Turkey is one of the important regional powers to play an important role in the Afghan issue. Given its ties with the country in the past, the stance of Turkey on the Taliban and the new interim government is worthy of attention. The Turkish Ambassador to China, Abdulkadir Emin Onen shared his views on the Afghan issue as well as the upcoming refugee problems.
Q. What does the current landscape in Afghanistan look like from the point of view of Turkey?
Ambassador Onen: With the increasing instability on the ground and looming uncertainty, Turkey took rapid, effective steps in the past few weeks. We have evacuated civilians and troops from Afghanistan except for a small technical group. We are currently keeping our Embassy in Kabul operational to maintain our diplomatic presence and continue our dialogue with the Taliban.
On the broader perspective, Turkey’s Afghanistan policy has four main pillars: Preserving unity and territorial integrity; consolidating security and stability; strengthening broad-based political structure prioritising popular support and participation, and providing peace and welfare to the Afghan people through clearing the country of terrorism and extremism.
The current picture poses challenges from various dimensions for materialising these aims. We have serious concerns regarding the possibility of resurrection of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda or the proliferation of some other terror elements under different ideological cloaks by taking advantage of the power vacuum and current instability.
We attach importance to a functioning democracy and respect to human rights. In this direction, the formation of an inclusive and representative government, which will be committed to the rights of all segments of the Afghan society, including the women, is crucial. President H.E. Mr. Erdogan and Foreign Minister H.E. Mr. Cavusoglu have recently explained Turkey’s current approach by underlining that Turkey is carefully monitoring the developments in Afghanistan and will conduct a policy of “gradual engagement” with regards to the newly-announced interim government.
In this vein, the international community should continue its calls for the embracing of all sectors of Afghan society to ensure durable peace in the period ahead.
With respect to migration, Turkey’s position is clear. Cavusoglu emphasised that it is out of the question for Turkey to take an additional refugee burden. UNHCR estimates that, an additional 270,000 Afghan people have been forced to leave their homes since January and the total number of displaced people is now more than 3.5 million.
At present, some of those displaced Afghan people are seeking refuge at Turkey’s eastern borders. Turkey currently hosts nearly 5 million refugees including approximately 3.7 million Syrians, the world’s largest refugee population, as well as about 300,000 Afghans.
Turkey cannot take the burden of a new migrant wave from Afghanistan. Our government is taking efficient steps against illegal irregular immigration.
The international community must not turn a blind eye to the humanitarian dimension of the situation in Afghanistan. More than half of Afghans, including millions of children, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Food insecurity is a growing problem, along with the shortage of medical materials in the times of pandemic.
Given the lack of adequate public services, in health and education especially, the burden on the shoulders of the humanitarian agencies is very heavy. This issue is closely inter-linked with increased risk of terrorism and migratory pressures. That is also why the global community must prioritise the issue of growing humanitarian crises in Afghanistan. The global community should effectively and immediately implement measures to provide humanitarian aid to relieve the Afghan people’s growing problems and to support its neighbours in order to ensure stability in the wider region. The principle of burden-sharing should be upheld by the international community by taking into consideration the fact that the current problems and their destabilising ramifications are not just Afghan problems but those of its neighbours, and the whole world.
Afghanistan is currently going through critical times. The engagement of the international community in supporting the efforts for sustainable peace and stability in the country should continue unabated.
Q. How do you evaluate the possible cooperation between Turkey and China on the Afghan issue?
Ambassador Onen: Turkish-Chinese bilateral ties have gained considerable momentum in recent years. There is the highest level of political determination on both sides and this has been repeatedly confirmed by our two leaders. Our bilateral and multilateral cooperation can serve as a foundation to enhance our coordination and common efforts on Afghanistan.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Chinese State Councillor & Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a phone conversation on August 18 to exchange views on the developments in Afghanistan. We gladly note that the positions and expectations of Turkey and China with regards to Afghanistan are mainly parallel, including their concerns regarding terrorism.
We are open and ready to cooperate with all parties in the efforts aimed at peace and stability in Afghanistan. With this understanding, we also support various regional efforts focusing on enhancing economic, energy, and infrastructure connectivity, including the [China-proposed] Belt and Road Initiative. There is ample room for cooperation between Turkey and China in these sectors, particularly in the reconstruction process of Afghanistan in time ahead.
Q. Could you briefly inform us of Turkey’s past involvement in Afghanistan’s reconstruction?
Ambassador Onen: Turkey has been active in supporting the security of Afghanistan since 2001, remaining committed to supporting the Afghan people in the path toward a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan, and will continue to support the Afghan peace process.
We had made comprehensive contributions to Afghanistan on the bilateral level. The total amount of our development assistance to Afghanistan exceeds $1.1 billion. This is one of Turkey’s most significant foreign development assistance programs. Turkey has built more than 100 schools in Afghanistan. We have also provided medical assistance to more than 9 million Afghans since 2005. More than 3,000 Afghan police officers have been trained in Turkey.
Additionally, through the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, Turkey has completed more than 1,000 projects in Afghanistan, focused on education, health, agriculture, and infrastructure such as the construction of highways, bridges, and energy facilities.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process lies at the core of our diplomatic efforts with regards to Afghanistan. The Process was founded in Istanbul in 2011 as a regional initiative led by Afghanistan and Turkey to provide a platform for frank dialogue and cooperation. The main aims of the Process are to support regional security and promote economic and political cooperation centred on Afghanistan.
Currently, 15 countries participate in the Heart of Asia along with 17 supporting countries, including China, and 12 supporting regional and international organisations. The 9th Ministerial Meeting of Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was held on March 30, 2021. I believe that the Heart of Asia, as a well-established forum, will continue to be one of the most important platforms of dialogue and cooperation on issues with regard to Afghanistan in the upcoming period.
In addition to the Heart of Asia, we maintain dialogue with Afghanistan’s neighbours and other regional powers through bilateral talks and established consultation mechanisms such as the Turkey-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Summit Process.
I would also like to point out that in the last two decades, besides the sincere friendship between the two countries, Turkey’s policies and efforts regarding Afghanistan had also been built on the fact that the security of Afghanistan is significant for the security of the whole world.