How quickly the setting changes
Turkey’s breakdown has been years in the making. Once upon a time, which now seems long ago, Prime Minister Erdogan’s Turkey, with its ‘zero problems with neighbours’ outreach, was celebrated as the ideal for Muslim nations to follow. Then an increasingly autocratic Erdogan sided with the GCC-US-EU-Nato alliance to bring ‘good vs evil’ type of ‘democracy and freedom’ to Syria by unseating the Baathist Assad regime. In the fast changing, zero sum game of Middle East politics, Erdogan’s gambit seemed, for all intents and purposes, quite sensible.
The combination had just wiped out the 40-year old Gaddaffi setup from Libya – rich with light sweet crude that the west was salivating over for decades. And it was now gunning for Syria. Turkey, in the Syrian civil war, played a role remarkably similar to Pakistan’s in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. There were warnings, but Ankara chose instead to get drunk on initial gains, feeding not just outrageous dreams of a neo Ottoman revival, but also the megalomania of PM turned President Recep Erdogan. The first signs of blowback came in early ’13 when al Qaeda insurgents, who were given free passage across the Turkish-Syrian border, bombed the city of Reyhanali in an attempt to accuse the Syrian government and drag Turkey and therefore Nato, militarily, into the war.
Three-and-something years later, with a dozen or so bombings ripping through Turkey, a failed coup, the standoff with Russia to account for, President Erdogan is caught between his own policies. His tone about Damascus has completely changed since the rapprochement with Moscow, but his sleeping with the devil has brought the war into Turkey. And just like Pakistan after that dreadful Afghan war, and the others that followed, it is now forced to fight against the monster it once fed and armed. Luckily, though, Erdogan reversed course early, and his security and intelligence machinery did not have decades to work and integrate with the Islamists. Now the Ottoman dream is shattered and foreign policy is a nightmare; a far cry from the ‘zero problems’ days. And the economy, so used to tourist and trade lubrication from mainland Europe, is compromised. How far Erdogan has realised his mistake, or whether Turkey’s denial will last as long as Pakistan’s, remains to be seen.