Sunday, August 24, 2008

5 Steps for Prime Minister Erdoğan

These appeared in an op/ed authored by Turkish expert Stephen Larrabee in today's Washington Times:
To avoid further political turmoil, Mr. Erdogan must move quickly to restore confidence in his leadership and show he has learned from the court's action. Five steps in particular need to be taken in the coming weeks:

(1) Mr. Erdogan must build bridges to the secular establishment, particularly the military - something he neglected to do in the aftermath of the AKP's overwhelming victory in the July 2007 parliamentary elections. This was a serious tactical error that must not be repeated. Mr. Erdogan must show he takes the court's warning seriously and avoid taking actions that could be seen by the military as challenging the constitutional order, particularly secularism.

(2) Mr. Erdogan needs to reinvigorate the domestic reform process and get Turkey's EU membership bid back on track. While the current difficulties with Brussels are not all Turkey's fault, the Erdogan government bears considerable responsibility. After a strong start, the domestic reform process in Turkey has recently stagnated, exacerbating strains with Brussels. One of the first orders of business following the constitutional court's decision is to kick-start the reform process and give the accession negotiations with the EU new momentum.

(3) Mr. Erdogan should open a dialogue with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq aimed at resolving outstanding bilateral differences, especially the role of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish separatist group that has launched terrorist attacks against Turkish territory from sanctuaries in northern Iraq. The PKK problem can't be resolved without the assistance and support of the KRG.

As long as it appeared as if the AKP would be closed, the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq had little incentive to negotiate seriously with the Erdogan government. But the constitutional court's decision changes the context and improves the chances that talking could bring positive results.

Better communication is in the KRG's self interest anyway. The Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq - where there are large untapped oil deposits - have a strong economic incentive to improve ties with Turkey. The KRG needs to get this oil to Western markets, and the cheapest and most direct means of doing so is through Turkey.

(4) Mr. Erdogan needs to improve the living conditions of Turkey's Kurdish community. The PKK problem cannot be solved by military means alone; the military campaign against the PKK must be combined with serious social and economic reform that addresses the concerns of Turkey's own citizens - a fact that the Turkish military is beginning to realize.

(5) Finally, Mr. Erdogan must strengthen Turkey's relationship with the United States. The increased U.S. political and military support since Mr. Erdogan's Washington visit last November has been crucial in helping Turkey deal more effectively with the PKK threat and has led to a marked improvement in bilateral relations. Mr. Erdogan needs to ensure that this support and general upswing in relations continues after President Bush leaves office.

These measures are no panacea. But taken together, they would go a long way toward healing the fissures engendered by the recent crisis and provide a firm basis for stabilizing Turkish democracy.
These are all wise steps, though I would stress the need for Turkey to not only strengthen its foreign relations with the United States, but also Europe. This means more than simply moving forward with the accession process, although this is a considerable step. As I have repeatedly written in this blog, Turkish foreign policy is becoming more and more schizophrenic by the day. One day Turkey is declaring its commitment to human rights in Brussels, and the next it is hosting Sudanese dictator and genocidiare al-Bashir and talking about building better relations with a genocidal state. This must end, and Turkey must instead work to better align its foreign policy with that of Europe. While Europe is no doubt still struggling in its own right to determine a common security policy, Turkey is moving further and further away from European foreign policy norms.

And, not to sound the skeptic, the military is far from realizing the need to grant cultural rights demanded by a significant portion of Turkey's Kurdish minority—most significantly, those Kurds who tacitly or directly support the PKK. Perhaps even more discouraging is that AKP is increasingly reluctant to grant these rights, thereby elevating support for Kurdish extremists and empowering the more hawkish elements in Kurdish politics. Many Kurdish politicians have long insisted that the Turkish state is still far from serious when it comes to moving forward with meaningful social and legal forms that secure cultural rights for Kurds, and the government is giving them more and more credibility by the day. However, if Erdoğan were to move more aggressively forward in this area, the prime minister risks alienating the military. A double-edged sword, the question of the Kurds, essentially a larger question about the evolution of the Turkish nation-state, is just as intriguing, provocative, and complicated as the secularism issue which Larrabee highlights in his first point.

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