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Turkey knocks at Taliban cockpit to steer turbulent Afghanistan

Erdogan eyes big role in war-torn Afghanistan but builds wall to keep displaced Afghans out (Photo: IANS)

Despite the Taliban rebuff over Turkish boots at the Kabul airport, Ankara is determinedly pushing ahead with its Afghan agenda. President Reccep Tayip Erdogan sees space to move Turkish influence into the vacuum created by the US.

On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made phone calls to the foreign ministers of Russia, South Korea, Australia, China and Tajikistan to discuss the Afghan imbroglio.

Separately, Erdogan has reiterated that he is willing to talk to different Taliban groups to bring about rapprochement. Erdogan wants to bring "calm" to the war-torn country. He said: "For the calm of the people of Afghanistan, the well-being of our Turkish kinsmen living in the country and protecting the interests of our country, we are open to any cooperation".

Even as it keeps a sharp eye on the developments in Afghanistan, Turkey wants its Central Asian influence to extend seamlessly into Afghanistan. Afterall the South Asian nation touches Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, where Turkey has an ethnic and linguistic commonality.

Ankara wants to pick up the pieces in landlocked Afghanistan, in a similar fashion it did in Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. "Turkey filled up the gaps in the republics after the break-up of the USSR. At that time, it rendered vital support in the fields of infrastructure and in shoring up the economy of the Central Asian Republics", an expert told India Narrative.

Many people from the republics travelled to Turkey to take up employment. Erdogan wants an encore but Afghanistan is not Central Asia and neither are its new rulers upholders of a secular order that is so perceptible in Central Asian Republics.

Simply put, the Taliban does not see things Erdogan's way.

People evacuate Kabul (Photo: IANS)

Experts also see Erdogan paying lip service to the cause of the common Afghans. The Turkish strongman may reiterate support to Afghanistan but he is also building a wall on the Iran border to keep the Afghan people out. Turkey plans to construct a gigantic 295-km long wall, of which about 60 odd kms (40 miles) is complete in its eastern Anatolian region of Van. The wall has come up exactly when the war-weary Afghan wants to escape conflict.

Turkey has also opened up discussions with Islamic brother Pakistan to ensure that Afghans do not flood Turkey. For that matter, Pakistan too has closed its borders with Afghanistan citing two reasons–that the displaced Afghans are likely to spread the coronavirus pandemic and that it has already been sheltering too many Afghans refugees.

It is not as yet clear as to how will Ankara and Islamabad manage to keep the Afghan refugees out of their borders. Both want a bigger say in the Afghan pie but none wants the Afghan people on their land.

Despite the repeated offers of intervention from a Muslim brother, the militant group finds the Western NATO imprint on the 600-odd Turkish troops. The Taliban militants, married to a hard core Islamist ideology, are clear they do not want Turkey on their soil as they see it as part of the occupation force.

The irony is that despite being person non-grata in Afghanistan, Turkey is not giving up. In the latest communication, foreign minister Cavusoglu has said that Turkey is waiting for the Taliban to form a government so that Ankara can hold talks.