On the strategy in the fight against the PKK
After the collapse of negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in May 2011, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government explained its strategy on the PKK problem as “negotiating with politicians and fighting terrorism.” It was an attractive slogan, but its implementation proved to be difficult. The politics and security environment has been changing not only in Turkey, but also in the region. Unfortunately, there is a security meltdown going on in southeastern Turkey, in which the protracted Şemdinli conflict, the car bombings in Gaziantep, and the abduction of Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Huseyin Aygün have been prominent recent incidents. This article aims to focus on the government’s strategy for “fighting terrorism” by putting aside its external dimension.
The AKP government continues to call the PKK a “terrorist organization” due to domestic and international political concerns. Usually, governments facing security challenges similar to those presented by the PKK dwell on the “terrorism” explanation, which is understandable for political reasons. An effective fight against terrorism, however, requires an accurate diagnosis of the security problem. Governments need to determine their strategies according to the character of the imminent security threat, which is not what Turkey is doing. The AKP government has diagnosed the PKK problem and developed its strategy to counter this challenge with an ideological lens rather than a technical approach. This has caused a quandary for the government because the PKK’s strategy and tactics are more complicated than mere terrorism.
In the beginning, there seemed to be advantages to Turkish governments’ definition of the PKK as a terrorist organization. First, declaring the PKK to be an illegitimate and outlawed terrorist organization helped to garner public support. Second, a fight against mere terrorism can be handled by the police to a great extent, and the military would have only a limited role. Thus, while civil authorities and police were taking part in the fight, the civilian control operations would not be hurt. Unfortunately, the government disregarded some technical realities, choosing to stick to its own definition, and now faces an increasingly serious security meltdown.
However, the PKK is still clinging to a protracted political and military revolutionary strategy by creating a parallel state apparatus with the aim of controlling the Kurds in the region. It attacks for this reason. However, the government’s definition of terrorism prevents it from reacting to the strategy with the necessary response.
The provision of security, which is the primary duty of the government, is currently under threat. The PKK can organize terrorist attacks and street revolts as well as advanced guerilla operations. In some regions, the PKK has even seized the initiative and eroded the authority of the government. As a result, the people living in the region might accept the PKK as a more active power than the government.
Although the government’s strong grip over the media and its communication strategy partially shapes the evaluation of the PKK problem, this is not sustainable. We have to acknowledge that without providing security, other economic, social and diplomatic tools will not yield any results.