Looking ahead with Turkey

President Zardari arrived in Turkey on Monday for a four-day official tour to do what presidents do: enhance country-to-country relations, strengthen bilateral ties and focus on promises of cooperation, aid and development. In this, his meeting with his Turkish counterpart is by no means out of the ordinary. However, there are also different agreements being made and important developments in the offing to set the stage for a more stable Pak-Afghan region. News has started seeping out that, in this meeting, both heads of state have agreed on the need to end the war in Afghanistan and help bring negotiations to fruit. For this, it is being reported that President Zardari has expressed the willingness of Pakistan in backing any move by Ankara to open an office of the Afghan Taliban inside the Eurasian country.

This proposal had initially been floated by Turkey at the 5th trilateral summit between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey in December 2010. Turkey has long been looking forward to enhancing its feel-good ties with war-torn Afghanistan, the latter seeing the relatively developed Turkey as a neutral force in a never-ending theatre of foreign intervention, occupation and — in Pakistan’s case — interference. Turkey has always been vocal in developing initiatives to stabilise conflict-riddled Afghanistan, as it expressed in a press conference with President Zardari on Wednesday. Therefore, what better way to help ease the attempts at negotiations with the Afghan Taliban — a step all parties, including a dishevelled US, are willing to take to begin the troop withdrawal and transfer process come 2014. It is well known that no matter what the final settlement in Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership will have to be given a role in the new set-up. It is because of this reason that Turkey is willing to extend its hand to the Taliban and offer it political legitimacy by way of an office on its soil, and Pakistan is ready to offer its support.

It is hoped that it is just this kind of recognition and legitimacy that the Taliban are looking for when it comes time to decide the future of Afghanistan. However, there is a very fine line between giving the Taliban what they want and offending them. The Taliban were once in virtually unchallenged power in Afghanistan and ruled the country with an iron grip. This once dominant element has now been knocked to the periphery and feels excluded and targeted by the very elements that claim to want to negotiate with it. It is unclear whether this gesture, made by Turkey and backed by Pakistan, will be accepted by the Taliban. Until and unless the core Taliban leadership is involved, consulted and put onboard in any effort to include them in a post-US Afghanistan, these generous overtures might as well be pie in the sky.After this endorsement, it is vital that steps towards ensuring peace are worked on in a determined manner. It is necessary for Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan to find the right interlocutors to help convey and convince the core — and willing to integrate — Taliban leadership to help bring this initiative off the ground.Turkey has always been a friend to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has aimed at revitalising ties between both countries. It is hoped that, for the sake of peace, the Taliban agree to this very reasonable and sincere effort. – Dailytimes