Is Turkey going Pakistan’s way?

A. Rahman

Turkish army tanks take up position on the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province

The three-time prime minister of Turkey, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, became the first elected president in the presidential election on August 10, 2014. There was nothing wrong in that. In fact, he became the first directly elected president of Turkey, not an indirectly chosen president by the elected MPs. But there was more than a hint of vote rigging, election manipulation and intimidation by his party, AKP, in the election. Although the country was rocked by corruption, political manipulation and scandals by his ministers, he managed to get nearly 52 percent of vote to get elected outright. A stench of irregularity pervaded the national scene.

However, nothing that Turkey had done could be considered as egregiously scandalous. Turkey used to be and still is considered as the most secular state within the Muslim world and it is the only Muslim state in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). This country along with Pakistan and Iran used to be bedrock of American front line for defence, in the form of Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), against the communist-socialist expansion during the cold war days. But the political spectrum and alliances have changed drastically since the fall of Russian empire and the rise of American hegemony.

There was a time – around the second half of the last century – when Pakistan used to be portrayed round the world (by America) as a model country with enviable records of economic growth, social advancement and good governance. The United States of America, as the major player in the bipolar world, used to depend on Pakistan to maintain its hegemony in the South-East Asia and Middle East as much as Pakistan used to depend on America to maintain its political supremacy in the region. Field Marshal Md. Ayub Khan, the then President of Pakistan, felt somewhat aggrieved at America’s high handedness and demanded in his book that he was looking for ‘friends, not masters’.

But now, after the lapse of nearly half a century, Pakistan is found to have descended unquestionably to the bottom, or very nearly so, of the league table of nations. In fact, Pakistan can be said to be hovering around the edge of becoming a failed state. How could a model state with records of high achievements descend to the status of a failed state in a span of 50 years? Political scientists, economists, sociologists and historians may put forward pedagogical explanations for this cataclysmic fall from their own perspectives, but a lay person like me would put a somewhat different perspective.

Pakistan was born out of the tidal wave of religious zeal for a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. This religious zeal was the bedrock of Pakistan’s nationalism and this zeal was repeatedly used and abused to bind two disparate regions some 1,200 miles apart together into a state. However, by excessive use and abuse, it became so tarnished that religion ceased to have any theological implication – it became a blunt political instrument to subjugate one region by another and that resulted in the explosive segregation of the then East Pakistan from Pakistan into an independent country – Bangladesh. Even after this secession, the remaining part of Pakistan has been using this religious glue to bind the remainder of the country together. In fact, the diagnosis that was made at that time following the trauma of the break-up was that religion had not been adhered to strongly enough. A sort of fanatical devotion to Islam ensued in Pakistan. There were, of course, other concurrent events that reinforced religious fanaticism in Pakistan.

1n December 1979 when Russia (the then USSR) invaded Afghanistan to keep that country from falling to American influence through anarchy among the tribal-religious forces, Pakistan at the behest of America and other Western powers supported the Afghan rebel fighting forces called the Mujahedeen, most enthusiastically. Pakistan was psychologically ready to assume such a role and, after all, a neighbouring Muslim country cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of infidel USSR. Arms and ammunition from the West started to pour in ever greater quantities to Mujahedeen through Pakistan; billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States were channelled through Pakistan. The whole of Pakistan with its well organised military machine lent its full support to Mujahedeen. Millions of refugees from the Afghan tribal lands crossed Pakistani borders and the borders were left porous deliberately by Pakistani forces. Thus the conflict zone was not limited to Afghanistan, it spread to the tribal lands of Pakistan and thence to the rest of the country. Pakistan felt smug that it had now direct involvement in the control of war efforts.

General Zia-ul-Haq, the sixth President of Pakistan, who came to power through a coup d’etat in 1977, was an ardent advocate of Islamisation of Pakistan and establishing religious polity in the country. Additionally he had the incentive of getting unlimited resources from the rich Gulf States of the Middle East as well as America’s modern arms and ammunition to modernise his ailing military machine. His military intelligence – the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – was fully devoted to Afghan duty and Mujahedeen had been trained and nourished and war efforts were under the command and control of the Pakistani Army. When after over eight years of conflict, Russia was forced to withdraw in 1989, the Mujahedeen and the warlords felt strong enough to look after themselves and establish their separate identity. While war was going on, the underlying religious force spawned a religious outfit called the Taliban which, in the vacuum of superpowers’ absence, took control of Afghanistan itself.

What Taliban did afterwards was entirely predictable. Not only did they turn their guns on the infidel Americans – as they had done on the infidel Russians – but also against Pakistan and proclaimed an Islamic state in Afghanistan with strict religious (sharia) laws. Taliban gave sanctuary to al-Qaeda and there was a strong suspicion that Osama bin Laden was given protection in Afghanistan. The attack on twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001 and the suicide bomb attacks in London on July 7, 2005 were all al-Qaeda sponsored activities.

