How Turkey can help NATO in Afghanistan
Turkey may be one of the few countries that can bring Afghanistan and Pakistan together to sort out their differences.
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Turkish troops deployed to Kabul have been under strict orders to treat Afghans with dignity. They have not broken into homes. Most patrols are conducted on foot and not in armored carriers. Troops wear no sunglasses in order to maintain eye contact. Touching women is totally taboo. Medical personnel serve Afghan people as well as their own forces. Turkish troops have thus not only contributed to the security of Kabul but became an unobtrusive part of Afghan daily life.Skip to next paragraph
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In the critical province of Wardak, Turkey today is also operating the only civilian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team. Generally, PRTs are operated by NATO soldiers. Since 2006, the Turkish government has spent $20 million in the province funding a police training academy, building schools, restoring a mosque, and setting up a medical clinic.
Halim Fedai, the governor of Wardak Province, has said: “The Turkish programs are very well received and readily accepted by Afghans because they work within Afghan culture. They are sensitive to Afghan values. We have very good, strong, historical relationships with Turkey.”
Clearly, the crescent and star have once again proved as reliable a trademark in Afghanistan today as in the past. Because of this success, the Turkish government will soon set up another PRT elsewhere in Afghanistan.
The Turkish lesson in Afghanistan is clear: Winning hearts and minds requires better understanding and respect for local values. Handing out cans of soda with colonial airs won’t yield tangible results.
For many of these same reasons – our historical relationships in the region and deep understanding of local values and cultures – Turkey may be one of the few countries, if not the only country, that can bring Afghanistan and Pakistan together to sort out their differences.
President Karzai made a point at the London Conference of stressing Turkey’s mediating role, following upon the “trilateral” Turkey-Afghanistan-Pakistan meeting he had earlier attended in January in Istanbul with Pakistani President Asif Zardari. Unfortunately, India’s absence so far in this process has weakened the Turkish initiative. It is critical to get them on board because the Afghan problem cannot be solved unless India and Pakistan come to terms over their interests in Afghanistan.
The international community in general, and the allies in particular, should lend their support to Turkey.
Turkey’s NATO membership and historical soft-power capacity can make a critical difference in Afghanistan. Those who know and are trusted historically by the Afghan people can show the way for those who truly want to help the Afghans stand on their own feet.
If NATO sticks to a clear mandate within a defined time frame for withdrawal and the international community allocates sufficient resources, Afghanistan can be brought back into the fold of the international community. Turkey helped them join the world when Afghanistan was a young nation. It can do so again today.
Aydemir Erman was Turkey’s special coordinator for Afghanistan from 1991 to 2003 and remained involved as an adviser in Afghanistan until his retirement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2009.
© 2010 Global Viewpoint Network/ Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.
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