Turkey’s Entry Into Kabul Carries Risks

The proposal made by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to US President Joe Biden last month on the sidelines of a NATO summit that Turkey could undertake the security of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul after NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a bargaining chip for improving Ankara’s relationship with Washington but given the resurgence of the Taliban it could turn into a nightmare in the long run, unless it is handled very skillfully and with the utmost caution.

Erdogan told Biden that Turkey could run security at the airport if the US provided it with the necessary “diplomatic, logistical and financial support.”Ankara wants to collaborate with Pakistan and Hungary in this task. In their first face to face meeting, Erdogan and Biden did not make much progress on the main disputes that have poisoned Turkish-US relations in recent years, but Erdogan indicated that there is a possible consensus on Afghanistan.

Ankara’s proposal to secure Kabul’s airport, after the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan by August 31, raises questions about the risks it is prepared to take, what logistical and other support is going to get from the US for the whole operation, what the Biden administration is prepared to do on the contentious issues between Ankara and Washington and what actual support Turkey may be given on the ground. Moreover, Turkey must take seriously into account the risks involved in the whole operation and the possibility of having to confront other regional players, like Pakistan, Russia, Iran, and China.

It is highly probable that all these regional powers would prefer to deal with a domestic actor — the Taliban — or a new government that might emerge, rather than Turkey.

On July 9 Turkish President Erdogan said that an agreement has been reached over the post-withdrawal Kabul airport security. He added:”Our Defense Minister met with the US Defense Secretary, and we had a meeting with US and NATO to discuss the future of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. We decided on what we accept in this respect and which conditions we don’t agree upon.”

The Afghan government immediately welcomed the move. The Civil Aviation Authority on Sunday said that a new defense system has been activated at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The Taliban on Sunday announced its opposition to the agreement between the US and Turkey. A spokesman for the group stressed that the Taliban are against the presence of any foreign troops after the given deadline for their withdrawal from Afghanistan. “If they remain within the framework of NATO or Turkey or any other country, it will not be acceptable both for the people of Afghanistan and for the Taliban,” former Taliban commander Sayed Akbar Agha said.

Turkey has about 500 troops in Afghanistan as part of a non-combat NATO mission. Its soldiers never had any direct conflict with the Taliban, while maintaining good relations with all ethnic groups in Afghanistan. They were mainly involved in the training of Afghan security forces, while some still serve, together with Hungarian soldiers, at the Kabul airport. The hard question for Turkey is how it could assume responsibility for the security of the airport, embassies and critical facilities in Kabul without conducting military policing and patrolling, which are clearly combat tasks.

As Afghanistan is a landlocked mountainous country, the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul offers a vital connection to the outside world and is generally considered to be a prerequisite for the operation of diplomatic missions in the country and for the delivery of international humanitarian aid. If the Airport does not remain open and operating, embassies in Kabul will be withdrawn and Afghanistan will become an isolated state. Last May, Australia, citing security fears, closed its embassy in the country.

Taliban’s rejection cannot be lightheartedly ignored by Ankara, as according to several reports the Taliban controls nearly half of the 400 districts in Afghanistan, while a Taliban delegation in Russia claimed that 85 percent of Afghan territory was under the group’s control.

NATO’s former senior civilian representative for Afghanistan and former Turkish Foreign Minister, Hikmet Cetin, told Al Jazeera: “While Taliban’s political wing is in favour of reconciliation, the military wing is chasing a military victory. Otherwise, nothing will have changed there in the last 19 years. Yet far more hinges on Turkey reaching an accord with the Taliban, which is steadily advancing towards the capital and has made clear it will not tolerate any foreign forces on Afghan soil after the US leaves…Afghanistan is now in the midst of a de facto civil war. Turkey needs a ceasefire and a deal with the Taliban, which is now telling it: ‘You came with Nato, and you’ll leave with Nato’. Without the Taliban’s approval, Turkey assuming this role is a mistake. It’s too risky.”

Another serious problem, Turkey may face in Afghanistan, is the lack of cooperation and open hostility prevailing among the various ethnic groups existing in the country and the dreaded possibility that it could be forced to support one or more against the others.

As Al-Monitor columnist Metin Gurcan says: “The Taliban hail predominantly from Pashtun groups that have been extremely hostile to other ethnicities in Afghanistan. Turkey might face a dilemma on whether to align with non-Pashtun and Turkic groups or the dominant Pashtun groups. This may sound like a minor issue, but it was one of the essential causes of the US failure in Afghanistan. So, Ankara needs to think twice and be aware that Afghanistan is not Syria, Libya or Nagorno-Karabakh and is not called a “graveyard of empires” without reason.” (ANI)

Is China-Iran Axis A Myth Or Gamechanger?

