For those interested in foreign policy – a very good essay explaining what is happening in Turkey today draws parallels with Pakistan’s trajectory between 1978 and 1988, under military dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq.
Whenever you try to wrap your hands around a hard public policy issue that is too complex to break down, it helps to judge by comparison. And the Turkey of 2018 can be set next to the Pakistan of 1978. Though, as Eli Lake explains in his piece, Turkey is not quite there yet.
“The clearest parallel with Pakistan is Turkey’s current approach to the war in Syria. In January, Erdogan launched a new offensive against America’s Kurdish allies in Afrin. Even though the Turks have worked against the regime in Damascus, during the first weeks of that offensive they actually coordinated with their erstwhile adversaries in Syria.
“This is a less toxic version of Pakistan’s broader approach to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. There, the Pakistani military and intelligence services have tolerated and at times encouraged a group known as the Haqqani Network […] to become a lifeline for the Afghan Taliban and other terrorists attacking U.S. forces and the elected government in Kabul. At the same time, the Pakistanis have been important allies for the U.S. dating back to the Islamic insurgency against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and more recently against elements of al Qaeda since 2001. Of course when the U.S. finally tracked down Osama bin Laden, it found him living in the same town as Pakistan’s prestigious military academy, Abbottabad.”
What I would quibble with, though, is whether the US has much influence to change Turkey in its trajectory. The US gives aid here, cajoles there, but the effect is marginal. And I don’t see Turkey’s moves, necessarily, as a betrayal to the US. They follow their own path, questionable though it may be. Maybe the writer, Eli Lake or his editors are trying to dumb down his message to a level that Erdogan, the Turkish president, can understand. Betrayal, insults, claims of hurt pride are day to day language familiar to Erdogan and other strongmen, but sound strange indeed to the casual American reader.
The effect, though, of the Pakistanization of Turkey is felt in Syria. And it has been felt long before Turkey kicked off its latest offensive against the Kurds, which are US allies. There was much reluctance during the Obama years to engage US ally Turkey, to publicly confront her over its projection of power in Syria. If anything, one can suspect Turkey was egged on to intervene, not to hold back…
Basically, the Syrian civil war can be seen as a proxy war between regional Islamic states – Saudi Arabia with its allies, and Turkey on one side, and Iran, that other regional troublemaker, on the other side. This, at least until the greater powers, Russia and US, intervened.
And the result? A country destroyed for a generation, with no end in sight to the mayhem.