For the unthinking lover of news sensation, Afghanistan has since August 15 delivered up unending streams of “porn” candy. Desperate Afghans clinging to, then falling from, the outsides of evacuation aircraft, babies thrown over barbed wire fences to soldiers by parents desperate to get them out of the country, the Taliban in the presidential office…
When 115 Afghan migrants were found in a single apartment in Turkey's Van province.
Right now, the seriousness of the situation is more or less recognised and anxieties over the likelihood of new immigrant waves are growing. There is in fact a huge and noisy commotion out there as every politician and media name worth their salt attempts to have their Afghanistan say, with us mere mortals subject to a media bombardment. They all have an idea of where things must go from here, and many seek to manipulate things in the “right” direction. (The fact that it falls to yours truly, a lowly financial reporter, to attempt to eliminate some manipulation and marshal some salient truths tells us all we need to know about the state of the world media).
Perhaps, it's time to take a step back in an attempt to set out a sane perspective. For, in the first year of a new decade, it looks like, for Turkey and far beyond, we have a new phase on our hands.
The year of 2011 brought the Arab Spring and wars in Syria and Libya. These events can be linked to Turkey’s subsequent descent into a political and economic hell.
Ten years earlier, in 2001, there were the convulsions in Afghanistan after 9/11, then in 2003 there was the invasion of Iraq. As a result, Turkey got landed with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) regime.
In 2021, we are back with the nightmare that is Afghanistan, but this time things look much more serious than they were two decades ago.
At this point, there is an urge to get straight to the heart of the matter, i.e. just why does anyone think it's okay to not stop bombing people's countries and providing jihadists with guns, but heck, more granular detail needs adding to the picture if ours is to reason why, so here goes.
Afghanistan’s population is estimated as approaching 40mn people and the country has been a source of migration since 1979. Syria’s population stood at around 20mn prior to its war. According to official figures, 7mn have left the country since the shooting began, with 3.6mn presently hosted by Turkey.
There are officially around 0.1mn Afghan migrants in Turkey, with the country officially hosting 3.7mn refugees in all, making it the world leader, according to UN figures. But there are “actual figures” in circulation in Turkey that describe a total of 10mn migrants, including 5-6mn Syrians and 1-1.5mn Afghans.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently stated that there were about 0.3mn Afghans in Turkey. It is not known how he went about counting his country's unregistered Afghans.
The UN’s figures also suggest that Afghanistan was the world's third largest source of refugees, amounting to 2.6mn people at end-2020, behind 6.7mn Syrians and 4mn Venezuelans.
Pakistan officially hosts around 1.5mn Afghans, followed by Iran with 0.8mn. However, it is said that there are in fact approximately 3.5mn Afghans in Iran, a country that has recently been allowing Afghans to make their way via a mountainous route to Turkey.
The 1.5mn or so Syrian migrants who arrived in Europe, mostly in 2015, dramatically changed the continent’s political landscape. The solution was found in paying Erdogan’s Turkey to stop migrants heading to Europe by becoming their host. And it seems that the pisspoor European governments currently ruling their roosts still believe that the Erdogan regime can solve their difficulties with migrants.
Politically engaged kids quickly cotton on to the ugly transactions that have marked the Angela Merkel/Recep Tayyip Erdogan relationship. (Image: @turkificated).
Stopping immigrant waves is impossible unless you are first stopping wars.
Turkey has an official population of 83mn and its eastern and southern borders are relatively open. Migrants from Africa and Asia arrive in Turkey to earn some money to pay people traffickers in the hope of making it to Western Europe. However, Turkey’s Western borders are closed and it has, on paper at least, a migrant readmission agreement with the EU.
So where are we?
- The US has an agreement with the Taliban, thus it is still able to evacuate its people from Afghanistan.
- The Taliban has captured almost all of the country. It is claimed that the CIA could not correctly predict the timing of the Taliban’s arrival in Kabul. So, chaos ensued.
