Turkey’s US-NATO mission in Central Asia

Developing Just Leadership

Akhmet Makhmoudov

Jumada' al-Akhirah 20, 1434 2013-05-01

News & Analysis

by Akhmet Makhmoudov (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 3, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1434)

People in Central Asia are beginning to see through Turkey’s plans to promote Pan-Turkism in the region because Ankara is viewed as advancing Washington’s agenda.

Turkey’s role in Central Asia and the Caucasus analyzed by Crescent International three years ago (July 2010) highlighted the fact that over the past 70 years, such involvement was utilized by NATO as a foreign policy instrument in the region. Turkey pursued strategic policies designed in Washington that were presented as serving “Turkish national interests” under the label of Pan-Turkism. One could, therefore, not draw a distinction between the US, British, Israeli or Turkish agendas. Turkey was a pawn of the US used against China, Russia and Islamic Iran. We also touched on the issue that creating a new approach in the Caucasus and Central Asia will not be easy for Ankara.

For more than 150 years, Pan-Turkism has been an integral part of Turkish involvement in the region. It has led nowhere, but Turkey does not seem to have developed a new approach. It has not yet reached the level where it can pursue a purely Islamic agenda. Until it reaches this level it has to make sure that whatever policy it adopts does not lead to deviation from reaching the goal of creating a foreign policy committed to Islamic ideals and goals, otherwise Turkey will turn into a replica of Saudi Arabia and lose all credibility.

Things have significantly changed since July 2010 in terms of Turkey’s current government revealing that not only is it unable to develop an independent foreign policy, but it views band-wagoning on the US and other imperialist powers as a fundamental guiding principle in its decision-making process. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s position on Syria and the restoration of diplomatic ties with Israel are not the only policies that demonstrated Turkey’s commitment to remain a strategic ally of the US agenda in the Muslim East.

On January 29 it became public that the founding conference of the joint armed forces of the Turkic-speaking countries had taken place on January 23 under the umbrella of an organization called the Eurasia Military Law Enforcement Bodies Association. The conference was attended by Azerbaijan’s Deputy Interior Minister, Zakir Hasanov, Turkish Gendarmerie Commander, General Bekir Kalyoncu and Commander of Kyrgyz Internal Troops, Colonel Sovetbek Arbaev and a delegation from Mongolia. The newly formed organization chose to use the first letter of each country’s name. Thus it came to be called TAKM.

This means Turkey will continue to pursue the same strategy in Central Asia and the Caucasus as was done during the pre-AKP regimes and coordinate its policies in the Caucasus and Central Asia with Washington. While this will provide Ankara with opportunities to project its power in Central Asia and the Caucasus more vigorously, it will also trigger greater Chinese and Russian reaction against Turkish presence in the region. This will in the long-run decrease Turkey’s influence. The AKP’s alliance with the NATO agenda will also create tensions with Islamic Iran — tensions that could be easily avoided if Ankara would not see the US as a foundational pillar of its global influence.

The AKP government will also have difficulty selling its vision of Central Asia and the Caucasus to parts of its Islamic constituency internally. The AKP’s domestic constituency will at some point in the future demand more tangible achievements from the current government as Turkey’s cultural, religious and linguistic ties make it more qualified to achieve greater results than what Washington envisions for the country in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The US views Turkey only in terms of leverage against China and Russia, not as a strategic participant in the region.

Ankara’s strategic vision of Central Asia and the Caucasus suggests that Turkey will do all it can to preserve the current regimes in Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The regimes in Baku and Ashkhabad have significant economic ties with Turkey and use it as a gateway to transport the money stolen by the ruling oligarchs to the West to deepen economic relations with the corporate world. In March 2012 a neocon US think tank, Jamestown Foundation reported that “…in Copenhagen, the Danish and Turkish prime ministers, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, witnessed the signing of agreements between subsidiaries of Danish Moeller-Maersk and Azerbaijan’s State Oil Company (SOCAR) to develop a giant port near Izmir in Turkey… Prime Minister Erdogan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev broke ground for construction work on October 25, 2011, for the refinery with a processing capacity of 10 million tonnes of oil annually. Completion is planned in two stages until 2017, at an estimated cost of $6 billion in investments.” Ankara will also maintain the status quo in Tajikistan, where any shake up of the current set up will open an opportunity for the region’s only legally acknowledged Islamic movement to increase its influence, a phenomenon Washington also wants to avoid.

Overall, Turkey is the best leverage the Western regimes have in terms of projecting their power in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Nevertheless, the growing influence of Islamic socio-political forces will limit Ankara’s influence as it will be viewed as a Western pawn, not as an independent player. In fact today any socio-political organization in Azerbaijan that is seen as pro-Turkish is also immediately branded as pro-Western. This is due to the fact that the AKP government has failed to distinguish itself from Washington’s agenda. This close linkage between Turkey and the US will create many obstacles for Ankara in the minds of Muslims worldwide. The restoration of diplomatic ties with Israel after the Zionist entity murdered nine innocent Turkish citizens has already severely damaged the AKP’s credibility. Its “independent” policies will be viewed with distrust and seen as promoting Washington’s agenda from behind the scenes. This perception of Turkey will continue to negatively affect Turkey’s policies in the Muslim world that includes Central Asia and the Caucasus.

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