The Republic of Turkey: Her Role in the World’s Geopolitical Balance

Summary

Turkey emerged as a secular republic, in 1923, from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire which was partitioned into several countries by the allied victors of the First World War. Turkey has since become a important strategic partner with the USA and the European Union. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter, sees Turkey as a vital part of a newly-defined “West” in creating and maintaining a healthy balance of power between the world’s eastern and western spheres of influence. I use Mr. Brzezinski’s book Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power as one major source for this discussion.

Flag of The Republic of Turkey

In addition, Turkey has embarked on a mission to help resolve the many dangerous and economically debilitating conflicts in the region of the Caucasus—areas adjacent to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Turkey also is encouraging political amity and economic cooperation among the now-independent republics of the former Soviet Union in Central Asia. To support this discussion I use the comments of Ambassador Fatih Ceylan who presented his paper “Protracted Conflicts in the South Caucasus and Central Asia” at a June 15 lecture at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm, which I attended.

There are currently many forces in play which may alter these plans and hopes, however, and I will present a few major developments based on recent news articles and opinions.

Background

From Islamic Empire to Secular State

The geographic boundaries of the Republic of Turkey encompass the heart of the former Ottoman Empire which ruled a significant part of Europe and most of the Near East or Middle East (definitions vary) for hundreds of years until the end of World War I in 1918. The Empire’s Asian lands were taken by nations on the winning side—primarily Great Britain and France—governed for a while, then partitioned and allocated, over a number of years, to new political entities: Lebanon, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Palestine, Syria, Transjordan, and lands that became the Republic of Turkey. Other lands were ceded to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Soon after partition, Turkish nationalists waged a War of Independence against the Allied Powers, during which Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues formed a Turkish Grand National Assembly. In July 1923, after the end of the Turkish-Armenian, Franco-Turkish, and Greco-Turkish wars, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed and the Republic of Turkey was established in October of the same year.

(Please click on all images  for greater clarity)

Ottoman Empire, 1672 (metmuseum.org)

The first president of the Republic was Atatürk who embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms. The new government adapted the institutions of Western states such as France, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland to the needs and characteristics of the Turkish nation. Atatürk capitalized on his reputation as an efficient military leader, and spent the years until his death in 1938 transforming Turkish society from perceiving itself as a Muslim part of a vast Empire into a modern, democratic, and secular nation-state. (Source).

The Role of the Military

In the new Turkish republic, serving military officers who were elected to parliament were obliged by law to resign from the army. The aim of Kemel Atatürk was twofold: to prevent the military from exercising direct political influence, and to protect the military from the everyday struggles of the political arena. However, he also saw the role of army as the guardian of the secular republic. As a result, the army has felt, until very recently, a responsibility for the protection of the Kemalist principles of the republic. This principle was written into the Turkish Armed Services Internal Service Code, which states that “the duty of the armed forces is to protect and safeguard Turkish territory and the Turkish Republic as stipulated by the Constitution.” Three interventions by the military against the government have been justified on this legal basis, in the years 1960, 1971, and 1980. (Source).

However, the last such intervention in 1997 resulted, later in April 2012, in the arrest and pending trial of nine military officers.  A major importance of this action against the actors in the coup is that it helps Turkey in its ongoing attempts to meet certain requirements in its application to become a member of the European Union (EU).

The Republic of Turkey and Adjacent Countries in The Caucasus and Black Sea Areas (libcom.org)


Turkey’s Pending Membership in the European Union

The prospect of Turkey becoming a member of EU is a critical factor, according to Brzezinsski, in the strategic balance of power between eastern and western spheres of influence.

… (B)road geopolitical trans-European stability… will require US engagement in shaping a more vital and larger West while helping to balance the emerging rivalry in the rising and restless East. This undertaking needs a sustained effort over the next several decades to connect, through institutions like the EU and NATO, both Russia and Turkey with a West that already embraces the EU and the United States.” (P. 131, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power).

Turkey… has been modeled from its start on Europe. In 1921, Atatürk (Mustafa Kemal), the leader of “the young Turks” movement, began to transform the dismembered Ottoman Empire into a modern European-type secular nation-state… In more recent times it… evolved into democratization, a process to a significant degree driven by Turkey’s interest in becoming… a part of the unifying Europe. This aspiration was encouraged by Europeans, and it resulted in Turkey’s official application for membership (in the European Union) in 1987. The EU started formal negotiations in 2005. (P. 128, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power).

EU Member Countries, Candidate Countries, and Potential Candidate Countries (ec.europa.eu)

Membership has been slow in coming, and it is still not certain. In 2011, Chase Cavanaugh wrote an article for the Washington Review of Turkish and Eurasian Affairs discussing the difficulties in EU’s acceptance of Turkey’s application for membership:

… (T)here are several reasons that Turkey is finding it difficult to enter the European Union (including) a series of obligations that new member nations must satisfy, known as the “Copenhagen Criteria”. The first criterion states that candidate countries must have achieved “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.”  Turkey already has difficulties with several parts of this criterion, beginning with stability.

