Dr. Muhammad Iqbal Khalil
Afghanistan is a country inhabited by multiple nationalities representing ethnic and linguistic groups with roots in the neighboring countries. Pukhtoon the majority (42%) population are present on the other side in Pakistan also (17%).The same is the case of Tajik population (27%) in Afghanistan, present in majority (82%) in neighboring Tajikistan. This goes for Uzbeks (9%) also which are again majority (82%) in Uzbekistan. Turkmen (2-3%) are also present in majority (79%) in Turkmenistan. Hazara (9%) in Afghanistan are also present in Baluchistan province of Pakistan as a large community. An important neighboring country of Afghanistan is Iran where majority of the population is Iranian (Persians) which are not present in Afghanistan but majority (77%) of the people speak Darri (Persian) which connects both the countries on linguistic basis.
Turkey does not share any border with Afghanistan .It borders with Iran which is neighbor to Afghanistan but this is not the cause of Turkish influence in Afghanistan. There are many ethnic groups in the present days Afghanistan which has Turkish origin like Uzbeks (9%) Turkmens (3%), Kyrgyz and Qizilbash (Less than 1%). All of them together form 14% of the total population.Uzbek people in northern Afghanistan are majority in the Northern Balkh province bordering Uzbekistan and Speak Uzbek Language.Turkmens are present in the province of Herat, Badghis, Faryab, and Jowzjan bordering Turkmenistan and speak a Turkish dialect. Kyrgyz people are settled in tthe strategic area of Wakahan strip bordering China, Pakistan and Tajikistan. The Qizilbash came to Afghanistan during the Afsharid and Durrani rulers specially Taimur shah Durrani who recruited 12000 of them in his Army. Later on Zaman Shah Durrani recruited more. Today they live in the main cities of Kabul,Mazar Sharif and Qandahar on high government posts.
These Turkish origin ethnic groups have a strong influence on the political and economic aspects of Afghan society .The estimated population is 4.2 million and are considered to be hard core warriors famous Afghan dialect says ” قہرافغان رحم ازبک” means the “ferocity of Afghans equals to the kindness of Uzbek ”. They are well placed in Afghan Society and are considered at 3rd place in order of importance after Pukhtoons and Tajik in the upper power corridor of the country .They assume more importance due to their links and connection with other Turkish origin communities and population in Turkey, Central Asian Republics and China which makes them more powerful and one of the largest ethnic groups in this region. They are Sunni Muslims and looks towards Turkey as their power center.
According to Global Firepower Index 2021 released this week Turkey has the 2nd largest army among the Muslim country with the total strength of 437.000 active while reserves 380.000 armed personals. As part of NATO, alliance it has deployed around 800 army soldiers in Afghanistan during the period of American occupation including helicopters force also. Army deployed by Turkey is in Afghan capital Kabul and Wardak province. They had not played any significant role in the fight against the resistance movement of Tehrik-e- Taliban. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has on many occasions shown his willingness to play a mediatory role among the different factions of Afghanistan including Taliban and Afghan Government. The Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process (HoA-IP) is an initiative of the Republic of Afghanistan and the Republic of Turkey, which was officially launched at a conference hosted by Turkey in Istanbul on 2 November 2011. Since then, Afghanistan supported by fourteen Participating Countries of the Heart of Asia Region and 16 Supporting Countries beyond the region as well as 12 Regional and International Organizations is leading and coordinating this Process. It was a platform for promoting regional security, economic and political cooperation centered on Afghanistan through dialogue and a set of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Taliban Movement never became part of this process and it just became a ritual of government level conferences of regional countries which never bore any results and considered a futile exercise.
A more recent endeavor by the Turkish government to hold intra Afghan parleys in Istanbul on the level of Doha dialogue was also thwarted by Taliban contingent in Doha who declined to attend any such proceedings in the back drop of the move by the United States to handover the security of the Kabul International Airport to Turkey after the withdrawal of the American forces from Afghanistan. Taliban decision also provided a face saving to Turkish leadership in the presence of strict conditions laid down by the former leadership.
The sensational proposal of the American President Joe Biden was accepted by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but bitterly opposed by the leadership of Taliban. This was in sharp contrast of the American Taliban Accord signed last year on 29 February 2020 and considered a milestone and biggest breakthrough after almost two decades of war in Afghanistan following 9/11 incidence and subsequent American war against the Taliban led Emart-e- Islami Afghanistan. This was also not included in the rather surprising announcement of president Joe Biden regarding complete withdrawal of American and NATO forces by 30th August 2021just before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 attack. Taliban declared it as breach of the peace treaty and warned Turkish government not to accept the responsibility. So far the Turkish government has not made any clear decision to accept or withdraw from the responsibility rather they have insisted to go along with US proposal.
Keeping in view the ground facts and onward march of the Taliban forces it is unlikely to succeed in this task unless a deal is made with Taliban Movement.
Another bone of contention between the Turkish government and Taliban leadership is the ongoing support of the former Uzbek leaders of the disintegrated Northern Alliance which is still a major threat to the Taliban victory in some of the provinces of Afghanistan .The ailing Uzbek leader, a warlord and former Afghan vice president General Rasheed Dostum is in Turkey for medical treatment hosted by the Turkish government. This is a part of the Turkish policy to support the Turkish origin Afghan ethnic groups in the past also. Turkey has provided safe sanctuary to many afghan warlords including Atta Muhammad Noor who challenged and fought against the Taliban rule in the 90s.Particularly after the fall of the Mazar-e- sharif in the hands of Taliban in the 1997 and subsequent massacre of Iranian diplomats in the consulate office.
The ongoing tussle between the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led Turkish government and Emarat –e-Islami Afghanistan will have a bearing on the future policies of both the parties as both claims for the revival of Islamic Ummah on the global front. It may also console the American, Russians and even Chinese leaderships who would definitely fear the unity of such forces to influence their sphere of interest in one way or other.
Chinese leadership have clearly asked the Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Berader to completely withdraw any support to East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) struggling for the rights of Uyghur people in Xingjian province in China, a difficult preposition for Taliban of course . Uyghur Muslims are also a Turkish origin ethnic group and therefore expect support from Turkish people as well.
(The writer of the article is Chairman of Institute of Regional Studies, a Peshawar based think tank.)