The TSK and the PKK fight -
One of the most important factors affecting civil-military relations in Turkey has been the ongoing fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for the last three decades. More often than not, governments were criticized for delegating their responsibilities to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and losing their capacity to manage the problem and make policy. Nowadays, the TSK’s role and responsibilities in the fight against the PKK have diminished significantly. However, comments in media outlets about increasing military casualties and the TSK’s silence are an indication of a serious lack of information. The purpose of this article is to examine the fight against the PKK and the TSK’s role. This article will have two parts. I will first take a look at the broader picture. Next week, I will look at the issue from TSK’s perspective.
There are two reasons for the TSK’s waning role in the fight against the PKK. First, the PKK changed its strategy in 1995. Its previous strategy was based on obtaining military outcomes by controlling a specific geographical region. But “social control” over the community constitutes the core of the new strategy. Accordingly, the PKK prefers to attain public support, deepen and strengthen it and establish an effective network by using legal or illegal means instead of physically controlling a geographical region by military means. It strengthens this capacity with violence and terrorism. The PKK, which receives support from northern Iraq, is effective in this sense in areas like Hakkari and Şırnak.
Second, the government and informal networks supporting it (especially religious ones) are locally competing with the PKK to gain public support. They are intensely using policing, economic, psychological, cultural and religious instruments. Accordingly, the TSK has taken a back seat in this new strategic picture. But the PKK’s activity, which is military in nature, overburdens the police. Hence, this is a problematic equation in the eyes of the government.
Other reasons which took the TSK out of the picture include a distinct definition of the problem, civil-military relations vis-à-vis the EU partnership process, the government’s ideological perception of the TSK and its increasing self-confidence following its landslide election victory in June. Thus, the government is expanding its power and assuming new responsibilities. In the course of the events, the TSK has been “pushed” out of the picture in the fight against the PKK with a series of “judicial operations.”
However, this amorphous “strategy,” which the government tried to implement without reinforced security and based solely on soft power, seems to be serving the PKK instead of the government. Thus, the exclusion of the TSK in the fight against the PKK (for ideological, not rational, reasons) was read well by the PKK which swiftly started adjusting the center of its strategy to “the weakness in the security domain.”
The mix of hybrid tactics carried out by the PKK, which have consisted of guerilla, terrorist and street actions backed by armed militants, resulted in two significant outcomes: First, locals had to obey and cooperate for fear of punishment by the PKK, which has been using the intimidation and attrition strategy efficiently and systematically. After all, it was not possible for the government to provide security services that could protect the community against an organization using hybrid tactics over such a vast territory. Second, harsh criticisms against the TSK voiced in media outlets by those lacking professional information caused the TSK to become more “passive.” It shies away from taking the initiative, forgetting what it already knows.
The main topics to be discussed for determining a new strategy should be legal reforms, organizational qualifications, political goals, intelligence capacity and general coordination issues.