In Turkish politics, the army has a privileged place in the state power structure, seen as heritors and defenders of the secular “Kemalist” state… Historically, they have launched several coups against the government when they felt that it has been threatened by parties that were either too Islamist, or did not adequately conform to Ataturk’s ideology…

Kemal Atatürk (yaymicro.com)

Though there has been no major coup since 1980, the army has forced an Islamist coalition in 1997 led by Necmettin Erbakan to resign, as they felt he was leading the country toward “increasingly religious rule”… The constant threat of coups by the military is not conducive to a stable democratic regime and hurts Turkey’s image as a stable democracy… (Source)

However, since Mr. Cavanaugh’s article was published, Article 35 of the Turkish Armed Services (TSK) Internal Service Code is slated to be emended by parliament to limit the duty of the TSK “to protect the Turkish motherland from external threats.”

Current Status of Turkey’s Application for Membership in the EU

Despite Turkey’s application for membership in the EU was in 1987, twenty-five years ago as of this writing, there seems no probable date by which this application will succeed. The Journal Insight Turkey reported this, earlier in 2012:

… (N)either the negotiation process, nor the so-called political dialogue between the EU and Turkey on a variety of issues from Syria or Eastern Balkans to NATO-EU cooperation, is proceeding. The primary reason for this state of affairs is the lack of a clear European perspective for Turkey.

Nonetheless,  Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis expresses optimism:

Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs and Chief Negotiator

ISTANBUL, 27 June 2012 (Reuters) – Turkey expects France to unblock talks that are essential if it is ever to join the European Union, now that Socialist President Francois Hollande has replaced Nicolas Sarkozy… “We are entering a new period in relations with France after Hollande’s election”…

Hollande has backed away from Sarkozy’s stark opposition to Turkey entering the EU but any shift in position from Paris will have more symbolic resonance than practical effect. Turkey… has only completed one of the 35 policy “chapters” that every candidate must conclude to join the EU…

While Hollande has stopped short of endorsing Turkey’s EU candidacy, he has said it should be judged on political and economic criteria – a contrast to Sarkozy’s position that Turkey did not form part of Europe…

Despite the slow progress, Turkey still expects to join the EU before 2023…

The stated goal of achieving membership by 2023 indicates Turkey’s continued desire, and patience, for this outcome. To keep up-to-date on the progress and current status of Turkey’s application for membership in the EU, go to these two websites:

Meanwhile…

The Republic of Turkey is not putting its ambitions on hold while awaiting the final outcome of its application for EU membership. I now turn to the remarks of Ambassador Fatih Ceylan who presented his paper “Protracted Conflicts in the South Caucasus and Central Asia” at a June 15 lecture at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm.

Main Points Addressed in Ambassador Ceylan’s Presentation

  1. The protracted conflicts in the areas of interest to the Organization for Security and Co-Operation (OSCE):
    a. Nagorno-Karabakh (NK)
    b. Abkhazia
    c. South Ossetia
    d. Transnistria
  2. The “normalization” process between Armenia and Turkey
  3. “Normalization” in the South Caucasus
  4. “Innovative approaches designed for the future of the South Caucasus”
  5. The Central Asian Republics (formerly “Socialist Republics” within the USSR), and Turkey’s relations with them

(Please click on the image for clarity)

LEFT: Transnistria CENTER: Abkhazia and South Ossetia RIGHT: Nagorno-Kharabakh


In foreign relations Turkey is guided by the principle established by its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: “Peace at home and peace in the world”.

The primary objective of Turkish foreign policy is to create a peaceful, prosperous, stable, and cooperative environment in our close vicinity which is essential for sustainable social, ecenomic, cultural, and political development of our region…

Turkey’s foreign policy places special emphasis on the region of the South Caucasus and the Black Sea basin.

The region is located at the intersection of major energy and transport projects of global importance such as the ‘contract of the century’ and the first great engineering project of the 21st Century, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum Gas Pipeline, and the key component of the “Iron Silk Road”, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway.

Note that the pipelines bend around a gray area on the map which is the unidentified country of Armenia

Ambassador Ceylan noted that the situation in the South Caucasus is “volatile and fragile”. The so-called “frozen conflicts” of the South Caucasus are not, in fact, frozen and can translate into open conflicts on Europe’s outskirts in a short time.  Ceylan pointed to the five-day war between Georgia and Russia, in 2008, as an example.

There are multi-governmental commissions and other official groups attempting to reach resolution of these conflicts:

While these groups and other less visible diplomatic efforts continue to struggle with the protracted and sometimes volatile conflicts mentioned above, Turkey is attempting to create a positive incentive for cooperation in a sphere that is rooted neither in territorial history, politics, religion, or ethnicity—namely, economic opportunities thorugh collaboration. Ambassador Ceylan elucidated:

We have suggested the establishment of a Regional Development Agency serving as an umbrella institution to implement regional projects, including the reconstruction and development of the energy and transport infrastructure and telecommunication networks. We believe that transportation may be a major component of long-term sustainable cooperation in the South Caucasus. The Regional development Agency could give priority (first) to integrated regional transport corridor projects, including railways and highways, covering Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation, (then) countries beyond the region…

From a political perspective, the project we are proposing would present opportunities to ll stakeholders to leave behind their counterproductive rhetoric and urge them to adopt a more result-oriented approach in the negotiation process.