On 27 March Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Iranian countarpart Mohammad Javad Zarif signed in Tehran a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation Agreement between the two countries, expressing a desire to increase cooperation and trade relations over the next 25 years.

This Agreement has been described as a massive change in Sino-Iranian relations that, according to media reports, may see China invest about USD 400 billion in Iran. The question arises- is this a myth or a real game-changer in regional relations?

The document signed between the two sides is an expanded version of a statement made during the visit of Chinese Leader Xi Jinping in Tehran back in 2016, pledging bilateral cooperation on political, cultural, energy, trade, security and defense issues over 25 years.

At that time, the two countries signed 17 agreements and also agreed to increase bilateral trade more than ten-fold to USD 600 billion in the next decade, as China pursues its BRI (One Belt One Road Initiative).

The BRI is an ambitious network of road, rail and port routes that will connect China to Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. It should be noted, however, that China’s pledge to increase investment tenfold has little to show five years later.

An 18-page draft of the agreement published by The New York Times last summer listed nearly 100 projects to be funded by Chinese investments and are expected to be a part of Xi’s ambitious BRI, extending China’s strategic influence across Eurasia.

These 100 projects include airports, high-speed railways and subways, that will improve the lives of most Iranian citizens. In return, Iran is to provide regular and heavily discounted oil supplies to China for 25 years.

Despite a lot of press reports, there is no mention in the Strategic Cooperation Agreement about a specific amount to be invested by China in Iran. The document is by and large a list of areas in which China will engage with Iran during the next 25 years.

Zhao Lijian, the Spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, replying to a question about the agreement, said: “The plan focuses on tapping the potentials in economic and cultural cooperation and charting the course for long-term cooperation. It neither includes any quantitative, specific contracts and goals nor targets any third party, and will provide a general framework for China-Iran cooperation going forward.”

The Strategic Cooperation Agreement between China and Iran could change the assumptions of the West about Chinese ambitions in the Middle East region and may lead to a weakening of US influence in this volatile region of the world. Iran, which has been severely affected by US sanctions and international isolation, sees China as throwing it a lifeline and views the agreement as the beginning of mutually beneficial relations.

Some analysts describe the Strategic Cooperation Agreement as “destabilizing” and “a direct threat to US goals in the Middle East”, while others started calling China and Iran “the new Axis of Evil.”

The fact that China is a world power that can afford to defy the US and can ignore sanctions imposed by the US Administration is something that worries President Joe Biden. According to US officials, the agreement could also make way for Chinese military bases in Iran, fundamentally changing the region’s geopolitics.

Some press reports claim that the new US Administration is trying to rally allies against China, something which Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described as the world’s “greatest geopolitical test.”

In the strategic realm, the proposed draft talks about deepening military cooperation, with “joint training and exercises”, “joint research and weapons development” as well as intelligence sharing.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that “China is consistent in opposing the unreasonable unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by other countries, because they violate the international law and are an affront to human conscience”.

Wang added that China stands ready to work with Iran and other countries to jointly oppose the acts of bullying by powers, uphold international equity and justice and defend the basic norms of international relations.

Dr William Figueroa, a specialist in Sino-Iranian relations, points out that while China remains Iran’s top oil importer, “Chinese firms have not increased investment, imports, or exports at the exponential levels pledged in 2016, and are not likely to do so in 2021 either. The deal is unlikely to fundamentally threaten the balance of power in the Middle East. China tends to choose stable relations with geostrategic advantages over volatile ones likely to spark conflict. For all its propaganda, China, like Iran, is more interested in its immediate geopolitical goals than a revolution.”

Several experts on Sino-Iranian relations, like Jonathan Fulton, senior fellow at Atlantic Council, describe the Agreement as “a list of things Iran and China hope to do, under perfect conditions”, while Lucille Greer and Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, said that the agreement is “not as alarming as it sounds.”

In conclusion, it can be said that relations between China and Iran are going to improve due to the agreement is not a myth. It will give the Iranian side some breathing space, helping it break somewhat the diplomatic isolation imposed by the US.

At the same time exaggerated concern that the agreement will change the geopolitical map of the region are most probably unfounded.

(The views and ideas expressed in the article are solely of the author. – ANI)