Despite earlier reports that Turkey had dropped plans to secure Kabul’s international airport, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Turkey is ready to talk with the Taliban about what role, if any, Turkey would play in Afghanistan.
“If there is a knock on our door, we will open it for dialogue,” Erdogan said Friday.
Turkey has been involved in infrastructure efforts in Afghanistan, Erdogan added, and is still interested in providing such work.
Turkey is also still interested in providing security at Kabul’s airport, Erdogan said Wednesday in a television interview, despite reports by Reuters Monday that plans to secure the airport had been dropped after the Taliban takeover.
“Turkey's military presence in Afghanistan will strengthen the new administration's hand in the international arena,” Erdogan said in the interview, adding that Turkey is in contact with all sides in Afghanistan.
As a NATO member, Turkey has about 600 troops in Afghanistan, and Turkish authorities do not view their presence as a combat force.
In June, Turkey proposed to guard the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul after the withdrawal of NATO forces. The United States and Turkey had negotiated the details to keep the airport open as a safe passage for diplomatic missions in Afghanistan.
In July, the Taliban warned Turkey against a military presence at the airport, calling the proposal “a violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity and against our national interests.”
Erdogan said Wednesday that a new picture to maintain security at the airport emerged after the Taliban fighters took control of the country.
“Now we are making our plans according to these new realities that were formed on the field, and we are continuing our talks accordingly,” Erdogan said.
Some experts argue that Turkey would guard the airport if the Taliban requested it; however, NATO and the U.S. would not subsidize such a military presence in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
“What people overlooked is that in the initial agreement, Ankara wasn't going to fight the Taliban,” Aaron Stein, the director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told VOA. “Ankara was having indirect or perhaps even direct discussions with the Taliban via Doha, via Pakistan, to basically get the Taliban's approval to stick around. They had to balance this with the official Afghan government.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the daily Hurriyet that it is too early to say whether Turkey has canceled its plans to secure the airport.
“We work together with the United States and other countries on evacuations and other issues. Our priority is to evacuate our citizens who want to return,” Cavusoglu said.
As of August 18, Turkey has evacuated 552 citizens from Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the Turkish opposition, including the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Iyi Party, is urging the government to evacuate the Turkish soldiers from Afghanistan.
“What is left from Afghanistan? Why should our troops stay there? Stop talking nonsense to please the United States and withdraw our soldiers from this swamp,” Meral Aksener, the leader of the Iyi Party, tweeted on August 16.
The CHP and Iyi parties also voiced concerns over the government’s Afghan policy, warning that it would cause large numbers of Afghan refugees to enter Turkey.
“I am saying this once again: Erdogan, you are not going to sign an agreement that would bring more refugees (to Turkey),” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of main opposition CHP, tweeted on Tuesday. The tweet came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany should work closely with Turkey on a potential Afghan refugee influx.
Earlier this month, in a Twitter thread, Kilicdaroglu claimed that Erdogan had an agreement with the U.S. to accept Afghan refugees into Turkey.
The U.S. Embassy in Turkey denied this claim on Wednesday.
Erdogan described the opposition’s stance on Afghan refugees as hate speech in a televised address following a Cabinet meeting late Thursday. He said that Turkey is home to 300,000 Afghan refugees, including unregistered ones.
He also criticized the European countries for staying out of the refugee problem “by harshly sealing its borders to protect the safety and well-being of its citizens.”
“Turkey has no duty, responsibility, or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan announced that Turkey had reinforced its border with Iran with law enforcement units and that a wall along the Turkey-Iran border was almost completed.
An increasing number of Afghan refugees have been crossing into Turkey from Iran, prompting the rise in anti-refugee rhetoric in the country.
However, Aykan Erdemir, senior director of the Turkey program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish parliament, said the Erdogan government views the Afghan refugee flow as a unique opportunity “to cut various deals to extract concessions from Brussels and Washington.”
“This time around, however, the domestic political costs of instrumentalizing refugees in relations with the West appear to be much higher. Amid Turkey’s economic crisis, there has been a dramatic spike in nativist and anti-refugee sentiment, including violent attacks, undermining the popularity of Turkey’s ruling coalition,” Erdemir said.
This story originated in VOA’s Turkish Service.