In 1989 Nagorno-Karabakh was an ethnic Armenian autonomy within the Azerbaijan SSR of the Soviet Union. The territory is now internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

The major sticking point in “normalizing” relations in the region, especially between Turkey and Armenia, is the issue of Nagorno-Kharabak. As Ambassador Ceylan stated. “A significant part of the Azerbaijani territory is still occupied by Armenia as a result of a gross violation of international law and in breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions”. He went on to emphasize that Turkey is committed to the normalization process with Armenia and that disputes be resolved through dialog and conciliatory approaches by the parties.

We are determined to promote our relations on the basis of mutual confidence and respect and to create a “belt of prosperity” in the South Caucasus…

The Turkic Connection in Central Asia

Ambassador Ceylan marked the 20th anniversary of the independence, from the USSR, of the republics of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

After presenting a detailed analysis of the security and other risks confronting these new republics which lie between the two great powers of Russia and China, and are adjacent to the troubled nation of Afghanistan, he stated that “the region definitely does not want to be strangulated in yet another struggle for hegemony.”

The Republics of The Southern Caucasus and Central Asia which were formerly part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

While recounting some of the difficulties these newly independent republics have had and continue to have in creating stable and more democratic polities, he also pointed out what progress has been made. He counseled patience to interested parties in the West and in the region, and recited Turkey’s resolve to support their progress toward “integration with the Euro-Atlantic structures.”

Turkey played a leading role in contributing to the adoption of free market rules by the Central Asian countries. A network of Turkish businessmen is actively engaged with the Central Asian Republics. There are more then two thousand registered Turkish companies and several thousand joint ventures with local partners in the region. Turkey is also a prominent trade partner of these countries…

There are two Turkish universities in Central Asia and many private and state schools run by the Turks throughout the region…

During the last twenty years we have also have accomplished to deepen solidarity and mutual support with the Turkic speaking countries on international and regional issues. With this understanding, in 2010 we established with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States.

By virtue of the commonality of language, ethnicity, and culture in the states of the region, Turkey is a key player, along with Russia and China, in maintaining stability in the region.

Source. turkishgrammar.net

Other Issues

This ends my summary and comment of the two presentations mentioned at the head of this article. Now to mention briefly and illustrate other issues not developed by either speaker, which are relevant to the security of the region surrounding Turkey:

  • Ferment in Islamic states in the region
  • The issue of “Kurdistan”

Ferment in Islamic states in the region

Here is a map of countries in the region where a significant proportion of the population are of the Islamic Faith, with the percent of the Shia denomination shown (please click on the image):

Percent Shia Muslims in Countries of North Africa and Western Asia

Although people of the Shia and Sunni denominations live together harmoniously in most areas, there are regions where their differences arise to armed conflict. There are other sources of conflict, as well, such as has arisen in Syria, at the southern border of Turkey. And, there is uncertainty regarding Iran’s growing belligerence in the region, another country bordering Turkey.

The issue of “Kurdistan”

There has never been a formal nation of Kurdistan, but there are many references to such an entity by virtue of so many Kurdish people having resided for centuries in contiguous regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Kurdish holds official status in Iraq as a national language alongside Arabic, and is recognized in Iran as a regional language.

Contemporary use of Kurdistan refers to parts of eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and northern Syria inhabited mainly by Kurds. Iraqi Kurdistan first gained autonomous status in 1970 agreement with the Iraqi government and its status was re-confirmed as an autonomous entity within the federal Iraqi republic in 2005. There is also a province by the name Kurdistan in Iran, although it does not enjoy self-rule. Kurds fighting in the Syrian Civil War were able to take control of large sections of Northeast Syria as forces loyal to al-Assad withdrew to fight elsewhere. Having established their own government some Kurds called for autonomy in a democratic Syria, others hoped to establish an independent Kurdistan. Some Kurdish nationalist organizations seek to create an independent nation state of Kurdistan, consisting of some or all of the areas with Kurdish majority, while others campaign for greater Kurdish autonomy within the existing national boundaries. (Source).

An Imagined “Kurdistan”

Turkey says (it) won’t allow PKK to benefit from authority vacuum in Syria: Turkey’s top security council has threatened the presence of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Syria, vowing that Turkey will not allow the terrorist organization to benefit from the authority vacuum in the war-torn country (News Article Source, 29 August 2012).

Conclusion

The Republic of Turkey is in a position, by virtue of her history, economic strength, political stability and geographic location, to play a key geopolitical role in its region and beyond. The hopes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the dreams of The Republic of Turkey, as expressed by Ambassador Fatih Ceylan, may well play out as they envision, but there are known and unknown impediments to these, some revealing themselves and playing out at this moment.

The Outlook is Grim for the People of Afghanistan

 

On what authority do I state this? I have one specific source and one general source.

The specific source is a day-long seminar held December 1 at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) on the campus of The Royal Institute of Technology entitled Afghanistan After 2014, which I attended.

The general source is the recent and current news of the world which has focused, again, more sharply on Afghanistan because of The announcement by President Obama that the US and NATO military forces will exit Afghanistan by the end of 2014; and, the convening of the Second Bonn Conference on Afghanistan held on 5 December 2011, ten years after the First Bonn Conference. In addition, there have been violent episodes within and without Afghanistan (in Pakistan near its border with Afghanistan), even as I compose this article, that bode ill for a strong and peaceful Afghanistan while the foreign troops leave over the next two years.

I have a small authority having worked for thirty days in 2005 as a volunteer consultant in Afghanistan, in the provinces of Kunduz and Wardak. You can see images and some narrative from this visit here.

