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Turkey falls into US line with offer to supply troops against Taliban

Crescent International

Immediately after the September 11 attacks, Turkey offered its airspace and military bases for use by the US and its allies in their ‘war’ on Afghanistan, reaping ample praise for its “loyalty to the West”. Turkey has military ties with Israel, and allows the US and Britain to use its territory to bomb Iraq almost daily, so we should not be surprised that the Turkish parliament authorized its government to send ground troops to Afghanistan only days after the bombing of Afghanistan began (on October 7). The government duly announced on November 1 that it was ready to send ninety specialist troops to join allied forces on the ground in Afghanistan, and if necessary in Uzbekistan.

Ismail Cem, the foreign minister, sought to defend this controversial move by claiming that it would send a “message to everyone that this is not a war against Islam” but against terrorism. He was referring to the fact that Turkey was the only Muslim country sending troops, in order to scotch claims that the war is a US-led “crusade”, a term used by president George W. Bush himself, to the consternation of his allies. A government statement went into greater detail to explain the aims of the move.

“The decision...aims to develop the training and development of the Northern Alliance, meet the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people and contribute to development of a wide-based administration with participation of all ethnic groups,” the statement said. “Those who try to portray this operation ...as an action against Islam are contradicting the sublime values of Islam, a religion of peace,” it added.

But if Islam is a religion of peace and Turkey is a Muslim country, why is Ankara waging war against Muslim Afghanistan on the side of Bush? And if, as the government statement claims, Islamic values are sublime, why is the fiercely secular Turkish government opposed to them and why does the ruling elite fight Islamic activism to the extent of banning even essentially secular political parties that pay lip-service to Islamic values? Indeed, how can the prime minister of a Muslim country oppose the suspension of hostilities against another Muslim country during Ramadhan more passionately than Bush or Tony Blair, the British prime minister, as Bulent Ecevit has done? Ecevit said at a news conference on November 1 that “terrorism has no Ramadan, no flags, no fears”, thereby betraying his utter insensitivity to Muslim feelings.

The government statement sets out the real reasons why Ankara has decided to send ground troops to join forces from the US, Britain, Canada and Australia. The plain fact is that Washington asked it on October 26 to provide special troops who are experienced in guerrilla warfare in mountainous terrain. The forces Ankara is despatching got the experience from fighting Kurdish rebels for more than 15 years in southeast Turkey: ideal preparation for the kind of warfare and terrain they will face in Afghanistan.

According to press reports quoting Turkish and Western government sources, Ankara is anxious to secure US backing for its confrontation with the European Union over the admission of Cyprus into the EU before the dispute between Northern Cyprus (which is occupied by Turkish forces) and Greek-dominated southern Cyprus (which is recognised by the international community) is cleared up. The Turkish government also hopes that Washington will lean on the IMF and the World Bank to provide the multibillion-dollar loan its struggling economy needs. Turkey is also locked in a fierce dispute with the EU over its plans for a rapid-deployment European Defence Force. The EU wants NATO to give assistance to the force whenever needed, but as a member of NATO Turkey has a veto over what assistance NATO can give to EU forces or governments.

But, to Ankara’s disappointment, Washington has heaped praise on it for “cooperating in the war on terrorism” but has so far sided with the EU in the dispute over the European force and over the proposed admission of Cyprus into the EU. The US and Britain are putting pressure on Turkey not to use its veto to block the development of ties between NATO and the planned Rapid Deployment Force. Both have also criticised Turkey for its recent threat to annex northern Cyprus if the island is admitted into the EU. Prime minister Bulent Ecevit said on November 4 that Turkey could annex the territory if the island joined the EU before a settlement was reached.

Ecevit was hoping that an early and favourable response from Washington would make Ankara’s decision to send ground troops more acceptable to the Turkish people. But a recent nationwide opinion poll shows that more than 80 percent of Turks oppose the war on Afghanistan and Ankara’s role in it. After all, the Turkish people are Muslim, although the Turkish state is secular and the ruling elite is fiercely anti-Islamic. For this reason some analysts in the west predict that Islamic movements in Turkey are likely to gain considerable and unprecedented support as a result of Ankara’s overzealous participation in the ‘war’ against Afghanistan, particularly if it drags on, resulting in the loss of many more civilian lives.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 18

Rabi' al-Thani 18, 14382001-11-16

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