But what happened to Pakistan following Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan was even more sinister. Gradually madrasa-educated mullahs with the blessing of Taliban and aided and abetted by Pakistani military junta started spreading their tentacles to all major cities and towns in Pakistan. An outpouring of religious feeling all over Pakistan swept away any semblance of religious tolerance. All hitherto Muslim sects like Ahmedi, Ismaili etc. were declared non-Muslims. Women were forced to wear burqa or niqab. Many outlying girls’ schools were closed. In short, sharia laws that prevailed in the early days of Islam in the 7th century were proposed to be forced on Pakistan. Any dissent is cruelly stamped out and suicide bombing is a regular occurrence in the country. The monster that Pakistani Army created some decades ago is now devouring the whole of country and the mighty Army remains unable to contain it.

Now transpose this sequence of events to Turkey and consider Syrian civil war as resembling Afghan civil war and Russian intervention – a very poignant picture will emerge. Turkey, for the last three to four years, had been hatching the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with the connivance of America and other Western countries. As with the Afghan war, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, particularly Qatar, poured money and supplies relentlessly into the region. Like Pakistan, Turkey is basking in the windfall of war dowry and the delusion of regional supremacy. Although there was no direct intervention by Russia, but Russian political and material support sustained Bashar al-Assad’s regime long enough to fight the battles for Syria. America came perilously close to bombing Assad out of existence, as she had done in Iraq, but British Parliament’s reluctance to join in yet another illegal military intervention stopped America from going that far.

But what is happening in Turkey is uncannily similar to what happened in Pakistan. Turkey acted as a conduit to the FSA as much as Pakistan did to the Mujahedeen. The FSA gradually fragmented and spawned the vicious ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or simply the Islamic State (IS) – just like the Mujahedeen became the Taliban. Admittedly Taliban is not as virulent as the IS, but the ideology and modus operandi are the same. Pakistan came into being as a Muslim state with Mohammad Ali Jinnah as the strident advocate of a separate Muslim state in India. His Muslim demeanour was nothing but a political ploy; he himself was far from a devout Muslim. In fact he was not even a practising Muslim. All his political manoeuvring and political postures point to secularism and had he been alive for a period longer than just a year after independence (1947), he would have led Pakistan towards secularism. Within a few months after independence when rabid Islamists started to demand Sharia laws in the Islamic State of Pakistan, he was not only opposed but furious at their audacity. However, events started to conspire to drag Pakistan towards becoming a fanatic Islamic state. As a result, one can foresee that the ideology that created Pakistan in the first place could well be the root cause for its destruction.

After the fall of Ottoman Empire and the drubbing of Turkey in World War I, the country became an empire-less, faceless, dejected nation state. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk rescued Turkey from the ruins of Ottoman Empire and established the Republic of Turkey. A modern secular state was established in 1923 when he became the president of the state and secularism was enshrined in the constitution. However, right from the beginning Islamists (Sufism) challenged and obstructed progress to modernity, but he managed to stave them off in the one-party autocratic system. After his death in 1938, in 1946 a multiparty system was introduced to portray Turkey as a modern democratic country and that helped Turkey join NATO. Although multiparty system gave Turkey the image of a democratic country, that also opened up the opportunity for Islamists to creep into national politics. In the elections that followed, a number of times Islamists got into power and started the process of Islamisation of the country. As any overt Islamisation of the country was unconstitutional and illegal, the process was halted and power was wrenched by the armed forces from the democratically elected Islamists. The country thus alternated between military and civilian rules.

Even now, the ruling AKP of Erdogan is a de facto Islamist part with very strong link to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Erdogan has the visceral dislike for Bashar al-Assad of Syria because he is an Alawite Muslim, not a Sunni Muslim. The whole purpose of supporting FSA and its factions by Erdogan’s Turkey is to destroy Alawites in Syria – similar to Pakistan’s support for Mujahedeen to defeat Russians. Turkey left its borders open for over two years to let men and war materials flow freely to FSA to fight Assad, but now under the gaze of the world to stop IS taking control of the whole of Iraq and Syria, Turkey has closed its borders to stop the war from spilling over.

A couple of years ago David Cameron on a visit to India famously said, Pakistan cannot look both ways. But now Turkey is doing exactly that – supporting IS covertly while overtly showing to the world a strong opposition by amassing an impressive array of tanks overlooking the Kobani town in Syria. Turkey did not fire a single shot to deter the IS militia taking control of the town on the pretext that any military action in Syria (even when IS are massacring thousands of Kurds and Yazidis in Kobani in Syria) would be a violation of international law! Turkish hypocrisy is at its height, exactly like Pakistan when they killed thousands of Muslims in the then East Pakistan in the name of Islam.

Source: Bd news24

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