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Turkey’s path resembles Pakistan’s 3 novembre 2014

Posted by Acturca in Central Asia / Asie Centrale, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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Ottawa Citizen (Canada)  November 3, 2014, p. C6

Chris Kilford *

The West needs to rethink Syria. In late October 2012, while working at the Canadian Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, I had occasion to chat with a Pakistani diplomat about the situation unfolding in Syria.

My Pakistani acquaintance, given his country’s long border with Afghanistan, was well aware of what it meant to have a failed state next door. I had served for a year in Afghanistan in the Canadian Embassy so I also understood what he was trying to get across by comparing the situation in Syria to that of the Soviet and Taliban periods in Afghanistan.

He pointed out how the West had funded and equipped the Mujahideen but, once the Sovietbacked Afghan government fell, a state of anarchy ensued. The Taliban eventually gained control and we all know what happened after that. In his view, Syria would soon enter into a state of anarchy, a Taliban-like entity would surface and the blowback from Turkey’s support to the opposition would lead to domestic instability. By and large, he was right.

Of course, Bashar Assad is still with us but, in northern Syria, al-Qaida’s official Syrian affiliate, the al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State (ISIL) have appeared. The blowback has come in the form of 1.5 million refugees now living in Turkey and recent riots across the country given the government’s seemingly callous stance over the fate of the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani. If Kobani had fallen, and it might still, the already fragile Turkish-Kurdish peace process would likely have collapsed and led to renewed fighting between the Turkish government and the Kurdish PKK on a scale not seen before. Fortunately, and embarrassingly for Ankara, the U.S. cavalry in the form of airstrikes and airdrops rode not only to Kobani’s rescue but also Turkey’s.

However, it’s Turkey’s future and more aggressive plans to support the Syrian opposition that should be of greater concern when it comes to the region’s stability.

In early October, the U.S. State Department announced that Ankara had agreed to openly support the training and equipping of at least 2,000 moderate Syrian opposition fighters inside Turkey. By all accounts, Turkey has been quietly supporting the Syrian opposition for years – I met enough so-called moderate Syrian fighters in southern Turkey over the last three years to know that is true. Nevertheless, openly agreeing to train opposition fighters on Turkish soil is a major escalation.

If a better-trained Syrian opposition were to eventually topple the Assad regime, I suspect complete and utter chaos would soon ensue, with warlords and criminal gangs each taking a piece of the country. Millions of refugees would stream out of Syria and into alreadyovercrowded refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. No doubt, in the end ISIL or some rebranded offshoot would brutally triumph and a version of the Taliban on Turkey’s border would take root.

However, of immediate concern is what might happen if Turkey really does go ahead and open those opposition training camps it has supposedly agreed to.

Would Damascus be justified in launching attacks on these facilities? Would NATO be obliged to defend Turkey in such a case? Might Russia claim that Ankara had become a state sponsor of terrorism, cut offits significant energy supplies and endanger the entire Turkish economy?

The fact is that in Syria the choices are now limited. Either Assad remains in power or the country descends into a version of Afghanistan under the Taliban, or for that matter Libya today. Perhaps, given the options available, it’s time for the U.S. and everyone else to rethink their support for the Syrian opposition and choose between the lesser of two evils. Otherwise, Turkey might find itself having more in common with Pakistan than it already does.

* Dr. Chris Kilford (then Col. Kilford) served as Canada’s Defence Attaché to Turkey from 2011 to 2014. He recently became a fellow with the Queen’s Centre for International and Defence Policy.

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