The cracks in the system

Publish date 02-02-2022

by Claudio Monge

On 14 October in Ankara, the Foreign Minister of the Taliban provisional government, Amir Khan Muttaqi met his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. As is well known, Turkey maintained its embassy in Afghanistan after Western countries withdrew following the return to power of the Taliban. At his time, President Recep Erdoğan had declared that the Taliban should feel at ease when they dialogue with Turkey because Ankara "has nothing that contradicts their beliefs", an implicit reference to the common Islamic faith.

The declaration found rapid operational feedback in the meeting between Muttaqi and the president of Diyanet (Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs), Ali Erbaş, openly contested by many Turkish citizens. "The Turkish government officials first declare that terror is not compatible with Islam - basically say many users of social media - then hold openly religious talks with the Taliban. What are they discussing? Will Turkey have something to say to the religious interpretation of the political and social duties of the Talibans? " they wonder concerned. For years, Turkish foreign policy has been a veritable labyrinth. The already very complicated relations with the EU will be even more so with the departure of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, for better or worse, has always tried to make her Western colleagues "digest" the increasingly indigestible morsel of leadership of Ankara, making possible, among other things, the repeated questionable agreements for the management of the refugee emergency. On the other hand, the AUKUS military agreement between Australia, Great Britain and the United States (in an anti-Chinese key) also affects Turkey because it clearly decreases the importance of NATO (of which Turkey is a member) in transatlantic relations, generating the domino effect of new bilateral agreements that are uncomfortable for Ankara, such as the defense agreement between France and Greece. It is difficult not to imagine this agreement, which has significant influences in the Mediterranean basin, as a mutual protection against Turkey and its very aggressive policies. The increase in Turkish isolation in the West encourages Ankara’s Middle Eastern maneuvers, especially on the Afghan and Syrian front. It is easy to think that Erdoğan will be able to use the Afghan dossier above all, primarily the issues of refugees and extremist Islamist militancy, as an instrument of blackmail to force the chancelleries in the north of the Mediterranean to listen to his voice.

But Turkish citizens are frankly concerned with respect to other issues, particularly the domestic economic factor. The latest figure is the 21st place out of 156 countries in the World Misery Index for 2020, calculated on the basis of economic indicators such as unemployment (in Turkey 12% last August), inflation (the lira has lost 19% of its value since the beginning of the year), interest rate and national income. If the rise in unemployment indicates an increase in the homeless, the rise in inflation implies an increase in the cost of living. The two combined mean economic despair, and that is exactly what Turkey is experiencing. Perhaps we should begin to think that it is on this front, rather than on that of foreign policy, that the future of the country's leadership will be at stake, although those who govern continue to pretend nothing has happened. Meanwhile, the pandemic crisis continues to aggravate the picture: since the end of August, the daily death toll continues to be around 200 deaths. The number of new cases, from around 20,000 before schools reopened, is now around 30,000 per day (at least 153,000 students have been quarantined since schools reopened in September). Even the almost total control over the media will not be able to alter the realistic picture of the situation for very long, on the contrary, it begins to look like an increasingly fragile fig leaf covering the cracks in the system.

Claudio Monge
NP November 2021

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