Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan must be pleased with the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan after his government helped secure Turkish jihadists who were trained and fought in Afghanistan and enlisted them in new jihadist ventures in Syria and elsewhere in cooperation with Turkish intelligence agency MIT.
It’s no wonder the Taliban announced it would view Turkey as an ally rather than an enemy after taking over Kabul and cementing control of the entire country. It appears the Taliban heard loud and clear the message of President Erdoğan, who said he shares the Taliban’s ideology.
Speaking on July 20 Erdoğan said his government would negotiate with the Taliban, whom he said should feel comfortable talking with Turkey, as opposed to the Americans. He justified his reasoning by underlining that “Turkey has nothing against the Taliban’s ideology, and since we aren’t in conflict with the Taliban’s beliefs, I believe we can better discuss and agree with them on issues.”
The day before he made these scandalous remarks, Erdoğan announced that Turkey had plans for Afghanistan in the Taliban era and added that “the Taliban knows very well the position of the Turkish government.”
The Taliban responded to Erdoğan’s calls, with Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, telling The Independent Turkish service that they see Turkey as an ally and want to build close relations with it.
President Erdoğan had already sent top officials to the Taliban in a bid to strike an agreement before the Taliban took the control of the country and signaled that he was willing to work with them. Appearing for an interview on a Turkish network on August 11, 2021, he said: “Our relevant institutions [meaning Turkish intelligence and others] have been working on [Afghanistan] including holding some meetings. Maybe I can even host the Taliban leader.”
President Erdoğan announced that he shares the same ideology as the Taliban:
It’s not just the words uttered by Erdoğan that give confidence to the Taliban and other jihadists, but also actions by the Erdoğan government over the years which reinforce the assessment that his Islamist government would help spread the jihadist message around the world, albeit in a sophisticated and clandestine manner.
President Erdoğan started clearing the path for Turkish jihadists during the Syrian crisis in 2011 and secretly instructed his confidant, Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish intelligence agency MIT and a staunch anti-Western figure, to tap jihadist networks to recruit fighters. His project was dealt a temporary setback when law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and the military, which had for years monitored such groups and cracked down on them when needed, challenged Erdoğan’s jihadist adventurism.
Many Turkish jihadists as well as their renegade masters in intelligence faced the wrath of the criminal justice system with the help of veteran police chiefs and prosecutors as well as military commanders, who considered jihadist outfits a major national security risk for Turkey.
But that did not last long. The month of January 2014 was the last operation conducted by Turkish prosecutors against al-Qaeda and other jihadist networks in Turkey, apparently protected by Fidan in a clear violation of Turkish law.
Turkish police in the eastern province of Van identified İbrahim Şen, an al-Qaeda terrorist convicted in Turkey and a former Gitmo detainee, as employed by the Turkish intelligence agency to move jihadists back and forth into Syria. Şen was detained in Pakistan over al-Qaeda links and transferred to Guantanamo, where he was kept until 2005, before US officials decided to turn him over to Turkey.
According to the prosecutor’s investigation file, Şen had been working with Turkey’s MIT since the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011. He and many others were detained by the police in a nationwide sweep. But the Erdoğan government immediately intervened and hushed the case up. What is more, the police chiefs, prosecutors and judges who were involved in the investigation, prosecution and trial of Şen and his associates were all sacked and later imprisoned on bogus charges.
That sent a clear message across the judiciary and law enforcement agencies that jihadists were protected by the political authorities.
Similarly, another al-Qaeda case that involved cells sending funds and fighters to Afghanistan from Istanbul was also killed by the government in May 2014. The cell, concentrated in Istanbul’s Küçükçekmece district, was a major concern for law enforcement because the cell leader, Ömer Öztürk, was a battle-hardened man who had fought in Afghanistan in the past.
The investigation that started in 2011 was hushed up by İrfan Fidan, a deputy prosecutor at the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office at the time. Fidan was hand-picked by Erdoğan as his pointman in the prosecutor’s office, which has been pursuing abusive criminal probes against critics and opponents for years while hushing up investigations into radical Islamist groups as well as into Erdoğan’s family members and his business and political associates. He was rewarded in April 2021 for his services when Erdoğan tapped him to serve as a judge at the Constitutional Court.
