MESOP FOCUS : Erdogan takes authoritarian rule to new heights in war on PKK / EXPERT S !

Is Turkey winning the war against the PKK?

21 March 2016 – AL MONITOR  – A terrorist attack in Istanbul on March 19 killed at least five people, among them two Americans with dual Israeli citizenship, and wounded dozens more. This attack comes less than one week after a suicide bombing in Ankara took 37 lives.Turkey is fighting a two-front terrorist war. While early reports indicate that the Islamic State (IS) may be responsible for the bombing in Istanbul, the Turkish government has implicated Kurdish separatists as responsible for the murders in Ankara on March 13. Al-Monitor supports Turkey in defeating terrorists from any and all quarters, and expresses its deepest sympathy for the innocent victims of these inexcusable crimes.

The terrorist offensive in Turkey, whether from IS or the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), can be understood in the context of Turkey’s disastrous policies in Syria. As this column said more than two years ago, “The blowback from terrorists is connected to popular discontent with Turkey’s Syria policies. The vast majority of Turks want their government to stay neutral and keep out of the Syria conflict. [Then] Turkish President Abdullah Gul made public the “open secret” of his own dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Syria policy. In a Jan. 13 [2014] speech to Turkey’s ambassadorial corps, he said, ‘When developments in Syria are considered in particular, the threats and potential threats that have emerged are growing.’ He added, ‘In view of the realties that have emerged on our country’s southern flank, we have to recalibrate our diplomacy and security policies by also taking into consideration the threat perceptions that have emerged around us.’”

It goes without saying that Gul’s counsel went unheeded, and that Turkey’s perhaps deliberate ambiguity until recently in dealing with Salafi armed groups, especially al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, along with what Kadri Gursel has called the ‘two-way jihadist highway’ from Turkey to Syria, has compounded Turkey’s security dilemma.

Metin Gurcan explains how Turkey “is bent on undermining the Kurdish resistance by combat,” and the challenges and limitations of its approach in confronting the PKK. The Turkish military “is engrossed in long-term sieges of towns such as Yuksekova, Sirnak and Nusaybin to disrupt the logistics lines of the PKK and its newly established youth wing, the Civil Defense Units. …The plan is to first clear out the trenches and barricades in the towns and then deploy forces based in permanent outposts to restore state authority over the restive neighborhoods. The PKK has only one card to play to confront Ankara’s increasing pressure, and that is to carry the battles to western Turkey,” Gurcan writes.He explains, “The PKK, which is becoming a true umbrella organization that uses proxies to launch attacks in western Turkey, forces Ankara to think hard about how to deal with this new wave of terror. It is certainly imperative for Ankara to form a special task force that will be free from the shackles of bureaucratic hierarchy and that operates in all parts of the country with the full backing of all public bodies. Ankara, still burdened with security mayhem, has yet to come up with a comprehensive and integrated strategy to combat such attacks. Ankara must recognize that the PKK, because of its combat against IS, has achieved significant global legitimacy. By not claiming credit for attacks in western Turkey, the PKK protects that legitimacy while still disrupting Ankara’s plans to boost its forces in the southeast for the coming spring clashes. That eases the pressure on PKK forces in that region.”

Gurcan says that the latest terrorist attacks in Ankara and Istanbul “expose a dangerous trend in Turkey’s domestic politics. Now when a part of the population harshly criticizes the Justice and Development Party government over such attacks, another segment castigates this criticism as terror propaganda. This terror conundrum is becoming the main agenda item shaping the debates in the Turkish media and influencing the policies to be developed.”

Mustafa Akyol describes how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resurrected “thought crimes” following the March 13 bombing in Ankara. Erdogan “is using Turkey’s troubles to take his increasingly authoritarian rule to new heights. … He not only condemned the terrorists who use bombs and weapons to kill people, but also what he called ‘unarmed terrorists’ who supposedly help them with their ideas. He said, ‘There is no difference between a terrorist with a gun and bomb in his hand and those who use their work and pen to support terror. The fact that an individual could be a deputy, an academic, an author, a journalist or the director of an NGO [nongovernmental organization] does not change the fact that that person is a terrorist.’”