Pakistanisation of Turkey

Published: October 7, 2015
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The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate

The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate

Will the Syrian crisis and two million refugees have the same impact on Turkey as the Afghan jihad and the refugee exodus from Afghanistan had on Pakistan? This question has started doing the rounds among Turk intellectuals and political analysts.

But first let’s look at the context that has triggered this question. This relates to what the ruling Justice Party has ‘achieved’ since it took over in 2002. Based on discussions with local intellectuals, former diplomats and army officials, one can safely conclude that — as of now — Turkey is no longer the secular and democratic country that it was when the Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP swept into power, promising economic and political stability. It delivered on the promise, stabilised the economy, raising Turkey’s per capita income to above $14,000, helped boost foreign direct investment to over $13 billion in 2014, with six million new jobs created since 2009.

But what has been scary for most rivals and the civil society is the authoritarianism with religious trappings that has accompanied the economic development. Most Turk intellectuals think the AKP has emasculated the bureaucracy, judiciary and the media. It has also attempted to tinker with Turkey’s fundamental identity through administrative changes and a greater religio-centric policy. Today, Turkey has over 85,000 active mosques, one for every 350 citizens — compared to one hospital for every 60,000 citizens — the highest number per capita in the world. With 90,000 imams, there are more imams than doctors or teachers in the country. It has thousands of madrassa-like schools and around 4,000 more official state-run religious schools, not counting the unofficial religious schools, which may expand the total number tenfold. According to http://www.meforum.org/2045/fethullah-gulens-grand-ambition, spending by the governmental Directorate of Religious Affairs grew fivefold, from 553 trillion Turkish lira in 2002 to 2.7 quadrillion Turkish lira during the first four-and-a-half years of the AKP government. This ministry has a larger budget than eight other ministries combined. Erdogan and his party have increasingly projected a predominantly religious argument even when discussing issues such as the alleged Iranian role in Yemen and Syria.

On the foreign policy front, Erdogan has turned Turkey away from Europe and towards Russia and Iran, and reoriented the country’s policy in the Middle East more towards friendship with Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria. Anti-American, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic sentiments have increased. This also explains why the Turkish government leapt in support of all the anti-Bashar al-Assad forces a few years ago. This support included Turkish money and weapons for the artificially created rebels who eventually morphed from al Qaeda into the al Nusra Front and then into the Islamic State (IS) — the unwanted consequence of the desire to sweep away Assad from power.

Now , with the IS intimidating all and sundry and the Turkish government worried about the two million Syrian refugees, intellectuals and political opposition wonder and worry about the consequences of a policy that flowed more from a religious world view than from a pragmatic secular handling  of the anti-Assad campaigners.

Quite ironically, many liberal Turk intellectuals have coined the phrase “Pakistanisation of Turkey” when discussing the fallout from the Syrian crisis. They are afraid that a protracted civil war in Syria could invariably result in the scourges of sectarianism, crime, terrorism and religious militancy — all ills that they think plague Pakistan because of its involvement with and proximity to Afghanistan, which continues to reel from two foreign interventions (anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s, and the questionable war on terror starting in 2001) — become all too prevalent in Turkey. At the heart of all this was the deployment of religion as a foreign policy tool (by the US and General Ziaul Haq) and unqualified support for non-state actors.

How can a country that has seen increased religiosity since 2002 stay unaffected by the consequences of using religion as a political ideology? Using Pakistan’s troubles since the early 1980s as a metaphor for internal instability, the Turk intelligentsia is fearful that their country could also face similar socio-political upheaval if their government continues to handle issues with religious/sectarian tools. Even the ongoing fight against Kurdish separatists is coloured by religion. In addition, Erdogan declared 311 miners killed in the worst-ever coal mine accident in May 2014 in Soma, Manisa as martyrs to cover up administrative lapses. Instead of launching investigations, the government sent dozens of imams to the area to comfort the affected families.

It will be interesting tosee if the Syrian crisis affects Turkey the way the Afghan crisis impacted Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Romm
    Oct 8, 2015 - 1:21AM

    I agree with the Author. Turkish will suffer for decades to come due to their voting in favour of Religious party. Ex Turkish Army Chief (who is behind Bars) used to call Erdogan Party wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Great Civilization is on the Brink of Falling into the Hands of Mullahcracy. Recommend

  • ajeet
    Oct 8, 2015 - 1:39AM

    There goes the only secular Muslim majority country.Recommend

  • PiS
    Oct 8, 2015 - 2:54AM

    As a Pakistani, I love Turkey and hope it forever retains its liberal soul. We aspire to become what Turkey is. A beautiful melting pot of eastern and western traditions under the spellbinding trance of whirling dervishes. God bless Turkey!Recommend

  • Akhthar
    Oct 8, 2015 - 4:46AM

    Nice article. Very thoughtful indeed.
    Without doubt, turkey is heading into trouble. Soon there will be military take over on turkey.Recommend

  • ih
    Oct 8, 2015 - 5:00AM

    The similiarities are eerie. Smart Turks realise there is no benefit in another war to suit USA intrests.Hope turks would not repeat Pakistan,s mistake. Keep relegion out of polotics . It has served you well.Recommend

  • ajeet
    Oct 8, 2015 - 5:44AM

    What wonderful name Pakistan has in a brotherly nation.Recommend

  • Gp65
    Oct 8, 2015 - 8:22AM

    Lets us review facts stated in statement 1

    “On the foreign policy front, Erdogan has turned Turkey away from Europe and towards Russia and Iran, and reoriented the country’s policy in the Middle East more towards friendship with Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria. Anti-American, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic sentiments have increased.”

