AFGHANISTAN ON ARMENIA”S POLITICAL AGENDA

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

The collapse of Afghanistan”s government and takeover of the country by the Taliban, considered by many countries as a terrorist organization, has hit the headlines. Accompanying terrorist attacks and desperate evacuation movement have further exacerbated the situation. The world is watching with trepidation to see where all developments may lead. Armenians have more cause for concern because of Turkey”s role in these developments, which may result in additional dividends to Turkey.

Following the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, the US decided to wage a war against terror and dismantle Taliban rule in Afghanistan, where most of the terrorist acts were hatched and the perpetrators had taken refuge.

After the Taliban ouster from power and the assassination of 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden, the US did not declare mission accomplished. Incidentally, Bin Laden had found a safe haven in Pakistan, the hub of terrorism. Although the US held Pakistan, also an ally, at armlength, it was the Pakistani intelligence which financed, armed and directed Taliban activities against the government installed by the US in Afghanistan.

Washington was not satisfied taming the terrorists and dismantling their infrastructure; it began a nation-building process, guided by the same fallacy that the West habitually applies, trying to impose Western-style democracies in places like Afghanistan, where people live in a much different reality, with different sensibilities.

In an article published in Outlook, titled “Blood in Sand” on August 29, Jeffrey D. Sachs writes: “The magnitude of the United States” failure in Afghanistan is breathtaking. It is not Democrats or Republics, but an abiding failure of American political culture, reflected in US policy makers” lack of interest in understanding different societies. And it is all too typical. Almost every US military intervention in the developing world has come to rot.”

If the nature of democratic rule is derived from the will of people, those people have to be mature enough to understand and exercise democratic processes. There is no one-size-fits-all democratic system. That is why the artificial government in Kabul collapsed as soon as President Biden declared his intention of ending the perpetual war and pulled up stakes, even before the ragtag army of the Talibans moved in with truck-mounted machineguns. And hence the stampede to get out of the country. No one has yet been held accountable for $1 trillion wasted US taxpayers.

Whether President Biden”s decision was right or wrong will be determined by the results of the mid-term elections in the US.

There was no love lost in Russia and China when the Taliban marched into Kabul, because they have maintained a neutral position with regards to the war in Afghanistan, sometimes even offering the political limelight to the Taliban leadership. But they should not hurry to cheer the failure of US policy in that country, because the scenario emerging must give them more cause for concern, with the advent of Turkish expansionism in the region.

That advent will impact Armenia as well.

Even before we consider the consequence of the Turkish presence in Afghanistan, alarms were raised in Karabakh. Karabakh Foreign Minister David Babayan told news.am, “After the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, part of Al Qaeda militants are being hastily deployed to the territories of the Republic of Artsakh occupied now by Azerbaijan. By doing so, Turkey wants to save the backbone of militias which it uses in different regions, mainly in the Middle East. In the occupied parts of Nagorno Karabakh there are already a lot of international terrorist groups who are out of Azerbaijani control. This way, Turkey is strengthening its position in Azerbaijan.”

It is apparent that Turkey, after helping secure a victory for Azerbaijan in the Karabakh war, has, in return, gained control of Azerbaijan. While President Ilham Aliyev continues to threaten Armenia, he does not realize that his country”s sovereignty has now been compromised. A sign of that development appears in a recent statement by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, made on his way home from a trip in the Balkans, defining peace terms with Armenia. This offer was made over Aliyev”s head.

The concentration of Afghan terrorists in Azerbaijan is one hazard that Armenia has to be concerned about. However the major threat may still be in its incipient stage within Afghanistan.

In order to achieve his Ottomanist plans, President Erdogan employs a two-pronged policy, weaponizing Islamic or Turkic identity. Opening madrassas (fundamentalist Muslim institutions for the young) in Central Asian republics to proselytize and capture the imagination of the masses did not yield any tangible results, as the populations of those countries were educated under Soviet atheist rule. Therefore, Turkey”s president opted for their racial and linguistic common background, which is gaining traction in that region of the world.

Erdogan”s “one-nation-two-states” formula will soon extend into Central Asia.

