Equally, the US hopes to keep Iran off-balance regionally by encouraging Turkish revanchism. The Turkish-Iranian rivalry is already palpable in Iraq where Washington hopes to establish NATO as a provider of security.
Serious rifts between Ankara and Tehran appear also over Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, Afghanistan’s future figured prominently in the discussions during Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif’s recent six-day regional tour of Central Asian capitals.
China and Russia are vigilant about the US intentions in Afghanistan. And both have problematic relations with Erdogan. Turkey’s ascendance on the Afghan-Central Asian landscape cannot be to their comfort.
During his recent visit to Tehran, China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi voiced support for Iran’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to visit Tehran on April 14.
Overall, these geopolitical realignments are taking place as the US intensifies its suppression of China and Russia. But, for Turkey, the intervention in Syria has proved profitable. The Turkish-controlled territories of northern Syria consists of an 8,835-square-kilometer area already and Ankara has no intentions to vacate its occupation.
Turkey will no doubt look for similar gains. For a start, regaining primacy in the Western alliance system as the US’s irreplaceable partner and as Europe’s interlocutor with Muslim Middle East has always been a Turkish dream.
A clincher will be whether Washington can prevail upon the EU to grant some special dispensation for Turkey — “associate membership” is one possibility.
For the EU, too, Turkey becomes a key partner if NATO is to consolidate in the Black Sea and encircle Russia in its backyard. Turkey has already positioned itself as a provider of security for the anti-Russian regime in Ukraine. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Erdogan on Saturday against the backdrop of rising tensions with Russia.
Turkish officials are cautiously optimistic about recent high-level efforts to improve dialogue between Ankara and Brussels. The European actors are coordinating with Washington.
The EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel’s visit to Ankara last Wednesday can be seen as a significant initial effort to improve relations with Turkey.
As one Turkish commentator put it, the “olive branch” given by the EU leaders to Erdogan has “five main leaves”, namely:
- A concrete agenda on economic cooperation and migration;
- Handling and updating the problems related to a Customs Union;
- Commitment to continue the flow of funds for refugees in Turkey;
- Adding momentum to relations with Turkey on key cooperation areas; and,
- The Eastern Mediterranean region’s security and stability
All in all, Turkey is being “incentivized” to return to the Western fold and play its due role as a NATO power.
Today, Turkey is probably the only ally regionally and internationally that Washington can lean on to wean Pakistan away from the orbit of Chinese and Russian influence, which truly makes Turkey an indispensable partner for the US and NATO in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Indeed, Russia and Turkey have historically been rivals in Afghanistan. Turkey has deep-rooted, centuries-old, pan-Islamic ties with Afghanistan that by far predate Pakistan’s creation in 1947.
How far Pakistan will be willing to play a subaltern role in Afghanistan’s future remains to be seen. But then, all this must have Russia worried in regard to the security and stability of its Central Asian backyard and North Caucasia. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Islamabad last week was the first such ministerial visit since 2012.
Fundamentally, however, the contradictions in US-Turkey relations will not simply wither away. Those contradictions include the US’ alliance with Kurds in Syria; US opposition to Turkey’s intervention in Libya; Erdogan’s abysmal human rights record; discord over Turkey’s S-400 missile deal with Russia; and so on.
But the two Cold War allies are also used to finessing contradictions whenever opportunities arise to work together to mutual benefit. Without a doubt, in the power dynamic of the highly strategic regions surrounding Afghanistan, the two countries can look forward to “win-win” cooperation.