Twenty years ago at a diplomatic function in Karachi, one of the guests who hailed from Germany said in an aside, “There is no Islam anywhere in the world except in Pakistan and Turkey.” The Islam that I once knew certainly does not exist in Pakistan. As for Turkey, with the coming to power of Erdogan, it certainly doesn’t exist in Turkey either. There is a lot wrong with Turkey.
One of the reasons why the European Union never accepted the country into its complex fold was its dreadful human rights record. Another was its complicity in allowing IS fighters safe passage into Syria. Another was its duplicity in its dealings with other powers. After the failure of the military in the recent coup in its attempt to preserve the fabric of secularism introduced by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the reprisals were so swift and widespread and brutal that the Western world was quite shocked.
The shooting down of a Russian warplane which was attacking IS targets, a totally pointless and hostile gesture possibly motivated by a mistaken belief that it would please the West so infuriated Vladimir Putin that he wanted to inflict heavy punishment on the Turks. But wiser counsel prevailed. Then when the bomb blasts continued and Erdogan started to bomb IS targets as well as the Kurds who are fighting the Islamic State, he discovered Turkey didn’t have a friend in the world. Erdogan apologised to Putin. And so began a temporary alliance between two dictators who dispensed with democracy a long time ago. The difference is that while the Turk cannot be trusted, the Russian does not let down his friends.
The bombing of IS targets by Turkey can be seen as a reprisal, but the destruction of Kurdish forces in northern Iraq is abominable, especially as they are fighting the common enemy of the US, Russia and Europe and lots of other countries. The role of the Obama Administration in this murky mess is difficult to understand. Barack Obama might have done a lot for the US economy and for the creation of new jobs, but how could he look away when an ally was being attacked? Donald Trump, who is already pixelated like Gary Cooper in Mr Deeds Goes To Town, accused Obama and Hillary Clinton of starting IS. This is not strictly true, though there is evidence to suggest they encouraged the Saudis and Qataris to set it up. The motive? The destruction of Bashar alAssad of Syria and his government. Had it not been for Putin and the continued support of Iran, Assad might have gone under.
Coming back to the terse finger-jabbing bully who heads the government in Turkey and who of late has been rubbing noses with Nawaz Sharif and helping the latter to turn the propellers of the new tanker, he is still a highly unpredictable man. One never knows when he will whip up a souffle of vindictiveness against another power. Currently he is puncturing the bloated cynicism of President Obama, not for playing golf while floods in parts of Louisiana were washing away houses and drowning its citizens — but for supposedly conspiring against Turkey. In contrast, while Putin may be fuming underneath, when something irritates him, he acts coolly and thinks before he takes a decision. Like when he accepted Erdogan’s apology. Meanwhile, Iraq and Syria, destroyed by a cabal of vicious avaricious powers, are fighting for survival. The descendants of two great ancient civilisations live in grit and gloom and Dickensian squalor as part of a master plan to completely destabilise the Middle East.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2016.