As a new competition over power has begun in Asia.
Russia and China are expected to fill the power vacuum created by the US withdrawal, and for Turkey it is an opportunity politically, economically and diplomatically in Afghanistan for making a stepping stone to Central Asia in the new era of great power competition.
Turkey has been playing an important non-combatant role in Afghanistan since 2003 especially in Kabul airport,. Turkish non-combatant military presence provides relations that strengthen Turkey’s hand for the parties to the conflicts in Afghanistan, the current result of the intra-Afghan talks in Doha and the agreement between the US and Taliban had affected Turkish position. This is not new, but the developments in Afghanistan have generated intense disputes about Turkey’s role in the country.
Turkey wanted to establish and repair a new relationship with the US and aimed for a powerful position in it for Afghanistan. But Taliban’s rapid take over of Afghanistan has affected and took a different turn, now Turkey is looking for a new opportunity to maintain its military presence through negotiations with the Taliban. Turkey’s Kabul airport mission is a pragmatic opportunity as US sought to transfer its responsibility to a co-operative middle power while withdrawing from Afghanistan and also prepare to face great power competition with Russia and China in Central Asia.
Withdrawal of US from Afghanistan will realign geopolitical positions due to the US position against China and Russia. Now the power competition will shift from costly areas in the Middle East to more diplomatic and trade-centred Central Asia. This change will not devalue the strategic plans related to regions and countries; but will make them more important as a denominator of the great power struggle. These developments will also define an era of renewed great power competition between Asia led by China and Russia, and the west led by US. In this power competition, commercially and politically, Turkey will feel the rivalry in all aspects due to its targeted role in Afghanistan. Despite its broad economic, political and military relations with the West, if Turkey takes over tasks in Kabul, it will find it very difficult to balance the relations between Asia and the West.
But why is Turkey trying to keep a balance between the west and the two Asian countries (Russia and China) ?
Turkey’s economy has turned into a weak spot in terms of foreign policy due to the economic crisis it experienced since 2019 and the depreciation of the Turkish lira combined with the global pandemic. Turkey’s relations with the great powers of Asia are not progressing in it’s favour. Economic relations with the west is also in similar situation. This defines that the Turkish economy does not have the power to counter or balance the regional effects of the new Asia-centric power competition that it wants to be involved in with a role it will assume in Afghanistan. For that Turkey is trying to keep balance by exports predominantly to Western markets, and imports came from Russia and China. As Central Asia will turn into a serious commercial struggle area for great powers Turkey has to make a choice in this Asia competition under economic pressure from Beijing and Moscow, it may find itself facing US sanctions, which will seriously affect the economic and defence industries, and which would not be as soft as before.
Turkey has balanced the global great powers through their regional disputes and thus managed to stay away from their destructive economic and political actions. But it can risk its balance in near future between Western and Asian powers by taking a role in Afghanistan because it is not just the government in Kabul that has changed, the players and the rules of the game are also changed.
The trade volume between Turkey and Afghanistan is less than 200 million dollars compared to China’s massive mining, energy, infrastructure and regional investment projects under the Belt and Road for Afghanistan.
Turkey needs to free its role in Afghanistan from its military presence and airport parenthesis. Or else it will not be able to turn Afghanistan into a stepping stone for Central Asia in the new period of power competition. The only gain Turkey can achieve through Afghanistan may be to re-balance with the Western powers, which it is currently having many issues.
The Taliban provides a protection umbrella to many armed organisations, especially the Uzbeks, Tajiks and Pakistanis in addition to Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its sub groups, the Lashkar Islamic Party, Jamaat Ansarullah, Jama’at al Movement of Uzbekistan, and Khatiba Imam Afghanistan. Turkey’s role in Afghanistan in a very risky situation because of organisations such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State which Turkey has problems with in its Syrian branches, will pose serious threat to the Turkish military presence in Afghanistan, where NATO does not exist.
Hence, Turkish Aim in Afghanistan will be a deep risk for itself politically and economically.