Turkey unlikely to cease anti-PKK operations in southeast

Turkey unlikely to cease anti-PKK operations in southeast

One of the questions most frequently being asked in the Turkish capital is when the government will announce the end of current intense operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in southeastern Anatolia. These wide-scale operations were launched in late 2015 in the central Sur district of Diyarbakır province, as well as the Cizre and Silopi districts of Şırnak province and a number of other districts on minor scales. 

Although the government and security forces have announced progress in operations against the urban structure of the PKK, there are big questions about when their aims will be accomplished. There had been press reports that the government aimed to wrap up the operations by late January and then to launch a comprehensive plan for re-building ruined areas and for ameliorating the living conditions of locals. 

Monday’s cabinet meeting was crucial in that sense, with Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş afterwards outlining a 303-article draft bill for the wellbeing of local people and the reconstruction of cities and infrastructure. Again this week, the National Security Council (MGK) will be convened to discuss the achievements of the security forces in the field and to plan future phases of anti-PKK operations inside Turkey. 

In an earlier interview, Kurtulmuş described these operations as “temporary” and soon to be ceased, in order for a new peace process to be launched for a political settlement of the Kurdish question.  

This is indeed the expectation of the international community - particularly Turkey’s allies, the United States and the European Union. A readout issued by the White House in the aftermath of Vice President Joe Biden’s talks with Turkish leaders over the weekend read as follows: “Recognizing the PKK is a terrorist organization, the Vice President expressed concern about the ongoing violence in southeastern Turkey, and urged the Turkish leadership to engage in dialogue with all of the country’s communities who seek a peaceful resolution.”

Likewise, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who held talks with their counterparts in Ankara on Monday, stressed the need for a resumption of political dialogue between the parties. A joint statement issued on Monday said “the EU also continues to be committed to fight against the presence in Europe of the PKK, which is on the EU terrorist list, with a view to preventing PKK terrorist attacks. The EU stressed the importance of an urgent return to the solution process and attaches the utmost importance to achieving a peaceful and sustainable solution for the benefit of all the people of Turkey.”

However, despite these calls there is little sign from the government of an immediate return to the negotiation table. On the contrary, there are signs that the government is planning to expand these operations to other provinces, in line with strongly worded statements from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Indeed, it seems that this environment does not promise much for the resumption of a new political process to solve the Kurdish question.