Sunday, August 2, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 3, 2015

The IS threat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s flying visit to Islamabad on his way back from Indonesia gave him and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif an opportunity to exchange views on a number of subjects, but the most significant may turn out to be their agreement to cooperate in the fight against Islamic State (IS). Turkey has lately upped the ante in the fight against IS, but also struck Kurdish militias battling the group in northern Syria and Iraq. Ankara has vowed to crush all ‘terrorist’ challenges to its territory and sovereignty after IS carried out a suicide bombing near the Syrian border on Kurdish sympathisers gathered to provide aid and succour to the Kurdish militia YPG, which is battling successfully against IS advances in the area. In retaliation for the killing of their sympathisers, Kurdish militants carried out an attack on Turkish policemen, killing two of them. These incidents persuaded Ankara to shift its policy vis-à-vis IS, but also opened the door to it striking YPG and the PKK, the Turkish Kurdish group based largely in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. The US has welcomed Turkey’s apparent jettisoning of its reluctance to act against IS, critics having accused Ankara of turning a blind eye to the dreaded terrorist group’s using Turkish soil to transition to Syria. Both sides have agreed to create an IS-free zone on Turkey’s southern border. This seems fine in principle but in practice the bulk of Turkey’s air strikes over the past week have targeted the YPG and PKK more than IS. The YPG said it was targeted four times in the past week, while the PKK claims 260 of its fighters have been killed in Turkish air raids. The bombing has been so intense, the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region’s President Barzani has asked the PKK fighters to withdraw from civilian areas to prevent further civilian casualties. The YPG on the other hand has directed a question at Washington to clarify whether it supports Ankara’s targeting the Kurds under cover of the campaign against IS. While Turkey’s belated turn from ignoring the threat from IS, not the least to itself too, in its blind zeal to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is welcome, the manner in which the campaign is being carried out raises some troubling questions. Ankara seems to have directed most of its wrath against the Kurds, whose Syrian component, the YPG, is being assisted by the US for its heroic successes against IS, the retaking of Kobane being the prize in this crown. So on the one hand the US is helping the YPG against IS, and at the same time agreeing with Turkey to fight IS together while ignoring Turkey's actual anti-Kurdish thrust. But the confusion in policy in a complex situation is not confined to Washington. The real centre of the confusion resides in Ankara, which cannot see the need for united action of all the forces opposed to IS. It seems Turkey is more concerned about the successes and growth of the YPG as it fears its example could strengthen the hand of the PKK, which has been struggling for independence/autonomy/Kurdish rights for the last 30 years. Although PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan’s capture some years ago finally yielded talks for a political solution of the Kurdish question within Turkey, those talks too may have suffered because the recent Turkish elections have denied the ruling party a majority and pushed it to contemplate (horrors!) a coalition with a pro-Kurdish party. War against the Kurds in the name of fighting IS or waging a struggle against terrorism therefore may be serving both Ankara's domestic political and foreign strategic purposes. However, Ankara’s inability to see the wood for the trees and recognise the real menace IS presents to Iraq and Syria today (including in the latter the IS threat to all the so-called ‘moderate’ Islamist opposition), and arguably could present to Turkey tomorrow, may bring it grief. Reaching out to Pakistan in this context, albeit in a brief encounter, cannot make a dent in the ground situation nor can it obviate the need for Turkey to revisit its Assad obsession and misdirected actions against the Kurds and recognise the principle contradiction: the danger IS’s rise poses to the region as a whole, including Turkey.

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