- Even if the CIA really failed to predict the timing of the Taliban victory, the result would have been the same sooner or later. So, it is not too smart to believe that the US was not aware that the chaotic situation was in the making.
- Leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban is tantamount to leaving a nuclear device that will explode again and again in the middle of Central and South Asia. Those who know this will attempt to hide it behind Biden’s “failure”.
- Some groups gathered in the Panjshir valley north of Kabul have already more or less declared war against the Taliban. They have called on the West to support them. They are also in talks with the Taliban. Whatever eventuates, some groups in Afghanistan will fight each other. These groups are not well-ordered modern structures. They can be divided and can switch sides, but in the end they do not know anything but war.
- There is talk that China and Russia will support the Taliban. All members of the Moscow mafiosi gang that rules the current version of the Russian empire were on the payroll of the KGB when the Soviet version of the Russian empire collapsed in Afghanistan. So, under normal conditions, they will not fall into the trap a second time.
- For the neoliberal oligarchy in Beijing, if the US manages to trap them in Afghanistan having gotten rid of the Soviets that became enmeshed there, it will be an interesting success story for the history books.
- Salafism and Wahabism are key words in the world of jihadism. Following World War II, jihadism was financed with petrodollars by the Middle Eastern oil producers led by Saudi Arabia, hometown of Salafism and Wahabism within Sunni Islam. All the current jihadist groups and brands have a Salafi ideology.
- Pakistan is a former British colony. Its name is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. (So, it is healthier to approach the arguments suggesting China has a sizeable influence on Pakistan with a pinch of salt. There is also talk of China’s influence on Turkey. But that does not change the reality that Turkey is a Nato member and that there is an Islamofascist regime in Turkey).
- In Afghanistan, what we see today all began with the Soviet invasion in 1979. The present form of jihadism has also come into existence there.
- The US supported, or created and orchestrated, the local fighters who took on and drove out the Soviets.
- Pakistan provided the base that “supported” the anti-Soviet jihadists in Afghanistan. As a result, exploding bombs in Pakistani cities are ordinary affairs today. (Turkey has the same destiny thanks to its similar involvement in the Syria War.)
- The Soviets could take no more, and collapsed in 1989.
- In the early 1990s, after the Soviets left, the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart (calling it the CIA’s proxy in Pakistan is not too big an exaggeration) formed the Taliban in Afghanistan. (Going back to the arguments in circulation suggesting China has a sizeable influence on Pakistan and real sway with the Taliban: why should China be successful in controlling Pakistan and the Taliban if the US was not? Nevertheless, interestingly, all roads lead to inviting China into Afghanistan).
- The success of the jihadists against the Soviets opened up a new channel for US foreign policy. In Bosnia and Chechnya, along with Somalia, Nigeria, Syria, Libya and many other places, jihadist groups were used under various brands or guises.
- In 2001, the US chose to fall into its own trap by entering into a war in Afghanistan. After two decades, it is leaving.
- There is certainly no US victory as it is not possible to win a victory in Afghanistan. However, the lack of an American victory is not the same as the Soviet failure due to a few reasons. One is that the US has a global seigniorage. It can spend a trillion dollars and the Fed can print a few trillion dollars more. Another is that the US has no border with Afghanistan.
- The US hegemony is currently on the slide, but that is not down to its failure in Afghanistan. The neoliberalism that has been in power in the US since the 1970s created today’s China, and it is that China that is now the main threat to the American hegemony. Afghanistan may help the US stop the rise of the Chinese if the neoliberal oligarchy in Beijing falls into the Afghanistan trap.
- The China problem is very much down to the Middle Kingdom’s use of de facto slaves. It is not possible to compete with China in manufacturing. And keeping the China problem in the military sphere will only serve China, something Beijing is well aware of.
- This is a win-win for China and its iron-hearted deployment of neoliberalism, while the US will continue to slide from its throne where it sits as the global hegemon.
