In the Afghan minefield, all players – regional and global are hedging their bets. With a capricious Taliban at the helm in Kabul, countries are keeping their cards close to their chests.
However, Turkey is an exception as it sees itself as a peace-maker in war-torn Afghanistan.
Ankara looks at Turks and Afghans as historical allies, therefore, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to extend his influence further in the country where American influence is ebbing. He has already said that he is willing to hold talks with different Taliban groups to bring about unity between the different factions. Erdogan feels that through active Turkish involvement and diplomacy, he can help Afghanistan avoid a civil war.
Turkey has already begun to welcome statements emanating from Kabul's new rulers. These include Taliban's assurances to foreigners and diplomatic missions as well as some of the reassuring messages about protecting Afghan women.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told media persons on Tuesday that Turkey is "keeping up the dialogue with all sides, including the Taliban". He added that though Turkey has dropped the plans to guard the Kabul airport, it is still willing to provide technical and security assistance if the Taliban requested it. He justified talking with the Taliban by adding that this is a pragmatic path in the current circumstances.
For the moment it seems the Turkish-Taliban communication is a one-way street. The Taliban has not commented on the Turkish proposals or offers of mediation. Experts say that of all the main players in the Afghan field, the Turks have the least influence with the Taliban.
But that has not dampened Turkey’s enthusiasm about extending its role in Afghanistan. Erdogan, who is active in Libya, Syria, Azerbaijan and other Muslim countries is keen to extend his area of influence to include Afghanistan.
Ankara is stitching up a coalition of sorts to carve out a bigger role for itself. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar visited Islamabad to discuss Afghan developments. The visit was reciprocated by Pakistan President Arif Alvi who recently met Erdogan in Istanbul.
Turkey is also in touch with Qatar, where the infamous Doha peace Accord was signed between the US and the Taliban on 29 February 2020 which helped precipitate the Afghan crisis. Turkey is building a triumvirate between Ankara, Doha and Kabul’s new regime.
Ankara also sees an important role for itself in anticipation of an inflow of Afghan refugees. By managing the refugees, who see Europe as their final port of call, Turkey can curry favour with the European Union as well.
Turkey has already burnt its fingers with the Taliban over stationing troops at the Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul. Not just the Taliban, even the opposition is against Erdogan's plans to keep soldiers in Afghanistan.
They think it is a risk the lives of soldiers in the Taliban-ruled country. Turkey still has about 500-600 soldiers in the country who were part of the NATO coalition.