survival of all diplomatic missions, including Turkey’s.
Cavusoglu made the comments Sunday at an international meeting at the Turkish sea resort of Antalya.
Attending the Antalya meeting, Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said he supports Turkey’s offer to provide security to Kabul’s airport.
“We welcome it, and we will support it. We believe that this will be essential for the continuation of Turkish and NATO, as well as the international community’s support to Afghanistan,” he said.
But Atmar played down any military role for Pakistan in the Turkish mission.
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — speaking at the NATO summit — said Hungarian and Pakistan forces would assist Turkey in providing security to the Kabul airport.
The Taliban has said it opposes any foreign forces remaining in Afghanistan, but Ankara believes it can overcome such opposition.
While the Turkish military is part of U.S.-led NATO operations in Afghanistan, it has avoided armed confrontations.
Hikmet Cetin, who served as NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, says Turkey has successfully maintained good relations with all sides in the conflict.
“When I was there, of course, I [talked] sometimes with the young generation of the Taliban. They respect Turkey very much because the relation between Turkey and Afghanistan started during the 1920s. But [the] Taliban, they were disagreeing with Turkey being part of the foreign military forces, part of NATO,” he said.
Turkey is looking to its close allies Pakistan and Qatar to use their influence over the Taliban to ease their opposition to the proposed Turkish role.
On Monday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Mehmood Qureshi said Erdogan had invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan for talks on Afghanistan. Qureshi warned the Afghanistan peace process was at a critical stage. The Taliban is stepping up its military operations across the country as American forces withdraw, a process that is due to be completed by September 11.
Turkish officials are in talks with Washington for financial and logistical support. With Turkey’s relations with its many of its Western allies strained and in need of repair, the country’s airport initiative could provide crucial common ground, says Huseyin Bagci, head of the Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara.
“It’s very risky, but nothing can be better for American-Turkish relations to put Turkish troops in Kabul airport. The key problem is [the] Taliban but they can make a deal,” he said.
Analysts warn that with formidable obstacles remaining in the way of Turkey’s plans for the Kabul airport mission, time is running out before the September 11 deadline for U.S. withdrawal.