- Donald Trump attempted to confront the real China problem. He lost. It’s not easy because China also allows the Western multinationals to use its slaves. So, the Biden administration was cast in the role of keeping the China problem on military ground.
- There is a common misunderstanding suggesting that war is bad for capitalism. But that is not correct. The “war economy” mobilises the economic resources of a country to work at the max. So, having big wars surrounding China would help sagging global capitalism find new fields of growth.
What to watch for now?
- The golden rule regarding Afghanistan is that whoever crosses the Afghan border loses. China is, amid the ongoing mayhem, being encouraged to take this step. Under normal conditions, the oligarchy in Beijing would not fall into this trap, but history is so often made up of fools and their mistakes.
- The friendship choices of the Chinese regime could also push the country onto the battleground.
- Domestic clashes will definitely not come to a stop in Afghanistan. Who will fight whom is not so important compared to which external power will support which domestic group. Tremendously important is that Afghanistan will now be the global centre for war and jihadism, replacing the Syria and Libya of the past decade.
- The violence in Afghanistan will definitely spread to neighbouring countries. These countries will host and provide logistical support to Afghan groups and, as a consequence, the violence will spread to their territory.
- The first to become embroiled will be the northern neighbours known as the “Stans”. Iran will try to keep the clashes away from its border. Pakistan has been involved in the Afghan wars since 1979.
- The real destination and real reason for the action under way in Central and South Asia is China. The violence will spread into China’s Xinjiang region populated by the Muslim and Turkic Uyghurs. The region has a short border with Afghanistan.
- If the ruling Chinese oligarchs avoid the trap of crossing the border into Afghanistan, Beijing will be able to utilise the violence in Xinjiang. It can apply a war economy concept and justify its authoritarian regime in the fight against the evil Xinjiang colonialists. Turkey has been using such an approach against the pro-Kurdish militant political organisation PKK for more than four decades.
- Some action will also be seen on the Pacific side of China, but there are no striking visible developments there as yet.
- Keeping the China problem in the military sphere will fuel military expenditure, while creating no problem with the slave usage. So, a win-win.
- Getting back to mere mortals, “terror” will occur across the globe in the coming period. Bombs will explode everywhere.
Why is this Turkey’s business?
Turkey has a “proactive” regime focused on its own survival. In 2002, the AKP took power in Turkey after the then “military tutelage” regime balked at joining the 2003 Iraq War. Then the regime managed to keep Turkey out of the Iraq War, but the bill the country paid for this was the loss of all the democratic and undemocratic institutions that rejected joining the conflict.
After the elimination of its secular regime, Turkey became a leading subcontractor in the US war business and it has managed some adventurism of its own. It is currently embroiled in the conflicts of Syria, Libya, Somalia and Nagorno-Karabakh, while also frequently and brazenly crossing the Iraq border to pursue the Kurds.
Turkey’s leader, Erdogan, always ensures he is seen as at odds with the US (whatever the reality, it helps his image as a “strong leader). That’s usually tolerable to Washington, but he’s gotten too big for his boots in many American eyes. The newly arrived Biden administration made the regime in Turkey eat humble pie. The story of how the US treats its proxies is always similar. It chooses and empowers the proxy and then the proxy lets it all go to its head at the levers of power. Erdogan became extremely spoilt. The Biden administration showed him his place.
However, even though with Erdogan we are by now talking about something approaching “the corpse of Erdogan”, things with this wily operator are never a piece of cake. He managed by hook or crook to get his claws into a “transactional” partnership with Biden over the Afghanistan business.
What do we know about the deal between Erdogan and Biden?
On June 15, Erdogan and Biden held a private meeting on the sidelines of a Nato summit in Brussels. No official information on the agreement beyond bromides was provided, but that which is visible so far includes:
- Nato has started training Afghans in Turkey. These Afghans are supposed to fight against the Taliban. The media is focused on the Erdogan regime’s attempts to try and find workable relations with the Taliban, but when it comes to Afghanistan, amid all the information “noise” it’s impossible to identify the assorted actual relations among the involved parties.
