Coherent strategy required against ISIL
Turkey is inching toward military engagement with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Parliament is going to witness some acrimonious debates today as the government seeks authorization to send troops to Iraq and Syria, and allow troops from allied countries to enter Turkey in order to fight ISIL.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) will be in a quandary during the debate. Its leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said in early September that they would not oppose Turkey’s participation in any international operation against ISIL. Some prominent CHP deputies, however, have been telling reporters that they are opposed to Turkey’s involvement in such operations.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), for its part, appears to have two conditions for giving support to the government. It does not want any foreign troops from allied countries in Turkey. It also wants the authorization bill to allow Turkish troops to fight the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq and Syria.
All the MHP is doing here, in fact, is laying the groundwork for refusing the government’s authorization request. But the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has the necessary numbers in Parliament to receive the authorization on its own, whichever way the CHP and MHP vote.
The government’s problem here is not the opposition, but a wary public, including many AKP supporters. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been trying to drum up support for Turkey’s active engagement in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL. But there are many outstanding questions as to what Turkey’s involvement will be, and the risks that will attend it.
The picture is a confusing one for average Turks. Many are wondering if Turkey and the PKK are going to become indirect allies now, given that PKK members are reportedly fighting ISIL together with the Peshmerga forces of the Iraqi Kurds.
Now that the PKK is the “lesser evil” for many of Turkey’s coalition partners, when compared with ISIL, this does not appear completely inconceivable.
Then there is the possibility that while Turkey takes the fight to ISIL, ISIL will take the fight to Turkey. Being a terrorist organization, this will most likely take the shape of acts of terrorism, which also puts civilians in harm’s way. This will require nationwide vigilance by the authorities against radical Islamist groups and individuals.
It remains an open question as to whether a government that hails from Islamist roots will be up to this, especially when it will be cooperating closely with the West in this regard, a fact that its conservative supporters are not too happy about.
There is also the question of how long operations against ISIL will last. The belief in Washington is that it may take years. This suggests a potentially open-ended situation. Such situations have a tendency to drift in undesirable directions and the lead countries involved into quagmires.
Looking at this general picture, many commentators are saying Turkey should not get involved in this matter. There is, however, the other side of the coin. ISIL cannot be allowed to have a free hand to carry on with its barbaric brand of radicalism that threatens the whole region.
A stand must be made against it; otherwise, Turkey will have neighbors that are much more unsavory than Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The government is going to have to pursue a coherent strategy here that keeps the big picture in mind, but also factors in the risks that may follow any engagement against ISIL.
It will also have to convince the public that it knows what it is doing. This is no easy task and the outcome will prove the AKP’s true capacity to govern. It has been fast on words, but is now faced with the pressing need to act.