    Now let us review conclusion in statement 2:

    ” This also explains why the Turkish government leapt in support of all the anti-Bashar al-Assad forces a few years ago”

    How do the facts lead to the conclusion? Assad is widely believed to be an Iranian proxy. If Turkey is orienting itself towards Iran and Russsia, it would support Assad. Why would it leap in to support anti-Assad forces?Recommend

  • tabee
    Oct 8, 2015 - 9:49AM

    Turkey must not follow the path of Pakistan. It must remain secular and state affairs must be separate from religion, otherwise, they will lose everything. What a dilemma!Recommend

  • Shalom
    Oct 8, 2015 - 10:14AM

    Tayyip Erdogan is taking Turkey away from Ataturk secular ideology, but that is one of the drawbacks for a liberal Turkey. The other is that he is behaving like a dictator. As a president, he is supposed to leave the government affairs to PM which he does not do. He was in Brussels earlier this week to discuss refugee crisis and also doing conversing for the November elections. That is not his hob. In France Turkish audience were asked to separate women and men sitting together to hear him.. The right wing Le Pen has blasted him for bringing Sharia in France when he treats women in inferior position in public.
    Turkey still has a secular constitution, but only because he has not got two third majority to change it to Islamic one. Recommend

  • shahid
    Oct 8, 2015 - 11:29AM

    What a simplistic and ill informed analysis! Islam has always had deep roots in Turkey and regardless of the repression imposed by the liberal secular elite classes, they could not and will never be able to remove the fundamental Islamic orientation of the Turkish people. Turkey still remains a secular country; all that Erdogan has done is to open it up, make it freer and prosperous. And he has done it with the support of Turkish people. They have demonstrated y their work that they mean what they say and act accordingly. Turkey has re-oriented its foreign policy and made it more assertive and independent. Their decisions are made in Ankara and not in London, Washington or Moscow. Even when their government was a new government, they refused to allow the US forces to use their air bases to attack Iraq. They did not sell themselves out even though billions of dollars were offered for their cooperation. It is hard for people who still are tied to the strings being pulled by their former colonial masters and who espouse opinions keeping in view the interests of their masters, what freedom and self respect is. Genuinely free people do not fall in line on a single phone call. Author would be well advised to read something about Turkish history and in particular of the past couple of decades and understand what has happened instead of simply repeating lines from the standard western media sources.Recommend

  • ajeet
    Oct 8, 2015 - 11:47AM

    @shahid:
    Isn’t Modi trying to do the same in India? If you bring in Gujarat, people can bring in Armenian genocide and how the Kurdish minority is being treated mow in Turkey.Recommend

  • vinsin
    Oct 8, 2015 - 2:54PM

    @ajeet:
    Gujarat was a riot and cannot be compared with genocide of minorities in Bangladesh, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan etc.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Oct 8, 2015 - 3:07PM

    Turkey is no longer the secular and democratic country that it was when the Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP swept into power, promising economic and political stability. It delivered on the promise, stabilised the economy, raising Turkey’s per capita income to above $14,000, helped boost foreign direct investment to over $13 billion in 2014, with six million new jobs created since 2009.tan

    No Sir, Turkey indeed is a genuine democracy( no longer a military controlled one) made up of all its citizens, regardless of their ethnic, religion or racial profiles. AKP has indeed cut down the authority of its napolienic military brass who were acting as kemalists and calling the shots in politics. Turkey is the member of NATO with its largest military contingent and has been implementing all European standards in its Government structures, but its membership in the community despite recommendations from Britain and the USA, was deferred because of the anti Islam lobbyist countries. The events in the middle east and the storm of refugees on the European shores is forcing the reality in the European Union. President Erdogan was givend the royal reception in Brussels who promised his audience the help from this calamity.
    The author is living in the military environment and is not qualified to comment rationaly.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • TAKhan
    Oct 8, 2015 - 7:02PM

    I have been visiting Turkey virtually every year since 1975 for a fortnight or so becuse I have a large number of friends there. It used to be a wonderful country in terms of its people, outlook, and secular attitude, following the path of Kemal Attaturk. Its economy was certainly not well managed, I must admit. Erdogan surely set the economy right in his first ten years but his fundamental aim remains to be fulfilled: how to destroy the secular and progressive values of Attaturk by bringing in political Islam. Turkey was one of the last bastions of ‘enlightenment’ among Muslim countries which is now gradually reverting to an obsolete ideology. Erdogan is a corrupt, short sighted and dangerous Islamist bent upon imposing his dictatorial views. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Oct 8, 2015 - 7:35PM

    @Romm

    The Ottomans who ruled the world for centuries lost its influence during the days of military and witnessed the massacre of the muslims at the hands of the Serbs , despite the fact that Turkey has the largest contingent in NATO in defense of Europe. Not ny more will Turkey play the role of a second fiddle once it introduces the Presidental governance. The military must follow the orders of the elected President or be prosecuted by law.

    Rex Minor : Recommend

  • Romm
    Oct 9, 2015 - 1:04AM

    @ajeet:
    What about Gandhi’s India Ruled by RSS??? Where Humans are killed for Consuming Beef.. Recommend

  • Romm
    Oct 9, 2015 - 1:07AM

    @vinsin:
    What about state sponsored terrorism of Hindu majority against minority Muslims… Recommend

  • ajeet
    Oct 12, 2015 - 6:26AM

    @Romm:
    That’s primary school spat compared to what the followers of religion of peace are doing to each other and other minorities.Recommend

  • ajeet
    Oct 12, 2015 - 6:28AM

    @Rex Minor:
    The Greeks,Aztecs, Romans, Iranians, Indians, Chinese and others had empires just like the ottomans, but that was in the past. The world is a different place now.Recommend

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