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Turkey's Erdogan Voices Caution Over New Afghan Government

FILE - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan adjusts earphones at a news conference.
FILE - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan adjusts earphones at a news conference.

Turkey is voicing caution over Afghanistan's interim government as it continues talks with the Taliban on restarting air traffic at the Kabul airport.

Turkey was among the first countries calling for talks and engagement with the Taliban after it swept to power last month. But the Taliban's announcement of an interim government this week saw Turkish President Recep Tayyip calling for a cautious approach.

"As you know, right now, it's hard to call it permanent, but an interim cabinet has been announced," Erdogan said Tuesday. He said, "We don't know how long this interim cabinet will last. All we have to do is to follow this process carefully."

But Erdogan said talks between the Taliban and Qatar on restarting full operations at the Kabul airport were making progress although he warned key issues remained unresolved. On Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Taliban's insistence on being the one to provide the airport's security remains a key obstacle.

Cavusoglu said, "the Taliban or Afghan forces could ensure security outside the airport. But inside,” he said, “there should be a security company trusted by the international community". He added that "Otherwise, even if airlines, including Turkish Airlines, are keen to fly there, insurance companies would not allow it."

Despite Turkey’s participation in NATO's twenty-year-long military presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban reached out to Ankara with calls to put the airport back into operation.

Turkey is NATO's only Muslim member, and it shares historical ties with Afghanistan. Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow of the European Council, says Ankara says believes hese factors could help Turkey play a key role in Afghanistan.

"They will want to see as if they can position Turkey as a diplomatic conduit, as a diplomatic sort of go-between, between western countries and the Taliban," said Aydintasbas.

The reopening of the Kabul airport is key for European countries and the United States in efforts to evacuate their citizens who are still in Afghanistan as well as Afghan nationals who once worked for NATO and western embassies.

After meeting his Turkish counterpart, German foreign minister Heiko Maas underlined Turkey's importance in efforts to reopen the airport, offering to help finance the operation. But retired Turkish ambassador Selim Kuneralp says Ankara must deal delicately with the Taliban.

"It seems to me they would be a risk in appearing to be too close to the Taliban to be their protectors, so to speak, in the eyes of the West, not just the United States but the European Union too," said Kuneralp. "If you appear to be close to them, then you would be painted with the same brush.”

Ankara's cautious approach to the new Afghan government and Turkish calls calling for scrutiny of the Taliban’s treatment of women and ethnic minorities could be signs of a growing awareness of Turkey’s need to remain aligned with its Western allies over Afghanistan.