Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the Taliban “need to end the occupation of their brothers’ soil and show the world that peace is prevailing in Afghanistan right away.” According to the BBC, since the United States began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have made advances across the country, capturing what is thought to be about half of all territory. Thousands have been displaced as they attempt to recapture cities controlled by the pro-Western Afghan government. This includes the city of Kunduz, where about 5,000 Afghan families were forced to flee, as reported by France24.
A week before President Erdogan accused the Taliban of “occupation,” they made similar claims directed at Turkey. After the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) complete their full withdrawal from Afghanistan, Turkey plans to keep hundreds of noncombatant troops there to run the airport in Kabul. According to Asian News International (ANI), controlling Kabul’s airport may be crucial for maintaining security and safety. It is located in the capital of Afghanistan and strategically close to the Afghan presidential palace, as well as many of the diplomatic missions in Kabul. In the event of an emergency or trouble with the Taliban, Turkish troops would be able to evacuate diplomats from the country with ease.
In response, the Taliban released a statement condemning Turkey’s “reprehensible decision.” The group went on to say that they “consider the stay of foreign forces in our homeland by any country under whatever pretext as an occupation.” The Taliban also warned of consequences for Turkey’s proposal, stating that “[I]f Turkish officials fail to reconsider their decision and continue the occupation of our country, the Islamic Emirate… will take a stand against them.”
According to a Reuters report, President Erdogan was asked about the Taliban’s statements during the same press conference but brushed off these concerns. He observed that in their statement, “there is no phrase ‘We don’t want Turkey.’”
President Erdogan’s call for the Taliban to “end the occupation” in Afghanistan reflects Turkey’s strict position of intolerance toward their actions. While it is unlikely that concrete change from the Taliban will result from this call to action, the message is an important one coming from President Erdogan. International condemnation puts a form of pressure on the Taliban by bringing attention to their wrongdoings.
In addition, since the Taliban follow a strict fundamentalist view of Sunni Islam, and Turkey is a Sunni Islam-majority country, they may be a better mediator in the conflict in Afghanistan. The actions and statements of the Turkish government may be better received by the Taliban than if they were coming from the U.S. or another Western country, for example. President Erdogan attempted to communicate with the Taliban on this level by first expressing strong disapproval for their actions and the growing unrest and violence in Afghanistan. Then he stated that “the Taliban’s approach right now is not how a Muslim behaves to another Muslim.”
Despite all of this, Turkey’s message is not being handled by the Taliban in a way that is conducive to peace. While they are already fuming over Turkey’s plans to keep troops in Afghanistan, the announcement by President Erdogan to “end the occupation” in Afghanistan has angered them even more. The Taliban’s threatening “consequences” for Turkey’s actions and President Erdogan’s subsequent dismissal of these threats makes for a concerning and uncertain future in the conflict in Afghanistan.
At this point, it’s unclear how close we are on our journey to peace. Whether the Taliban will fight back against Turkey’s comments, lessen the intensity of their attacks in Afghanistan, or stay put is a question that will remain unanswered for some time. As the U.S. and NATO are withdrawing from Afghanistan, the world may gradually get a better picture of what the situation in the country will look like with the Taliban. Turkey’s role in meditating in Afghanistan could be crucial to bringing peace to the country or making the situation worse. Nevertheless, the conflict must be solved through productive negotiations and diplomatic talks rather than with bloodshed and the endangerment of human life.