martes, 5 de abril de 2011

Artículo No. 27 Asia Times 25.3.11 Why Turkey recalibrated its Libya stance By M K Bhadrakumar

Saud bin Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz, the tall, handsome, urbane Saudi foreign minister, has no peers. In a career spanning 36 years, he was a key player in so many high dramas that one loses count - the Iranian revolution, the Iran-Iraq war, the Afghan jihad, the Gulf War, the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the September 11, 2001 attack, the US invasion of Afghanistan andIraq. That is, leaving out his profound contribution to the realignment of Saudi Arabia's post-Cold War foreign policy, especially with China.

But the unscheduled visit of a few hours late in the evening last Thursday to the Turkish capital of Ankara was a daunting mission to pin Turkey down to a favorable stance on the momentous developments in the region. Ankara, whose ties with Tehran dramatically improved in the recent past, had begun treading on the first circle of Saudi interests.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had just characterized the Saudi intervention in Bahrain as "a new Karbala". The reference was to the battle that took place in 680 between the forces of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Husain ibn Ali and Umayyad caliph Yazid II.

Erdogan demanded a withdrawal of the Saudi forces from Bahrain, whereas Riyadhvisualized a prolonged military presence as the only guarantee against a Shi'ite takeover of power in Manama.

Faisal once lamented about his own legacy in a memorable interview with New York Times when he reportedly said:
We have not yet seen moments of joy in all that time [past 36 years] ... You see the amount of water, you think you can hold something in your hand, but it falls away. Sand is the same thing. So unless there is something to hold in your hand and to point to success and as an achievement, then you have done nothing.
Faisal might have wondered whether it was water or sand he was holding in his hand as his private jet took off Thursday night ferrying him back to his home in Jeddah. Actually, he was holding something more solid.

Erdogan has since back-tracked from his Karbala statement. Two days later, Turkey force-landed an Iranian aircraft en route to Syria and confiscated materials that breached United Nations sanctions on Tehran - rocket launchers, mortars, Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition. A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said, "The plane was allowed to leave ... without the banned material." The point being stressed is an "incident" has occurred involving Tehran, and Turkish diplomatic practices are extremely sophisticated.

What emerges is that there has been a steady shift in the past week in the way in which the Turkish leadership is viewing the regional situation. Thus far, Turkey has done well by placing itself on the right side of history in the New Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood's tacit equations with the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces, the Brotherhood's co-option of Salafis and its surge as the only organized force in the society and the resounding victory of the constitutional referendum (which the Brotherhood robustly backed) - these are positive trends as far as Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is concerned as they provide a new Islamic ideological basis for closer Turkish-Egyptian relations.

The Arab awakening seems to hold the potential to advance Erdogan's ambitious drive to secure for Turkey what his detractors call a "neo-Ottoman" leadership role in the region.

Libya, therefore, poses a challenge for Erdogan. First, the international community's intervention in Libya sets a precedent. It is not lost on Ankara that there are stirrings of mass protest in next-door Syria. Besides, Ankara realizes that international intervention inLibya is creating a fait accompli that Turkey has no say in. Ankara began rationalizing that it is in Turkey's all-round interests to cut a role for itself in political terms in the international intervention in Libya rather than to stay aloof. Faisal's advice would have helped.

However, Turkey has to work for gaining such a role. Ankara was upset that it wasn't invited to the summit meeting in Paris on Monday to choreograph the political approach to the Western intervention in Libya. French President Nikolas Sarkozy was keen to highlight his lead role in the intervention in Libya and probably punctured Turkey's aspirations as a regional power in North Africa. Turkey reacted strongly by questioning the locus standi of the intervention and the ferocity of the French air strikes.

Following a crucial strategy session in Ankara on Monday night, Turkey concluded that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would be the best antidote to Sarkozy's vanity fair; and if the alliance were to take a lead role in the operations, Turkey would also have its say. (All NATO decisions are taken by consensus and Turkey is a major member country.)

Turkey hopes to secure a role similar to what it has been playing in Afghanistan - participation in the International Security Assistance Force except in combat operations.Ankara also argues that like in Afghanistan, NATO operations ought to have a mandate from the UN Security Council. Finally, Turkey would want NATO operations to stay within the ambit of UN resolution 1973, which means enforcing a ceasefire, implementing a no-fly zone and rendering relief and humanitarian assistance.

Turkey has calibrated for developments on the ground creating a dynamic of their own. For example, the air strikes may fail to bring desired results in terms of Muammar Gaddafi losing control. Then what? A de facto division of Libya may ensueThis may turn out to be a long and difficult war and at some stage deployment of ground troops may become necessary. On the contrary, if Gaddafi gets ousted in the near term, who will assume power? To quoteSami Cohen, a veteran Turkish commentator wired to the establishment's thinking, "No one knows this. There is no prepared plan for it. It's just another indication of an open-ended period of uncertainty."

In sum, Turkish ambitions as a regional power - like Sarkozy's - are cruising without a compass. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama spoke to Erdogan on Tuesday evening to ensure Turkish participation in any NATO operations. NATO officials have since revealed that Turkey will be one of the seven members of the alliance to participate in the naval operations to enforce the UN's arms embargo and that four Turkish frigates, one submarine and one reserve ship have been deployed. (Canada, Spain, UK, Greece, Italy and US contributed one frigate each so far.)

Thus, Turkey has moved into the tent, finally. Turkey has now been included in the "contact group" of NATO participating countries, which will meet in London on Tuesday to "take stock" of the implementation of resolution 1973 so far and to "take forward this work", according to a British foreign office statement.

Turkey may also have won a point by forcing France to concede that NATO be given a role in the planning and execution of the campaign. (But France has also dug in by insisting that the political leadership will lie with "contact group", which will also include representatives from the Arab League and African Union).

For all appearances, Turkey continues to ride a high horse. A columnist in the pro-government, Islamist-oriented daily Zaman, Abdulhamit Bilici wrote:
So, where does Turkey currently stand? Ankara is still behind the US resolution ... [But]Turkey is uneasy about the poor planning and one-sided nature of the operation. It is also upset with NATO secretary general Anders Fogh-Rasmussen's "we-decided-you-can-join-us" attitude ... It's unthinkable for a Turkish soldier to attack a Muslim country. But if it is included in the planning process properly, the Turkish military is ready to offer support in every platform, including NATO regarding non-combat issues. Let's see if the West will choose to help itself and the region by cooperating with Turkey or do the complete opposite by excluding Turkey.
However, in reality, Turkey has been compelled to rethink hard and fast. The "red line" was fast approaching and Turkey was punching beyond its weight. Faisal helped Ankara view matters from a realistic perspective. Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia over the weekend where the first signs began appearing in the Turkish rhetoric that a relentless process of rethink was commencing.

This seems to have been one mission at least where Faisal probably went wrong in his harsh self-appraisal during the New York Times interview an year ago that his legacy might be defined by "profound disappointment than by success".

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan,Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey. 

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