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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) meets the Minister of Foreign Affairs with the Chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah (L) in Antalya, Turkey on June 18, 2021.[TUR Presidency/Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Anadolu Agency]

Algerian researcher and adviser to the Afghanistan High Peace Council (HPC) Abdullah Anas confirmed that Turkey’s proposal that its forces remain to secure Kabul International Airport after the departure of NATO forces in September is a wise move which would contribute to achieving stability and peace in Afghanistan after four decades of war.

Anas, the son-in-law of the spiritual leader of the Arab Mujahideen in Afghanistan, Sheikh Abdallah Youssouf Azzam, stressed that the involvement of Pakistan and Hungary with Turkey in the post-NATO phase would also contribute to achieving the required regional and international balance, meaning that this step would ensure security and stability in Afghanistan and the region in general.

The researcher believes that a set of regional and international indicators would help support an effective Turkish role that could bring hope to Afghans. He spoke to Arabi21 about his vision.

In your opinion, what are Turkey’s motives and objectives in its initiative to replace NATO forces and secure Kabul airport?

Turkey, government and people, are not considered strangers to the Afghan issue. In fact, the ties between Ankara and Kabul are more than eight decades old, and there have been agreements between the two countries since the time of Kemal Ataturk, without forgetting many instances of cooperation that are still ongoing to date. When the Afghan and Turkish diplomats travel on Turkish or Afghan airlines, they receive a 50 per cent discount off the ticket price under a 75-year-old convention that is still in force.

As a veteran fighter of Afghanistan’s war against the Soviet Union, I remember the humanitarian, educational and charitable work that Turkey was doing in Afghanistan, and I even remember that a number of Turkish soldiers were martyred in northern Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Turkey left a positive impact and did not leave a dark spot in the memory of the Afghan people as was the case of the raids conducted by the armed foreign forces and the military and combative operational aspect that prevailed at that time.

After the September 11 attacks, Turkey merely intervened by advising and training the police and army officers, in addition to providing some administrative services. Therefore, the image of Turkish forces in the collective memory of the Afghan people is devoid of conflict or confrontation.

In my opinion, these overlaps are complementary with the fact that the Afghan parties in the government and Taliban have no rivalry or bad experience with Turkey in the past. There are even a number of Taliban leaders who used to live in Turkey.

I think that these interferences have made Turkey realise that it can play a key role in the Afghan issue, even beyond the task of securing Kabul airport.

Although the Afghan government has welcomed the Turkish offer, the Taliban seems to have rejected it. Can Turkey engage in armed confrontation with the Taliban, or will Ankara employ another approach?

Of course, the Taliban’s statement, in which the movement expressed its rejection of Turkey’s decision to keep its troops in Afghanistan after the departure of NATO forces on 11 September, can be understood in terms of the Taliban’s adherence to the principle of complete sovereignty over its national soil. I imagine that the Taliban did not say anything that would anger anyone in this regard, given the fact that the Afghan people in general, whether Taliban members  or civilians, are sensitive to the presence of foreign troops on their territory. The Taliban may not be different from any other people or government, as they prefer to have full sovereignty over their territory, airports, diplomacy and economy. It is not surprising that the Taliban leaders have declared their refusal to allow Turkish forces to secure Kabul airport or any other airport in Afghanistan.

However, if we consider Afghanistan’s situation in the past four decades, we would see that the presence of foreign troops there did not take place with the consent of the Afghan people.

Therefore, the Taliban’s statement must be depicted in this context… I do not think that Afghanistan can be freed overnight from foreign influence, whether from neighbouring countries or other parties. On the basis of this equation, although the declaration made by Taliban is acceptable, it requires time, understanding and management on the ground, especially when comparing Turkey with other neighbouring countries.

READ: If the US withdraws from Afghanistan, who will fill the security vacuum? 

I think that most Afghans I meet prefer Turkey for several reasons. They say that Turkey does not have a sectarian agenda in Afghanistan, considering that the vast majority of the Afghan people adhere to Islam and to the Hanafi school, which is the same for Turkey. They also say that Turkey does not threaten Islam in Afghanistan because Ankara does not have missionaries who would call the people to convert to another religion or sect.

On the ethnic level, they say that they prefer Turkey over other countries because it Turks make sure to keep the same distance from all ethnic groups, and have no clashes, rivalries, or past bad-blood with the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen or other ethnicities.

Qatar played an instrumental role in the signing of the agreement with the US administration in February 2020 in Doha, and Turkey is considered an ally of Qatar … so it should not stir up any sensitivities.

What are the reasons and objectives of Erdogan’s proposal for a partnership between Pakistan and Hungary in the Turkish initiative?

I do not know the exact reasons for involving Hungary in this initiative, it may be for reasons that Turkey knows. However, I believe that cooperation with Pakistan to help stabilise Afghanistan is a pertinent move as everyone can agree about Pakistan’s deep involvement in Afghanistan in addition to being an active partner in Afghani affairs since the Soviets entered Afghanistan in 1979. Pakistan sheltered millions of immigrants and hosted several Afghan Mujahideen’s offices in Peshawar and other Pakistani cities, and continued to be an ally of the Taliban. Some consider Pakistan as having played a major role in creating the Taliban movement in 1993.

Therefore, Turkey’s resolution on Pakistan’s presence to ensure the success of stability in Afghanistan is a correct reading of the situation.

What about the Arab stance in general and Saudi Arabia’s in particular regarding the Turkish involvement in the Afghan file. How do you see it?

I believe that the state of calm that has been restored in the Gulf region after the siege imposed on Qatar ended led to reducing tension and animosity that prevailed between the Gulf States, especially between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the one hand, and Qatar on the other hand.

If we take into account the positive signs that have recently emerged indicating the return of the stream of relations between these countries … I imagine that this breakthrough may be reflected positively on the intervention of Turkey, as an ally of Qatar; adding to that the Saudi position, as Makkah hosted a conference of senior Pakistani and Afghan scholars a few days ago that was concluded by issuing a statement calling on Afghans to unite. Thus, the initiative adopted by Saudi Arabia does not contradict what Turkey wants in Afghanistan.

Turkey has another advantage compared to other countries that can offer mediation in Afghanistan and help stabilise the country when compared to Pakistan and Iran. The Americans and the West are not suspicious of Turkey, unlike Pakistan. There are many Western parties who question Pakistan’s role and accuse it on the grounds that it sheltered a number of Al-Qaeda leaders and even Al-Qaeda’s head died somewhere in Pakistan.

Iran is also a suspect in the eye of the international community because of its nuclear project.

Does Afghanistan need international aid?

Of course, we are talking about a country that has lived through four decades of war, during which its infrastructure was almost completely destroyed. This country has no sources of national income, which necessitates help from the international community. This is one of the main points that the Americans discussed with the Taliban. They talked about the exit of NATO soldiers from Afghanistan, but they did not ask whether the West should end all ties with the Afghan state institutions, because the Taliban has realised the country’s need for international support, so that sovereign institutions remain in place.

This interview first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 23 June 2021