Fighting terrorism and alienating people

Fighting terrorism and alienating people

Recent reports from Ankara indicated that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government has started to develop concerns regarding the sustainability of its security policy against the “ditches and  barricades” campaign of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

According to the political backstage reporting by Nuray Babacan of daily Hürriyet, in two separate meetings in Ankara earlier this week a concern was raised over “losing public support” if the ongoing security operations in the dominantly Kurdish-populated eastern and southeastern towns continued for more than two or three months in the way they are carried out now, which could alienate local people, even those who currently support the government operations against the PKK. Those meetings were the cabinet meeting and the central executive board meeting of the AK Parti.

There are a number of reasons for this concern emerging in government circles following earlier warnings by opposition members of parliament, particularly the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP). There is also a strong opposition by the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) but the HDP’s opposition is against any government measures against the PKK’s self-declared autonomy attempt backed by arms, whereas the CHP acknowledges and supports the government’s right to fight against terrorism but urges the government to carry out the fight, for example, by avoiding civilian causalities. But there are civilian causalities; the number of young (under 18) and elderly people killed in the crossfire of the PKK and Turkey’s security forces over the last three months is nearing 50.

The government sent land forces and heavy weapons like tanks into town centers, which increased the risk of collateral damage. There are photos on wires showing large holes in house walls which could only be opened by heavy guns. The PKK on the other hand has extended its armed campaign to civil service buildings such as schools, public libraries and even hospitals, as was the case in southeastern Cizre. The government has already ceased education services in towns and neighborhoods under curfew, which affected some 20,000 primary and secondary school students. Shops are closed in those regions and some of them have been destroyed. A delegation of the CHP consisting of mostly female MPs who went to show empathy with the suffering of women in the Sur neighborhood of southeastern Diyarbakır had to give their press statements on Dec. 25 with the sound of gunshots in the background.

The situation is not sustainable for the PKK either, but the PKK has already been trying to agitate the discontent of people against the government. It is the government who has to win hearts and minds while trying to maintain security on the streets, fighting terrorism within the democratic order to avoid alienating people. The end of bloodshed might be the key to return to dialogue in search of a political settlement with Turkey’s Kurdish problem.