I will offer links to current news and other sources of information after I present this summary of the seminar.

Seminar Summary, Four Sessions
(Note: remarks attributed to the participants are transcriptions from my hand-written notes; any errors of fact and interpretation are mine).

Twelve experts and scholars provided a comprehensive look at the history, current issues and possible outcomes for Afghanistan and the region around it. I will identify the participants during the course of this article. The sponsoring agencies for the seminar were:

FOI (Swedish Defence Research Agency)
SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)
UI (Swedish Institute of International Affairs)

First Session: Reconciliation and Peace—a Possibility?

Masood Aziz, former Afghan Diplomat in Washington, D.C. began the formal presentations.

Ten years have passed since the first Bonn Conference in 2001. The news is generally bad in evaluating these years in Afghanistan. There has been some progress, but the outlook is bleak. Mr. Aziz is pessimistic because the Afghan government is weak, corruption is rampant, and the international community is losing interest.

There is a state of crisis, currently. The Afghan government may collapse after NATO/ISAF troops leave by the end of 2014. The Current USA conversation with the Taliban is going nowhere. NATO lacks a credible plan for transition for after 2014.

With a weak central government, and its possible collapse, the strongest remaining institution will be the Afghan army. (Here Mr. Aziz was not explicit, but it was clear that the prospect of a military dictatorship, or of the military playing a dominant role such as in Pakistan, was on his mind).

Counter-insurgency has been the main purpose of NATO and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force of NATO), not nation-building.

What to do?

Generally:

  • Redouble efforts to support and establish the legitimacy of the national government in the eyes of the Afghan people. If this confidence cannot be engendered, then collapse of the government is inevitable, with attendant violence between ethnicities and factions.
  • Need to buttress the rule of law, versus the rule of men.
  • Afghan security forces need to be at the service of the state.

From Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com)

Specifically:

Development of Afghanistan’s mineral resources may be the game changer, e.g., the Chinese-run copper mine and the Indian-run iron ore mine. However, the danger of the “resource curse” may be a down-side. A major portion of the state income from the development of natural resources should be directed as cash transfers to the people, as is done in other resource-rich countries such as Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Bolivia and Mongolia.

Mr. Aziz ended his prepared remarks thus:

The last ten years of NATO operations in Afghanistan have focused on strategic issues, mostly security. Since 2001 there has been a massive inflow of unconditional money from governments and NGOs causing the state to be dependent on these gifts. This is state-building from the outside, not from the inside and from the ground up via the people. Much of this money and other resources have flowed to former warlords.

Cash grants to the people from the income of natural resource development will force the government to rely on the people through the taxation of their income. This will also give new life and purpose to the National Solidarity Program and strengthen the governments and capabilities of the 34 provinces. Local communities will be empowered to take care of their own security and infrastructure projects. Not all security and infrastructure development need be performed by the national government.

Eva Johansson is head of the Afghanistan Section at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Here are some of her points.

Children are the most often forgotten in the issues addressed. Additionally, SIDA is interested in helping women to participate in the formation of the country. Sweden, through SIDA, has increased its support of these issues to become the second largest donor. The emphasis on security and counter-insurgency has put the issues of women and children in lower priority, despite efforts of SIDA and UNICEF. SIDA continues to be concerned about the condition of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

In the Bazaar, Kunduz, June 2005

Peter Brune, Secretary General of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA/SAK). The Swedish Committee has 6300 people in 12 of the 34 provinces. SCA/SAK have been on the ground in Afghanistan since 1982, providing education and other developmental services to people in the villages (not in the capital, Kabul).

In responding to Mr. Aziz’s comments Mr. Brune said it was a “tough call” to say we’ve failed. Mr. Brune introduced the discussion point that ten years is not enough time. This point was taken up and further developed by other speakers who followed.

Mr. Brune made these other points:

  • There needs to be a link between development and education.
  • It’s important not to be “diplomatic” in assessing and addressing the problems. We need to examine and learn from failures.
  • The state hasn’t failed yet. Girls are going to school; the army is being built, etc.
  • Others should do more of what the Swedish Committee is doing. [Link to a Power Point Presentation showing some of what the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan is doing]
  • SCA/SAK has zero tolerance for weapons in schools. It’s important to separate the military from education and other efforts at the grass roots.
  • We (NATO/ISAF, the Afghan government) are scrambling to build an army. Meanwhile the Afghan and Pakistan armies are facing each other on their common border.
  • There will be consequences in building a strong army in a weak state (thus buttressing Mr. Aziz’s argument).
  • What are the other institutions we can look to? The constitution, the executive and the parliament, none of which existed before the current government was established. [Note: he didn’t mention the judiciary, which is generally seen as corrupt and ineffective at the state level, although not necessarily at the local level).
  • Important people and entities are not talking with each other. For example, the Supreme Commander of NATO forces and SIDA have never met.
  • Real security is to strengthen the state.

Second Session: Reconciliation and Peace—a Possibility?

Robert Lamb is Director and Senior Fellow at Program on Crisis, Conflict and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington D.C.

There have been talks about peace talks, but no peace talks. After the Taliban fell many soldiers and commanders went home without veterans’ benefits. Foes of the Taliban included the Northern Alliance, led primarily by warlords, some of whom are still in place.

