Turkey has an interest in stabilising Afghanistan - former Canadian attaché

NATO countries should welcome a greater Turkish role in Afghanistan, according to Chris Kilford, a former Canadian air force officer and defence attaché to Turkey and Azerbaijan.

International forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan on Monday in line with a tight deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden. However, Turkey has offered to retain troops at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in a bid to ensure international air travel continues safely.

Kilford told Ahval’s Anatolian Dispatch podcast that Turkey’s long-standing relationship with Afghanistan had “survived even the dark days of the Soviet occupation” and was therefore likely to also continue into the new era.

Securing the airport is seen as crucial to ensuring future international engagement in Afghanistan, allowing thousands of those seeking to leave the country to do so, while providing an entry point for foreign embassy staff and aid organisations.

However, Kilford said Turkey was also acting in its own self-interest and had tried “to keep itself at the airport” but could not “get rid of the NATO tie-in”.

A recent increase in Afghan refugees crossing into Turkey has been subject to a public backlash, and Ankara was therefore keen to see the situation stabilised, he said.

Turkish companies could also benefit from construction contracts to help rebuild Afghanistan infrastructure, he added. “If there’s a building to be built (Turkey) will probably be the ones building it.”

Kilford said the Turkish Foreign Ministry has built a reputation for not being risk-averse, demonstrating its ability to operate in other conflicts such as Libya. “When the conditions present, I’m sure we’re going to see Turkey back in there, in a big way I would think,” he said.

NATO’s exit has raised questions as to who else may seek to fill the vacuum, with Qatar and Pakistan also likely to try and reinsert themselves “and assist the Taliban”, according to Kilford.  

These countries coming in will be “useful” for the United States in the long run, he said. But for now, “it’s up to the Afghans to figure out what they are going to do.”

In the meantime, Turkey can play a strategic role for NATO, Kilford said. “Now it is the perfect case where NATO could actually be encouraging Turkey to take a larger role, to create stability in the region. Why not? You play the cards that you’ve been given.”