✍ Author: Mohammad Dawood Qayomi is a researcher in peace and conflict studies at Laurentian University in Canada. He also served as a diplomat and acting ambassador to Canada from 2013 to 2016.
Türkiye, a prominent regional actor, has played a pivotal role in facilitating political and economic advancements in Afghanistan. Its active involvement in Afghanistan traces back to 2001, aligning itself with NATO forces to support the Afghan government across multiple sectors. Under Afghanistan’s previous government’s foreign policy doctrine, fostering political and economic alliances with regional nations, with Turkey at the forefront, held paramount importance. Afghanistan was committed to expanding its cooperation with Turkey through political and economic endeavours. Afghanistan and Turkey were mutually recognized as strategic assets within Afghanistan’s foreign policy framework. Turkey’s constructive role was instrumental in catalyzing regional collaboration across various dimensions, further solidifying Turkey’s position as a regional influencer in line with Afghanistan’s foreign policy objectives. In the wake of recent developments, including the fall of the previous Afghan government and the resurgence of the Taliban, Turkey officially refrained from recognizing the Taliban government. However, it continued to actively engage with the Taliban and other Afghan political parties. Owing to Turkey’s historical relations with Afghanistan and its potential to mediate impartially, Turkey stands poised to play a crucial role in resolving the power conflict between the Taliban and opposing factions, ultimately contributing to the establishment of lasting peace in Afghanistan. This article delves into the historical context of Turkey’s relations with Afghanistan and expounds upon the pivotal role that Turkey could play in resolving the power struggle and fostering peace in the war-torn nation.
The historical relations between Afghanistan and Turkey
The historical relations between Afghanistan and Turkey have been marked by a longstanding friendship, rooted in cultural commonalities and historical ties. The initial friendship treaty was inked during the reign of Shah Amanullah Khan in 1921, under the signatures of General Mohammad Wali Khan Darwaz, Afghanistan’s ambassador in Moscow, and Mr. Kamal Beyk, a member of the Turkish Supreme Council. This treaty made Turkey the second country, after the former Soviet Union, to officially recognize Afghanistan’s independence. In return, Afghanistan was the first nation to recognize the independence of the Republic of Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. This recognition paved the way for official diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Afghan embassy in Ankara and the Turkish embassy in Kabul were inaugurated in 1921, further cementing political and diplomatic ties.
This recognition under Amanullah Khan and Atatürk laid the foundation for strong diplomatic, cultural, and economic relations, which flourished during their leadership. The historical background reveals that the 1921 treaty opened doors for numerous agreements in various economic and cultural domains. Over twenty treaties and agreements were concluded between the two nations. Afghanistan sent a significant number of students to Turkey for military and political training, and Turkish scholars contributed to various fields in Afghanistan, including medicine, education, and the military. However, after Amanullah Khan’s reign, relations experienced fluctuations, with periods of positive and negative developments. Notably, relations were rekindled during the republic of Mohammad Daud Khan, who showed a keen interest in strengthening ties with Islamic nations, particularly Turkey. An ambassador was dispatched to Ankara, and a new embassy was established. Official relations continued, culminating in various cultural, economic, commercial, and transit agreements until 1978.
The Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan led to a shift in Turkey’s foreign policy. The Turkish government and various political parties, such as Justice, Salvation, and the National Movement, openly opposed the Afghan government. In the 1980s, Suleiman Demirel adopted an anti-Soviet stance and hosted Mujahideen leaders in Turkey. During the Afghan people’s struggle, Turkish Islamic parties, including the Welfare Party led by Necmettin Erbakan, fostered close ties with the Mujahideen leaders. Turkey’s policy during this period was centred on supporting Afghan independence and freedom. Following the victory of the Mujahideen and the downfall of the communist government, Turkey continued to maintain close relations with the government of Professor Rabbani. However, with the emergence of the Taliban and the establishment of the Islamic Emirate, relations between Afghanistan and Turkey reached their lowest point.
Turkey’s Mediation Role for Sustainable Peace in Afghanistan
The peace talks between the former Afghan government and the Taliban, initiated in September 2020 to end the long-standing conflict and achieve a political accord, encountered substantial challenges. Despite the involvement of influential global powers, including the United States, the peace negotiations failed to yield substantial results. The departure of American forces, coinciding with the fall of the Afghan government, dealt a blow to the peace process. In the two years following the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, no constructive efforts to restart peace negotiations and resolve the power struggle have materialized. This apparent lack of a clear plan on the Taliban’s part calls for a capable mediator to facilitate dialogue between the conflicting parties. Turkey, as the inheritor of a historic Islamic caliphate, holds considerable significance and respect among Islamic nations and possesses the potential to play a constructive role in resolving the power conflict and establishing enduring peace in Afghanistan.
Recent research conducted by Western scholars in Turkey and Europe suggests that Turkey could positively contribute to peace talks between the Taliban and opposition groups through the Heart of Asia program and cooperative partnerships. Notably, Turkey enjoys close relations with both opposition leaders who have sought refuge in Turkey and some members of the Taliban leadership. In the past two years, following the Taliban’s return to power, Turkish diplomats have held meetings and dialogues with Taliban representatives on multiple occasions. However, Turkey’s effectiveness as a peace mediator hinges on having a clear strategy for Afghanistan and gaining the buy-in of all involved parties, including those with vested interests in the ongoing conflict. The mere presence and mediation efforts of a third party, such as Turkey, can reduce hostilities between warring factions and introduce new channels of communication. The introduction of an influential mediator can alter the dynamics of the conflict and stimulate dialogue.
Research in peace studies underscores the pivotal role of powerful mediators. A potent mediator possesses the ability to exert pressure on conflicting parties, while a weak mediator may have limited influence, primarily facilitating negotiation logistics. Turkey, as a potent mediator, could potentially wield international influence to push the warring parties closer to a comprehensive peace agreement, thereby catalyzing progress in the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. The presence of such a mediator can be instrumental in steering peace negotiations toward success and fostering a path to sustainable peace in the region.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of South Asia Strategic Research Center (GASAM)