In the 2001 Bonn Conference the Taliban were excluded and, since they had no part in the deliberations they have no stake in peace. Therefore, they went to Pakistan and became “insurgents”. The talks about peace talks continue, to date. Pakistan now demands to be part of the conversation.

Bad things began happening in 2010. An imposter apparently representing the Taliban conned the government of Afghanistan out of a lot of money, and created extreme embarrassment for all connected parties. In September of this year the chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was been killed by a suicide attacker. He was meeting members of the Taliban at the time in an effort to negotiate toward peace talks.

It’s not clear what we can do to prevent civil war in Afghanistan. Former warlords, some of whom are now regional governors, are hoarding money and weapons.

We need to prevent the collapse of the Afghan state. (Non-military) development is important, “big time”, but will do no good if the government collapses. We need to keep the potential combatants (in a civil war) co-opted in the Afghan Government. This means tolerating “some very bad guys”.

thoseheadcoverings. blogspot.com

Helene Lackenbauer is an FOI analyst and former political aide to the Swedish Force Commander in Afghanistan.

There are very few possibilities leading toward peace. Who are the actors and what do we provide them? What are our prices for peace? Are we prepared to sell out women’s rights? What do we intend for the Taliban?

Mr. Brune responded: Afghanistan is at war. There are police, weapons, explosives and insurgents. The Taliban is not defined in any way. There can’t be a universal strategy; we have to address each group’s needs and grievances. Peace can be based on justice; all their rights have to be recognized and supported (implying the need for a strong and professional, not corrupt, national judiciary).

Robert Lamb “lifts the gloom”

  • Eleven years ago Afghanistan was a medieval theocracy. How long does it take to for such a state to become a representative democracy?
  • There is a civil service, although it is constantly raided for employees to the better paid NGOs and other private organizations.
  • Free speech exists, even if it may be dangerous.
  • There are radios and telephones.
  • Most areas are less violent than Northern Mexico.
  • Ten years is nothing in the history of nation building. Transitioning from Warlord rule to the rule of law doesn’t happen quickly or easily. Afghanistan is still in the warlord phase and will be for a long time.
  • Seventy-five percent of Afghans think the government is doing a good job, although the jirgas have more effect at the local level. If the state isn’t there, they figure things out (at the local level).

[Here I am not sure whether Robert Lamb continues, or whether Peter Brune and perhaps others are responding]

    • The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan has one-half million girls in school.
    • Students have TV and radios.
    • Rural areas are more negative on the future and are concerned about the return of the warlords.
    • Afghanistan is ethnically divided and is waiting for the next war. If the Taliban returns, they will bring Taliban rules. (Taliban are fundamentalist Sunni Muslims mostly from the Pashtun tribe).

(Note: Languages are Dari (official) 50%, Pashto (official) 35%, Turkic languages 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%;  Ethnic groups are Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%. Religions are Sunni Muslim 80%, Shia Muslim 19%, other 1%.
[Source].

  • (Upon the likely collapse of the national government) a new Northern Alliance will emerge to oppose the Taliban.
  • The concerns of the people are: civil war, political collapse, financial crisis, jobs disappearing. The current president Hamid Karzai will not be running to succeed himself in the next election—who will rule? If the election collapses, who will emerge, and how?
  • Governors are more powerful than the national government in the eyes of the people. When the Soviets left there was chaos. Will there be the same again? After the Soviets left it was worse than with the Soviets.
  • People in Kabul are more positive. Children are always more positive (Note: the median age is 18 years: source).

Ann Wilkens, former Swedish ambassador to Pakistan and former Chairman of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, emphasized the point that there is not a unified Taliban group in Afghanistan. There are splinter groups, some interested in insurgency, some in drug traffic and some with other aims, for instance relating to religious practice.

Masood Aziz augmented this observation by noting there is a spectrum of different groups and there is a problem in assessing the association of any of them with Al Qaeda, which is of non-afghan origin led by non-Afghans. In addition, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the past and present leader of the Afghan Taliban, has been hiding out in Pakistan, even when he was head of state during the time when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

Middle East expert at UI Magnus Norell raised the question of the current objective of the Taliban. He suggested they want influence in the current processes addressing the future of Afghanistan. Ann Wilkens asserted that the institution of Sharia law is their objective. Norell said that these were not mutually exclusive.

Masood Aziz said this is not a valid question because there is no unified Taliban. He further noted that strict Sharia law alienated Afghans during their Taliban rule. Afghans felt an alien force took over their state. Mullah Omar, who has no stated or known religious education or lineage, alienated Afghan tribal leaders during his rule.

Kabul, June 2005

Third Session: Counter-insurgency

Context:

  • “All the bad stuff” is located in Pakistan: the Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani Network, for instance.
  • The tribal and other leaders in Afghanistan have a common enemy in the various Taliban entities, but have no common strategy.
  • The stated US objective is to disrupt and destroy Al Qaeda. Is it working, or should the US change its objective? President Obama has shifted the focus to counter-insurgency.

Stefan Olsson of the FOI stated the problem with counter-insurgency is that it will take ten years to wipe out the insurgents. There is too little time for this (by the end of 2014) and it won’t work.

Harsh Pantof King’s College, London, said the current tension between the US and Pakistan over insurgents in Pakistan will come to a head as a result of a vicious cycle.