- About 500-600 Turkish soldiers are still in Kabul. The US and Turkey were working on a plan whereby these soldiers would keep Kabul’s international airport secure and operational after the US departure, partly to enable diplomats to get in and out of the country. However, the chances of anything like this plan moving forward with Taliban consent looks rather unlikely by now. The fate of the plan will be seen after the evacuation of the US’ people ends by August 31 at the latest.
- The US has been advising Afghans who served American forces and are in peril in the new reality to head for Turkey.
Can Turkey take on a new war?
Natural disasters including a massive outbreak of wildfires and deadly flooding, an upsurge in political and nationalist violence including pogroms against immigrants, real hunger impacting around 30mn people amid a feeble economy and clashes for power and remaining spoils among the gangs of the Erdogan regime are just some examples of what is now the wretched day to day life in Turkey.
Many other societies would have already entirely exploded a million times over if they had been forced to face even one percent of what Turkey has been going through. This blog has asked the question before: is a laboratory experiment under way to test what more can be done to make Turkey itself explode?
Given the fraught state of affairs, it is hard to estimate what might happen in Turkey if the Erdogan regime involves the country in a Syria-like war in Afghanistan.
Surrounded by jihadist networks
Turkey’s full-blown engagement with jihadism started with the Syria Civil War in 2011 and by now the country is surrounded by jihadist networks. So far, the arguments made above may sound somewhat groundless. Perhaps it would be good here to relay the latest facts on Turkey’s problem with jihadism.
These facts on Turkey also help to fathom what has been going on in Pakistan and what is awaiting the Stans and China. We also need to take into account the connection between the jihadists in Syria and the prospective jihadism destination of Xinjiang in relation to Afghanistan.
Yazidi girls on sale in Ankara
All three of the Islamic State militants, namely Sabah Ali Hussein Oruc, Nasser H. R. and Anas V., arrested in February while trying to sell a seven-year-old Yazidi girl in Ankara on the deep web, have been released under judicial control, Al-Monitor reported on August 17.
The Yazidis are a niche ethnic and religious community in northern Iraq. Thousands were enslaved by Islamic State.
According to the Ankara police’s indictment, Oruc, who was a ranking member of Islamic State in Mosul, northern Iraq, brought the girl to Ankara as “war booty” when he ran away following the collapse of the terrorist group in Iraq.
The girl’s mother might be among other missing Yazidi women still held captive by Islamic State militants in Turkey, but the Yazidi Culture Foundation’s request to become an intervening party in the trial has been rejected, Azad Baris, head of the Germany-based foundation, told Al-Monitor.
Baris dismissed the court cases brought against Islamic State in Turkey as “token” trials.
In July 2020, a 24-year-old Yazidi woman held captive in Ankara was rescued by her relatives from Australia who managed to buy her in an online sale.
In October 2019, another Yazidi woman in Ankara was rescued, together with her baby, from a rape after her brother tracked an Islamic State militant, who often travelled between Tal Afar in Iraq (where he captured the Yazidi woman in 2014 when she was 14 years-old) and Ankara.
The brother took a photo of his sister at a rare moment when the captor was taking the woman out of a property. The captor faced no legal action.
In 2017, the police in Kirsehir city of Turkey informed Iraqi centres working on finding missing Yazidis that they had taken into custody two kids, nine and 11 years-old, respectively, from an Iraqi Turkmen who was trying to register them as his own.
Later, a woman, who was also captured by Islamic State but was later released after her relatives posted “bail”, came to Kirsehir to prove the two children were her younger siblings, but she could not because the parents, together with another sibling as well as the woman’s husband and son, were also missing.
In the end, in 2020, Nechirvan Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan region in Northern Iraq, came to Ankara to arrange the handover of the children and they were given to their older sister.