In Afghanistan, Turkey does not need to even establish madrassas to weaponize religion. The Taliban are on Erdogan”s wavelength, since the latter has already confessed that “we have the same faith.” Former Chief Imam of Hagia Sofia Mosque in Istanbul, Mehmet Boynukalin has praised the Taliban and said, “May Allah help them and enable them to rule with truth and justice.”

And of course, that justice is exercised under Sharia law, where decapitations, amputations, enslavement of women, genital mutilation and stoning to death are legalized.

Turkey has been the first country to take the initiative to negotiate with the Taliban and President Erdogan has praised the “reformist approach” of the Taliban.

Before the collapse of the Afghan regime, Washington had assigned Turkey to take over the operation of the Kabul airport. But Turkey withdrew its forces with the NATO allies, and now is seeking a better deal with the Taliban, hoping to “share the burden” with NATO allies.

The spokesperson of the Taliban”s political bureau in Qatar, Mohammad Naeem Wardak has stated: “Turkey is an important country. Turkish people are Muslims and brotherly people. We have historical and cultural relations with Turkey. … There are two main concerns in our relations. The first is the principles of religion of Islam and the second is the high interest of the country and the people.”

Thus President Erdogan finds fertile ground for Islamic fundamentalism and does not need further efforts to foment religious fanaticism.

“We have held our first talks with the Taliban which lasted three-and-a-half hours, and if necessary, we have the opportunity to hold such talks again,” he said.

But it is apparent that a deal has already emerged whereby Turkey will help Afghanistan develop its resources and economy, on condition that it recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, while that organization is listed as a terrorist group by the United Nations and most major countries.

The Taliban leadership has agreed with Ankara for Turkey to operate the Kabul airport but the latter maintains that they have to provide security, as Ankara is looking for an excuse to reintroduce its forces into Afghanistan. The recent suicide attacks have played into Turkish hands as Ragip Soylu writes in the Middle East Eye: “Turkey believes the deadly suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport has only emboldened its argument to the Taliban that sizable Turkish forces are needed to protect the area in order that the airport can operate smoothly.”

Once Turkey introduces its military forces in Afghanistan, those forces will be no different than Turkish occupation forces in Cyprus and Azerbaijan. But the geostrategic consequences will be more alarming to the countries in the region as Turkey will be encircling Armenia and Iran, militarily, while politically moving closer to Central Asia to reach out to the Turkic nations there and threatening the interests and security of China and Russia.

Afghanistan had already caused some instability in Central Asia when terrorism spilled over into the neighboring Tajikistan, Armenia”s ally through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Now, with Turkey consolidating its military might in Afghanistan, that threat will be further amplified.

Incidentally, Armenia will soon be assuming leadership of the CSTO, which is by rotation, and will be the first one to absorb the brunt of the Turkish assault in Central Asia.

While Turkey comes to accommodations in certain hot spots with Russia, it has not made a secret of its plans to blow up Russia from within by stirring up the latter”s 25 million Muslim population. It has also been arming Ukraine with Bayraktar drones and has vowed to conquer back Crimea in cooperation with Ukrainian forces. To further ingratiate itself to the West — and prove its importance — Ankara will not shy away from fomenting some instability on Russia”s southern borders. And as those problems develop, Russia may move its strategic assets to that region, leaving the Caucasus defenseless, where Armenia is already in a precarious situation.

Turkey”s expansionism first built bridges with Pakistan and Malaysia. That is why the Pakistani air force joined Turkey and freelance jihadists in the 44-day Karabakh war, which cemented Turkey”s relations with Azerbaijan and expanded its footprint in the Caucasus. The next extension will be Afghanistan, Malaysia and Azerbaijan under Ankara”s aegis, thus, many faraway countries which do not have any issues with Armenia will become the latter”s enemies by association. Ankara eventually will lead an Islamic alliance comprising Pakistan, Qatar, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Azerbaijan to challenge NATO and CSTO at the same time, and squeeze Armenian in between.

Those of us who believed that Afghanistan is a faraway county and events there do not concern us will soon realize just how close Afghanistan is to Armenia.