Masood Aziz said that the US military has ever-changing nomenclature for what it is they are doing. “Stability” is now in vogue. Previously it was “Clear/Hold/Build/Transfer”. Before that it was “Fight/Talk/Build”.

Military officers are talking to village elders about democracy; they aren’t experts in this. The US military is trying to embed itself in the culture and change it from the inside. It won’t work.

Stefan Olsson said “counter-insurgency is not nation-building”.

We have to realize our limitations in using only the military to bring “stability”.

Question posed to the panel: Will Afghan security forces be able to fill the vacuum left by the NATO/ISAF departure?

One response: The Afghan people would like the troops to leave, but “not too quickly”.

Stefan Olsson: The Swedish government doesn’t know what the end state should be, or when.  The USA seems to want to fight the insurgents to the negotiating table.

In the Afghan security forces the Army officers are from the former Northern Alliance; that is, they are not of the Pashtun tribe as is the majority of the government officers. The Army may not feel itself subservient to a weak national government.

Other responses:

In that the USA/NATO have announced a time certain by which their troops will leave, the Taliban is in a position to wait to intensify their incursions.

The USA needs to stay after 2014, in some fashion, to deal with other countries such as Iran and Pakistan.

Neither the USA nor NATO has a strategy for filling the vacuum created by their departure.

Question from the audience: Can and will India be a force for good in Afghanistan?

Masood Aziz: Pakistan seems to want the opposite of what everybody else wants in Afghanistan. India, which is right next door, is the world’s largest democracy. In contrast, the military dominates Pakistan, but is not all-powerful because of the influence of organized groups such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which wants to oust the US-backed Pakistani government.

In response to another question regarding the possible role of the EU, Mr. Masood said that the EU has the talent and moral foundation to help build infrastructure for Afghanistan. As an example of “moral force” he recited a story of how a US Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s left an indelible impression on a now elderly man in a remote village.

Chief Engineer, local construction engineer, and driver — employees of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, 2005

Fourth and Final Session: Geopolitics and the Regional Dynamics

Context: There has been a change in the global balance of power from West to East, in operational terms. The center of world politics has been Europe, but now is moving toward Asia/China.

Harsh Pantof King’s College, London opened the session.

American priorities are changing: Afghanistan is not as important as before, as China emerges as a priority.

Global priorities are going to be influenced/centered in Asia/Pacific.

Pakistan now realizes that it is not the most important ally the USA has in its region. The USA sees India as its most important ally vis-à-vis China, and Islamabad (Pakistan’s capital) is worried. Pakistan has to hedge its bets; it needs a friendly Kabul (Capital of Afghanistan) so as not to be flanked by enemies—India to the east and Afghanistan to the west.

Pakistan’s self-identity seems to have been that it is not India. The Pakistan military has never won a war, but the Pakistan army points the people of Pakistan to India for its raison d’être as an army. Pakistan has tried to marginalize India in insisting they not be included in Afghan talks. Washington finally realized that Pakistan was playing a double game.

India realized this marginalization and now has decided to invest in Afghanistan (refer to the previously mentioned iron ore mine in Hajigak). Additionally, India has been reaching toward Russia and Iran, both of which flank Afghanistan. India likes a western presence in Afghanistan, but Russia and Iran don’t—but India balances this somehow.

China is feeling encircled by the USA. They are reluctant to talk with the USA about Afghanistan and Pakistan. They don’t want to compromise their relationship with Pakistan.

Current events reveal a conflict between the USA and Pakistan, a symptom of the underlying problem of Pakistan’s feeling of isolation and loss of importance to the USA.

Neil J. Melvin, Director of the Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Programme at SIPRI, responded:

The USA is drawing closer to its Asia/pacific allies and courting new ones such as Burma. Therefore, Afghanistan will remain important to the USA in this context, but where does Afghanistan fit? We don’t know yet.

Russia is courting Afghanistan by encouraging it toward the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. (The six-nation SCO comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan attend its meetings as observers. Source).

Harsh Pant added that Pakistan’s uncertainty about the USA’s intentions makes it difficult for them to know how to act.

Former Swedish Ambassador to Pakistan Ann Wilkens stated that the sequencing of events is unfortunate for Pakistan. There are conflicting messages to and from all players in the region. What does the USA want? She noted that the Pakistan army was built by the USA.

Magnus Norell:  A report of the US Marines recommended forgetting nation building and to leave just a small counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan. It should be treated by the USA as a “marginal country”. We’re reading too much importance into it. You can’t solve Afghanistan unless you deal successfully with Pakistan. Let’s not look at Afghanistan as a regional issue. Keep it local.

From the moderator: From the perspective of Iran and Pakistan (which have long borders with Afghanistan) why is everyone waiting to see what the USA is going to do?  The USA doesn’t have the leverage for a regional solution.

Neil J. Melvin: it is a dilemma. Russia, Iran and others want the USA out, but no-one else has the strength to do anything constructive on a regional basis. Iran has around three million Afghan refugees and doesn’t like the Taliban. There needs to be trust building between nations in the region. China is interested in stability and doesn’t want attacks from terrorists, so it keeps a low profile. One of China’s important interests in stability is due to the question of whether to build an additional gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China through Afghanistan.

From the moderator: the world economy affects Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan and things are looking austere for these countries. How does this factor into the regional issues?

