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Will Turkey Become another Pakistan?


By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

01 January 2017

The regularity with which terrorists are able to attack key cities in Turkey is alarming. The previous year saw more than 25 terror attacks in different parts of the country including Ankara and Istanbul. Most of these attacks have been attributed to Islamist terrorism but then even the erstwhile secular formation like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is not unknown to have used terror tactics. The latest attack yesterday on a nightclub in Istanbul is just one more in a series of such attacks. It is not clear whether there were multiple attackers involved but surely the analysis is veering around the consensus that it seems to be the handiwork of the ISIS.

It is important to understand the participants behind these attacks but perhaps the more important question is why Turkey has become vulnerable to such attacks. Turkey is perhaps one of the strongest Muslim countries having the capability of defending itself internally and externally. It is not like on the many vassal states of west Asia whose tenure of rule is dependent on the wishes of some countries in the West. Turkey is also of huge strategic importance to the west as NATO has one of the largest bases that country. Then why is it that this country has of late become the target of terror attacks?

Geo-political and external strategic reasons are always complex and it is nearly impossible that a country would be safe in this extremely interdependent world. Events within one country have ramifications in other countries and Turkey has been no exception to this rule. However, there is a sense in which much of the problem that Turkey is facing today in relation with Islamist violence has to do with the state of its domestic politics. Erdogan, in a bid to consolidate to consolidate his power, and in the delusion that he has already achieved greatness has been at the forefront of this mess that Turkey finds itself today in.

Despite claims to the contrary, Turkey has been hands in glove with the ISIS in Syria from the start of the Syrian war. Initially the support to the Syrian opposition was limited to providing safe passages to ISIS warriors through its borders which then escalated into getting them armed and providing financial support. More recently Turkey got involved directly in the fight against the Asad regime by being the principal supporter of ISIS and the al-Nusra front. All this was happening at the behest of the western countries who were extremely suspicious of Russian involvement in the Syrian War. Turkey was their most ally to route their arms and personnel into Syria. For Turkey and Erdogan, this meant huge international support as the defender of freedom and fighters against Islamic terrorism, while domestically the regime got popular support from the majority Sunnis as the war was understood as a fight against the Shia regime of Asad. Moreover, Turkey also has an internal problem of the Kurdish separatists who have long been fighting for more autonomy and eventually want their own homeland. The instability in the Middle East has given fillip to the Kurdish assertion of freedom and Turkey was naturally apprehensive about the solidarity of Kurds in different neighbouring counties. It came handy for Turkey therefore that in the name of regime change in Syria, it armed Islamic terror groups like the ISIS and the al Nusra front along areas dominated by the Kurds so that it could keep their aspirations in check. It is not surprising therefore that Kurds and ISIS got into a violent conflict with each other. And it is also not surprising that some of the frustration of the Kurds have found articulation through acts of violence against the Turkish regime. While it would have been possible to have the Kurds on their side, the present Erdogan regime has actually made them further alienated through its policy of arming the ISIS and using them to target the Kurds

Moreover, the irrelevance of NATO in the Syrian conflict has made the Russian and the Turkish an important player. In a change of stance, Turkish government today has aligned with the Russians and is no longer interested in regime change in Syria which has clearly meant that its earlier ally, the ISIS will naturally feel abandoned and angry at the double standard of the Erdogan government. It is not surprising therefore that the ISIS is reacting to this changed geo-strategy in the only way it knows: the use of violence on common people. And it is not surprising that it is able to strike deep within Turkey as it perhaps now understands Turkey as a dar al harb itself. The present Turkish regime is therefore deeply implicated in both sets of problems: its mishandling of the Syrian crisis has made the ISIS its external enemy and its repression of the Kurds has created a huge internal threat within the country.

But the problem perhaps is far greater. ISIS can longer be understood as an external for Turkey. It might have metamorphosed into an internal threat within that country. With the Erdogan regime positioning itself as the saviour of the Sunni world and in opposition to Shia Iran, there has been a groundswell of support for the present regime. The recent killing of Russian diplomat by a Turkish policeman is the very recent example of this. What is more worrying perhaps that Erdogan, in the name of fighting terror, has systematically destroyed the institutions of bureaucracy, the military and has even tinkered with the justice system which have been the bulwark against the danger of any Islamist takeover. Pakistan did the same mistake when it thought that Islam was the panacea for all its ills. Turkey seems to be going the same way and it will really be disappointing if overturns its secular legacy and engulf itself in an Islamist politics.

Arshad Alam is a columnist.