Another landmark case that revealed the true face of the Erdoğan regime also involved jihadists with links to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Turkish prosecutors indicted members of an al-Qaeda-linked Turkish jihadist group known as Tahşiyeciler in 2010. The group, also referred to as Molla Muhammetçiler, was a radical network led by Mehmet Doğan (aka Mullah Muhammed el-Kesri), who openly declared his admiration for Osama bin Laden and called for armed jihad in Turkey.
Some of the people in the group were also being monitored by the German and US intelligence services, which informed Turkey that they were raising funds and sending jihadists to Afghanistan and Pakistan, at times using their cells in the Netherlands and Germany. Many members of the group were rounded up by the police in 2010, indicted by the prosecutor on terrorism charges and tried in court.
The investigation revealed how Mullah Muhammed had asked his followers to build bombs and mortars in their homes, urged the decapitation of Americans, claiming that the religion allowed such practices. “I’m telling you to take up your guns and kill them,” he said in recorded sermons, adding, “If the sword is not used, then this is not Islam.” According to Mullah, all Muslims were obligated to respond to then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s armed fight.
In 2014, the group escaped the grip of the criminal justice system in Turkey thanks to the intervention of the Erdoğan, who publicly defended the group and secured the release of its members from prison. The campaign to save Mullah Muhammed was first launched by the Sabah daily, owned by Erdoğan’s family, on March 13, 2014. An article tried to portray Mullah Muhammed as a victim. The government claimed that Mullah Muhammed was framed by the Gülen movement, a group that is critical of Erdoğan on a range of issues from corruption to Turkey’s arming of jihadist groups in Syria and Libya.
In 2015 the police chiefs who had investigated Tahşiyeciler faced criminal charges fabricated by the government, and they were fired, jailed and charged with defaming the al-Qaeda-linked Tahşiyeciler. In the case against the police chiefs, the investigative work that was done based on German and US intelligence on Turkish jihadists was incorporated in the case file as criminal evidence against the defendants.
More examples can be found of such cases where the Erdoğan government helped release jihadists who had fought in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border. Nordic Monitor has published many such cases.
It appears Erdoğan and his Islamist associates have developed a plan to coordinate the Turkish government’s moves with Qatar and Pakistan. There are some clues in that regard from comments made by Erdoğan’s people working on the Afghanistan file. One such comment was made on Twitter by Ali Şahin, a 50-year-old die-hard Islamist who was groomed as a young man in Pakistan in the 1990s.
Şahin, now a chief administrator in the Turkish Parliament, pointed out that the Pakistanis’ military and intelligence have influence over the Taliban and that Qatar has diplomatic and political capital in dealing with the Taliban. He said Turkey should coordinate with both these countries in developing an Afghan policy.
Nordic Monitor previously revealed in a report how Şahin was lobbying for the incorporation of a special Chechen unit in Turkey’s Armed Forces (TSK), saying the military needs warriors to complete missions abroad for the sake of the entire Muslim world, or Ummah, and that it can no longer confine itself merely to the protection of Turkish borders.
Another signal came from a man named Ersan Ergür, vice president of the Association of Justice Defenders Strategic Studies Center (ASSAM), an organization affiliated with private military contractor SADAT, which is led by Erdoğan’s former chief military aide Adnan Tanrıverdi. In an article posted on ASSAM’s website on June 28, 2021, Ergür claimed peace and tranquillity would come to Afghanistan after NATO and other invading forces withdrew. “However, the only necessary and sufficient condition for this to happen will definitely be the continuation of Turkey’s presence in Afghanistan in terms of military power,” he added.
Ergür further maintained that Turkey would lead the establishment of a regional Islamic pact called the Near East Regional Islamic Federation by bringing Afghanistan and other countries together as envisioned in ASSAM’s earlier proposal for the Confederation of Islamic Countries.
Obviously there are a lot of questions as to how well President Erdoğan and his associates will succeed in fulfilling their pan-Islamist dreams given their limited capabilities amid the economic and financial woes the Islamist government faces in Turkey. The examples of Libya and Syria inform us that Erdoğan will push it to the limit and will not let go of pursuing his dream.
Even if Turkey and its allies Qatar and Pakistan have a hard time selling the Taliban’s renewed rule as a success, they will certainly unleash a new wave of jihadist enthusiasts across the globe. The renewed vigor is already being felt in the Turkish streets, where some were cheering the Taliban’s victory as well the Islamist militant rule in Syria’s Idlib region.