Jihadist networks in Turkey: same man arrested periodically
Turkish police each month detain dozens of Islamic State militants as they take shelter, transfer money and traffick human beings in Turkey, according to Al-Monitor.
One man, namely Mahmut Ozden, is arrested periodically and the foreign media is each time provided with the same headlines: “Islamic State financier arrested in Turkey,” “Islamic State emir arrested in Turkey”...
The bitter reality is that Islamic State is much more entrenched in Turkey than commonly acknowledged, according to Al-Monitor.
In March, Al-Monitor reported details of the Islamic State networks in Kirsehir and Ankara based on information from court cases and police bulletins.
Hale Gonultas of Gazete Duvar, who reported the stories of the Yazidi kids put on sale, is among the leading journalists working on the issue of Islamic State networks in Turkey, while Dogu Eroglu in 2018 published a book entitled “The Islamic State Networks” after spending a few years with Islamic State militants in Turkey without hiding the fact that he was conducting investigative journalism and social anthropology research.
The Turkish judiciary is infamous for holding innocent people in lengthy pre-trial detentions without formally indicting them, while some judicial actors in Turkey see Islamic State militants simply as “misguided Muslims”, according to Al-Monitor.
The assassination of Russian ambassador to Ankara Andrei Karlov in 2016 should be recalled here. This stemmed from something called “Pakistanisation”. When a state engages with a jihadist group, the jihadist group, in exchange, infiltrates the state in question.
Al-Monitor listed the court cases of 67 Islamic State militants, including Turkish and foreign nationals, who were released at the end of the judicial process in Turkey. In all the cases, the militants each received a prison sentence of less than five years, which essentially means a de facto release in Turkey.
The only exception was the case of an Australian militant, Neil Cristopher Prakash. Prakash asked the court to not extradite him to Australia. In 2019, the court sentenced him to seven and a half years in jail to avoid extradition. He will soon be free thanks to Turkish rules that reduce the time served in prison, if he is not already.
Foreign Islamic State militants usually prefer to stand trial in Turkey since they have a greater chance of avoiding jail or of enjoying favourable prison conditions with a short sentence, Onur Guler, a Turkish lawyer who has represented many Islamic State militants at Turkish courts, told Al-Monitor.
Foreign Islamic State militants see Turkey as a safe harbour, Guler remarked.
Turkish courts ask the militants whether they see the Republic of Turkey as a transgressor of the edicts of Allah, a question few would answer in the affirmative, Guler also said.
Muslims believe lying is permissible in “some” cases, for instance, when it comes to opposing the oppression of transgressor regimes, Guler noted. Whether your situation amounts to an exceptional case permitting lying is a subjective matter.
“Canny” Islamic State militants come to Turkey to instrumentalise the benefits provided by its judiciary, and some of them become more radicalised while there, according to Guler.
Guler cites the case of Abdulkadir Polat to point to an individual who instrumentalised the Turkish judiciary and became more radicalised.
Polat, a Turkish national, faced up to 15 years in jail on charges of being the local Islamic State leader, which also means the chief recruiter, in Turkey’s northwestern province of Kocaeli. He told the court he joined Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), voted in elections and saw the president, Erdogan, as the leader of the believers.
In April 2019, he was given a jail sentence of just three years and was released on parole. Since his release, he has continued to post jihadist propaganda on YouTube.
Some Islamic State militants face investigations and trials for new offences after they are released by Turkey, according to Guler. Many different jihadist figures and groups may emerge in the coming years, Guler also said.
An unnamed source told Al-Monitor in June that the Islamic State militants are now keen on hiding behind other Salafi groups in Turkey, while some resort to secular disguise under which they attend nightlife spots, drink alcohol and socialise with girlfriends.
In Turkey, there are also former Al-Qaeda militants who later gravitated to Islamic State such as the Yamacli and Meydan groups in the southern province of Adana, the Amer Onay group in the eastern province of Van and the Bayancuk group in Istanbul, Al-Monitor reported in June.
