Is Turkey so naïve to be surprised by PKK acts?

Is Turkey so naïve to be surprised by PKK acts?

Was Turkish intelligence expecting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to resort to acts it has not resorted to before and kidnap a parliamentarian? If it did expect such a high-profile abduction, did it inform the opposition party? If it did, one of the high-level officials of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was not aware of it since Gürsel Tekin’s first reaction Sunday night of the news about the kidnapping of another CHP parliamentarian Hüseyin Aygün was, “We are shocked.”

So it is fair to say that the Turkish intelligence was caught by surprise, just as it was caught by surprise when the Syrian Kurds joined hands with Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and took over control of the northern provinces of Syria.

It is surprising to see how certain developments seem to catch some by surprise, for you really do not have to be a genius of political analysis to speculate about the possible consequences of Turkey’s self-assumed mission of toppling the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Obviously no one should have expected Turkey to sit and watch while the winds of change were blowing hard in the Middle East. But adapting your foreign policy to changing circumstances is one thing; trying to manage and lead in a direction that will be the least harmful to your short-, medium- and long-term interests is another thing, while becoming a leading actor in order to shape developments according to your own design (as was announced by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in his famous speech in Parliament a few months ago) is yet another thing. At that stage, you should not expect others who might not agree with your own design, no matter how well-intentioned it may be, to sit and watch you quietly. Then you should get ready to expect even the most unexpected. 

Anyone with even a little information about the political realities of Turkey, as well as its neighborhood, would have guessed that those opposing the Turkish government’s regional strategies will try to hit Turkey at its weakest point, that weakest point being the Kurdish issue. And nobody needed a crystal ball to see that Syria, Iran and even Russia would play the Kurdish card and that the PKK would not waste time to make use of the circumstances to hit back hard against Turkey. 

It is, however, unimaginable to think that Turkish decision-makers were unaware of the possible challenges of Turkey’s policy choices in Syria. In this case the question we need to ask is to what degree Turkey’s rulers were prepared to face these challenges.

When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, it was aware of the fact that Turkey could not become an effective regional power and a global player with existing internal and external problems. That was the starting point of several initiatives like the Kurdish opening and the zero-problems policy with neighbors. When it comes to the latter, you can’t put the blame solely on the government for its failure since it takes two to tango when dealing with neighbors. It is not the case, however, for the Kurdish issue. Distancing itself from steps that could open the way for political reconciliation is proving to be the biggest obstacle in realizing Turkey’s grand regional design.