Answer from panel: if the world and local economy were better, it still wouldn’t solve Afghanistan’s problem which is one of governance.

Last question form the moderator: What should we do? What should we focus on?

Reponses from the panel:

  • The West should continue to support Afghanistan economically.
  • Donor nations need more humility in their approach to Afghanistan.
  • Get out and stay out, militarily.
  • Spend aid on education, etc.
  • Don’t pull out (the military) gradually.

The moderators were:

Nathalie Besèr is Advisor to the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI)

John Rydqvist is Head of the Asia Security Studies Program at FOI.

END OF CONFERENCE


Links to information sources:

NATO in Afghanistan
Terrorism and Insurgency
Al‐Qaeda and Afghanistan in Strategic Context: Counterinsurgency versus Counterterrorism
The Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) and the Haqqani network pose the greatest threat to stability in Afghanistan
Quetta Shura Taliban
Haqqani Network
Mullah Mohammed Omar
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP)
Purdah
The pragmatic fanaticism of al Qaeda: an anatomy of extremism in Middle Eastern politics.
NATO/ISAF history and facts about its troops

Links to recent and current news affecting Afghanistan and the region

Afghan National Army prepares for life after NATO
‘West must see Afghan job through’, military chief says
Pakistani Taliban splintering into factions
Afghan Peace Effort Hits Wall
Attacks Point to New Afghan Conflict: Bombings of Shiite Worshippers in Two Cities Kill More Than 60 and Introduce Sectarian Strife Absent for a Decade
Kabul Promises Change, Gets Vow of Lasting Aid
A Counterinsurgency Success in Kandahar
Afghan opium production to expand after troops exit
Hornets’ nest: Why Pakistan may be America’s most dangerous ally
Pakistan Was Consulted Before Fatal Hit, U.S. Says; Deadly Border Strike Came After Forces Were Told Area Was Clear of Pakistani Troops, Officials Say
There Are No Moderate Taliban; the people of Afghanistan understand that accommodating the Taliban will result in fear and chaos.
India Wins Bid for ‘Jewel’ of Afghan Ore Deposits

 

Looking at China’s Foreign and Security Policies

 

Many international organizations have located their headquarters in Stockholm. One of these is SIPRI, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Last Friday SIPRI sponsored a half-day presentation by scholars from China, Finland and the USA entitled China and Global Security: an expert seminar on current and future directions in Chinese foreign and security policy. The chairman of the seminar was Ambassador Börje Ljunggren of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Coordinator of the Stockholm China Forum and former ambassador to China.

The expert panelists were:

  • Professor Jin Canrong, Associate Dean, School of International Relations, Renmin University of China, Beijing.
  • Professor Robert S. Ross, Professor of Political Science at Boston College, Associate, John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University, and Senior Advisor, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Professor Jia Qingguo. Associate Dean, School of International Relations, Beijing University.
  • Linda Jakobson, Senior Researcher, Programme on China and Global Security, SIPRISeveral things motivated me to attend this public seminar: I have been acquainted with SIPRI through its former director having addressed my (English speaking) Rotary Club in Stockholm; in that I don’t communicate well in Swedish, I take opportunities to attend interesting forums offered in English; and, I thought the seminar might offer something I could include in this journal, which it has. It was held in the modern and airy Stockholm World Trade Center.

    What follows is an overview and summary from written notes. A few statements and facts stood out for me:

  • According to Professor Jin Canrong, China’s way is to “exert power in a humble way.” For readers who may harrumph at this notion, it was instructive for me to hear from these experts that China is not monolithic in all things, the big exception being that its national politics reside within a single party. The phrase was interesting to me in that it resembles words attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. This view, as stated, is not shared by others on the panel (I was told this privately).
  • With respect to industrial development, China stands approximately where the USA stood in the 1920s.
  • The total workforce of China is greater than the total population of Europe. [I was not sure I heard correctly, so I looked at data on the Internet to verify this. I find that China has 965 million people in the age group 15-64 years. The population of the 27 EU countries is 492 million. There are 18 other countries in Europe, including Russia which stands in Asia as well. I think a rough calculation on the back of an envelope would verify that the claim under review is probably close enough for government work. If you want to know my sources, contact me].
  • There is a rise in nationalistic feeling in China, a pride, which in extreme expressions could work against China’s official desire for harmonious relationships with other countries. A quick reference was also made to the dominant Han portion of the populationneeding to recognize the value and merit of the scores of minority populations in China.
  • China has long had a policy, often iterated at the United Nations, of non-interference in the affairs of another country. [I thought this sounded very like the “prime directive” of the fictional Star Trek television series and movies]. With regard especially to China’s extensive investments and interests in Africa, however, it was felt by some that this policy may have to be modified in special circumstances.
  •  

    There seemed to be general agreement among the presenters that there will always be a tension within and without China, given its great size, between the need for peaceful relations with other countries and the need for China to feel secure within its borders. The more China pursues security through investment in military preparedness, however, the more nervous other countries will be, thus working against peaceful relations. Security needs are in the realms of borders including coasts, airspace and better technology.

    A theme that floated through the discussion, especially the extensive Q&A sessions, is that USA and China have mutual interests in cooperating, but China cannot allow itself to feel or be seen as being unduly influenced by the USA.