For Islamists, names are not important. It can be Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, Islamic State or the Justice and Development Party (JDP) in Morocco. Allah, or money, is always enough.
(*left, the Taliban flag, right, the symbol of Turkey's AKP party).
Turkey regularly seizes the wealth of dozens of people over links to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. This shows that there are many jihadist leaders in the country.
Around 60% of Islamic State suspects have been captured in Istanbul and Ankara and around 30% in southern cities close to the Syrian border such as Kilis, Hatay, Gaziantep and Maras as well as in Van near the Iranian border, according to Al-Monitor.
Diyarbakir, Sakarya, Konya, Izmir and Adana stand out as other cities with frequent operations against Islamic State.
Which province is left in Turkey from north to south and east to west? And what would be the reaction if a secular government won the elections in Turkey?
On July 15, a United Nations committee working on matters related to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda submitted correspondence to the UN Security Council, composed of five permanent members with a veto (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) as well as 10 revolving non-permanent members largely there for appearances to give the impression of inclusive decision-making.
It communicated that the “western coalition forces” would support Turkey’s Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria. The SDF was formed with the foreigners that travelled to Syria in the early years of the conflict to whom Ankara turned a blind eye.
On January 6, Tunisia arrested Hamza bin Hussein bin Hamida al-Nawali, also known as Abu Ubaida, who travelled to Syria in 2012 to join Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in the Safirah area of Aleppo, before returning to Tunisia in 2014, the correspondence also noted.
HTS regularly announces operations targeting Islamic State fighters in “territories under its control” in Syria, according to the UN.
However, the UN communication also observed that Idlib remains a strategic location for Islamic State fighters and family members, in particular as a gateway to Turkey.
During the reporting period covered by the correspondence, in other words the first half of 2021, Turkey announced the arrests of several Islamic State members who crossed its border illegally in an attempt to hide in Hatay Province.
HTS remains the predominant terrorist group in northwestern Syria, still commanding approximately 10,000 fighters, according to the UN.
One UN member state (China?) reported that HTS and its ally, the Turkistan Islamic Party or Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, seek full control of Idlib. And according to one UN member state (China?), the Uyghur diaspora in Turkey is an important recruitment source for the Turkistan Islamic Party, while direct ties exist between the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria and Afghanistan.
To the mere mortal vertebrate, there seems to be a desperate attempt to seek consistency in the world of “nations”. To summarise, all states form and use “terrorist” groups but they give the impression that “terrorist” groups simply pop up from the soil like mushrooms.
We've moved, however, on to very slippery ground and it is impossible to identify which “terrorist” group works for which state at a certain point of time in a certain case in a certain location.
We know that the current form of jihadism or “terrorism” was created in Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion in 1979 and that it has been used from Bosnia to Chechnya to Syria and in the 9/11 attacks in New York.
And, we also know that Central and South Asia is now emerging as the new field of “jihadism”.
Uyghurs are using Syria as a battleground in which they can train and prepare to one day perhaps return to AfPak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) with an eye on the prize of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told Al-Monitor.
How states make use of “terrorists”
For those interested in how states make use of terrorists, the case of Turkish Islamic State militant Yunus Durmaz is a good example.
Durmaz carried out several terrorist attacks in Turkey in 2015 (when the country was embroiled in a bloodbath after the AKP lost its parliamentary majority in the general election held on June 7).
He was not caught even though authorities knew his whereabouts on 19 occasions in 2015, according to Al-Monitor.
Durmaz then planned the May 1, 2016 Gaziantep car bombing, but was again not caught immediately after the attack. Two weeks later on May 19, 2016, acting on a tip that Durmaz was planning an attack on the AKP’s annual convention, Turkish security forces raided his hideout. Durmaz “blew himself up” during the operation. Some 17 days after his death, the Turkish authorities decided to destroy all information pertaining to his case.