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Tragedy in Istanbul


July 2, 2016

The tragic attack on the Ataturk International Airport is not only condemnable but also an eye-opener for the world. Apparently, Isis and its affiliates have conducted this act of terror to destabilise Turkey, which stands as a beacon of hope for the rest of the Muslim world. The terrorist attack has also targeted Turkey’s tourism sector which forms the backbone of their economy.

Turkey’s unique geographical position and historical legacy makes it a popular spot for millions who throng the beautiful country as tourists from across the world. By the end of the first decade of this century, Turkey had attracted more millions of foreign tourists, making it the 6th most popular tourist destination in the world. Till 2015, tourism brought Turkey approximately more than $30 billion per year.

However, the crises and the war in the Levant (Syria and Iraq) have paved the way for instability, refugee crises and terrorism along the fringes of Turkey’s southern extremity. Today Turkey bears the maximum load of refugees from the Levant and has been asked by the European Union to stem the tide of refugees pouring into Europe.

The Levant crisis and civil war have imploded all the existing and perceived fault lines in the region. The crisis has become a complicated salad bowl of challenges. The number of players, spoilers and stakeholders in the region and beyond, and their proxies, has crossed more than a dozen states and non-state actors. Within Levant and its extended periphery there are ten regional players – Syria, Iraq, Jorden, Lebanon, Israel, KSA, Iran, Egypt, UAE and Turkey. The ungovernable areas have created strong non-state actors who are directly involved in the conflict – Isis, the Al Nusrah Front, Hezbollah, Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds, Yazidies, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Mossad etc. Extra-regional powers include the US, EU and the Russian Federation etc.

With more than two dozen players and their proxies involved in a small but destabilised region, it is very difficult to figure out any military strategy that could result in the victory of any of the stakeholders. Thus Levant is a cauldron of human tragedy.

As per a report published in Time magazine, this year Syria has lost 12 percent of its population amounting – 470,000 people. The population of the whole region has now become figures, with so many internally displaced, killed, wounded, made to migrate, drowned and made refugees. The next generation of Syrians and Iraqis will be living in camps, without any formal education.

With this brief background, we come back to Turkey and its security calculus. The Turkish security challenges emerge out of this complicated matrix which puts the country in the eye of the storm blowing across the region. Ungovernable areas in Syria and Iraq and the destabilised periphery of the Levant are the biggest security challenge for Turkey. The Kurdish population in northern Syria and Iraq has become semi-autonomous and started affecting the delicate balance of governance in southern and eastern Turkey, where Turkish Kurds reside as the majority. The Kurdish areas in Iraq and Syria also have an influx of foreign fighters pouring in from EU, Canada, UK and even the US.

Isis is being sponsored and penetrated by foreign fighters converging from across Eurasia; the diehard leadership cadre of Isis comprises newly converted white Muslims from Western countries. It is alarming to note that white Western youth are fighting from both sides in this complicated war.

As reported by the Atlantic in January this year, “While thousands of Europeans and North Americans have joined Isis, at least a few hundred Westerners have enlisted as fighters against the terrorist group. Compelled by reports of the Islamic State’s gruesome activities, the first volunteers came in the fall of 2014. They have enrolled in a number of regional militias including the Peshmerga – the government-backed army of Iraqi Kurdistan”.

As per Radio Free Europe, the leadership of Isis and top and medium level cadres have come from newly converted white Europeans who, apparently, become so fanatical that they leave their kith and kin in cushy Western cities to join Isis cadres in Levant.

Who is allowing these ruthless fighters to leave their cushy cities in the West to join a fruitless war in the Levant? There is also a similarity between the challenges confronting Turkey today and what was being faced by Pakistan in the recent past. The creation of the TTP by anti-Pakistan forces within Afghanistan and use of a terror campaign within Pakistan are similar to what is happening in Turkey today.

Is the beginning of a long arduous campaign by the Turkish armed forces, on the lines of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, becoming a necessity? This leads us to Pak-Turkey cooperation in anti-terror capacity building as well as doctrine development. As far as terrorism is concerned, Turkey could learn something from Gen Raheel Sharif’s Doctrine of Hybrid War (RDHW), an indigenous doctrine tailor-made to fight the scourge of terror.

While Turkey fights the terror on the home front, in the longer run, the Muslim world has to realise that fighting proxies will consume its youth and ungovernable regions and states will keep expanding.

The Syrian question is too complicated to be solved by any one state in the region. The vital interests of adjoining states tend to clash and any military solution would draw a matching response from the other sides. Could a peace offensive in the Levant be given a chance? An emergency conference of the OIC could be called for a sustained period of six months where the political leadership of all stakeholders sit under one roof and take stock of what has gone wrong.

Proxies have to be gradually dismantled at the regional level and diplomacy given a free hand to sort out the mess. The internally and externally displaced people of Syria, Iraq and Yemen have to be brought back to their homes through a gigantic humanitarian effort, in which affluent Islamic states have to come forward.

Can the Muslim world come up with statesmanship at this very important juncture in our shared history? Any other option is a one-way ticket into the hell of further instability, whose flame will consume the entire Middle East and North Africa.

The writers are freelance columnists based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]