    The Taiwan issue seems to have been addressed by the USA in recent years to China’s satisfaction, if not to Taiwan’s, thus decreasing tensions between the USA and China over this long-standing point of conflict.

    USA President Obama was given good marks for a new and potentially more constructive posture toward China, but it was recognized that it’s too early to see if this posture will result in tangible progress from China’s point of view and the point of view of scholars who look for win/win outcomes for both countries.

    Much was said about past, current and potentially future relations with China’s nearest neighbors, especially North Korea, South Korea and Japan. In that the issues are delicate and complicated I will not try to characterize them here, but refer you the SIPRI’s China and Global Security Programme website for developments and references.

    Special note was made of the recent first collaborative effort between elements of China’s navy and other navies in pursuing pirates off the eastern coast of Africa. This was a very big and popular news item in China for several days.

    Toward the end of the seminar one questioner wondered about the lack of reference to China’s largest neighbor, Russia. Jia Qingguo thought the two countries had resolved, to mutual satisfaction, a variety of ancient and recent disagreements and tensions very well. Ms. Jakobson said we need to be realistic in any assessment of Russia, and that she considered the relationship between China and Russia a “marriage of convenience.” I made the inference that Russia would change the relationship when it felt in its interests to do so.

    Last in this summary review of the seminar I offer the insight that despite China being a Communist country and, therefore, presumed to have a ‘socialist’ economy, a rapidly diminishing proportion of the workforce works in the public sector [*see footnote]. It is a capitalist country, according one of the Chinese scholars present. It has a large and growing middle class. Currently, 49 million Chinese travel abroad as compared with 18 million Japanese. These facts buttress the assertion by one of the speakers that a new state/society relationship is developing in which society is gaining in strength with respect to the state.
    ——————-
    Footnote

    *According to a study by Li Chengshui, chief of the State Statistics Bureau (SSB) in 1981-84, that was made public on October 12, [in 2006] the public sector employed only 32% of China’s industrial and service workers, and accounted for 37% of the country’s GDP. This represents a huge change from just over a decade ago. In 1995 the public sector accounted for 78% of GDP. According to Li, between 1995 and 2005 the number of private enterprises rose from 660,000 to 4.3 million, the number of workers they employed increased from 8.2 million to 47.1 million. Their capital base rose during this period 26-fold, from 226.2 billion yuan (US$30 billion) to 6133.1 billion yuan ($829.5 billion). In a speech delivered at the Beijing University on May 19 [2007], Li pointed out that the “private sector economy signifies the formation of a new capitalist class”.

 

About Afghanistan

In the summer of 2005 I spent 30 days in four provinces of Afghanistan as an unpaid consultant to a non-profit organization, The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan.

Concurrent with my private report to The Committee, I wrote a personal journal and, of course, took pictures that can be seen here, along with some accompanying narrative.

Over the Hindu Kush, from Kabul to Kunduz. Please click on the image.

What brings me again to the subject again, 2½ years later, is a lecture I attended given by SIRAP, the Stockholm International Researchers Association (SIRAP). The speaker was Tim Foxley, currently a Guest Researcher at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). He is on a 15 month sabbatical from his previous work as an Afghan political/military analyst in the UK government. In 2006 he spent April to August as an analyst in the international military headquarters in Kabul. He chose Sweden for his career break as he had a pregnant Swedish partner (and the couple now has a beautiful child). At SIPRI he recently researched and wrote a paper entitled: “The Taliban’s propaganda activities: how well is the Afghan insurgency communicating and what is it saying?” [Click here for Tim’s blog on Afghanistan]. Tim’s address to SIRAP was entitled “Afghanistan: Past, Present and Future?”

Tim Foxley in Afghanistan

Tim’s talk to SIRAP gave us a historical review of the politics and warfare that have beset this region for millennia due, in no small part, to its location as a crossroads between countries, armies and empires at all points of Afghanistan’s compass. In addition, the geography has great influence on the people, given the “Hindu Kush” (Hindu killer) mountains extend from China well into the heart of the country, essentially dividing it into two major regions, north and southeast; and a third region to the west and south where the mountains peter out into what is mostly desert.

The most salient question in the present and for the future of Afghanistan is the attempted resurgence of the Taleban. According to Tim and other sources, the attempts of the Taleban are not well coordinated, but they are persistent and the response from the central government is likewise, apparently, uncoordinated and unfocused, especially in the realm of propaganda and information (take your pick). Afghans, with centuries of conflict between and among external and internal entities, have learned to side with the strongest (or those who seem to be gaining the ascendancy in a conflict) so they can go about with their daily struggle for survival and dealing with personal and family matters.

Water vendor, Kunduz, June 2005

Tim discussed other matters concerning the role of the central government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the various ethnic and religious groups. The concluding paragraphs of my journal of July, 2005, still seem apt:

A final observation: Kabul seems to be a city-state that lies within Afghanistan, the country. There is great energy and ambition and many dreams of progress in Kabul, but the rest of the country abides in its rural pace, not greatly affected, in the short term, by the pace of the capital city … How to bring the advantages of western ways to a country that has its own useful and traditional ways without harming the fabric of society? What a great challenge!

In one or two generations we will see a healthy, educated and economically vibrant Afghanistan, Inshallah.

A a complete copy of my personal journal can be downloaded from here: Afghan Journal-R.Pavellas-2005

Afghanistan References: