Turkey Seeks Operating Rights of Kabul Airport Despite Qatar’s Announcement of Same Mission

International Relations Expert Reveals to Majalla Reason for Erdogan's Insistence on Operating Kabul Airport
Spanish citizens residing in Afghanistan and Afghans board a military plane as part of their evacuation, at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. (Credit: Reuters)

One of the first priorities of the Taliban government after it took over Afghanistan was to get the Kabul airport operational again because of its importance as a transportation hub for cargo, aid and domestic services to the provinces. Soon after a technical team from Qatar reopened Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital last week for aid and domestic services, Ariana Afghan Airlines announced that domestic flights have resumed in Afghanistan between Kabul and three major provincial cities.

The swift resumption came two days after Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani confirmed that his country was working with the Taliban to reopen Kabul airport "as soon as possible".

Although Doha officially announced the operation of Kabul airport on its own, Al Thani had earlier revealed that his country was in talks with Turkey about whether it could provide any technical assistance to operate the international airport. His announcement came days after two Turkish officials announced the Taliban's request for technical assistance from Ankara in order to operate Hamid Karzai airport.

After taking control of the entire Afghan territory weeks ago, the Taliban movement rejected the presence of any foreign forces in Afghanistan, including more than 500 Turkish soldiers who were recently evacuated by Ankara after it originally intended to assign them to the task of protecting Kabul International Airport.

On the other hand, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan questioned the Taliban's ability to protect the airport security after witnessing a bombing that killed and wounded dozens, including US soldiers at the end of last August. However, he revealed that "Ankara has started talks with the Taliban," adding that his country "is still studying the offer submitted to it by the movement to take over the task of operating the airport and providing its logistical requirements".

Ilhan Uzgel, a former professor of international relations at Ankara University and an expert in international relations, said that "Ankara will not return its soldiers at the present time to Afghanistan," as it is satisfied with a diplomatic presence only, since the Turkish embassy has not closed its doors in the Afghan capital, contrary to what some European countries have done.

Speaking to Majalla, Uzgel said, “The Taliban is, for now, determined not to accept any foreign troops in the country. Turkey's insistence to keep its troops there failed to convince the Taliban.  Even the operation of the airport is not a finished deal, because Qataris are also willing to assume the operation. I think the negotiations are still underway. The US is also backing Turkey to be part of the operation of the Kabul airport. Protection of the airport should not be a problem for the Taliban, so I do not see any reason why the Taliban should allow Turkish troops.

People climb on a plane as they wait at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 16, 2021.(Wakil Kohsar/AFP)

Qatar has the upper hand in dealing with the Taliban. It has had personal/diplomatic ties with some of its leaders since 2010. It uses its advantage of existing ties whereas Turkey has invested politically in the previous Afghan government and anti-Taliban figures such as General Rashed Dostum.”

He continued, “The airport is important since it is the only place that connects Afghanistan to the outer world because it is a landlocked country. Turkey wants to be part of this strategic place. It wants to sustain its influence there. Secondly, Erdogan wants to be a kind of liaison between the Taliban and the West/US, therefore, elevating Turkey's profile and importance in the face of many problems Erdogan faces.

I do not think that Qatar is interested in involving Turkey in the operation of the airport. Qatar may prefer to be the sole actor that links the west with the Taliban with the same concerns Erdogan has.”


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Despite Doha's unilateral declaration to gradually operate Kabul Airport, Turkey apparently has not lost hope, at least in the participation alongside the Qataris in operating the international airport, according to well-informed Turkish sources for Majalla

The sources revealed that "Turkey, with US support, is trying to find a foothold in Afghanistan as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has withdrawn all its military forces from Afghan territory."

Ankara had been planning for a long time to secure and operate Kabul airport on its own, but this matter faced obstacles, most notably the Taliban's refusal to the presence of Turkish soldiers at the international airport after Washington completed the withdrawal of all its forces from Afghanistan permanently by the beginning of this September.

Turkey has not yet responded to the Taliban's request for its assistance in operating Kabul International Airport while it continues its talks with the Afghan movement without reaching tangible results so far.

"Flights between Kabul and the western city of Herat, Mazar-i Sharif in northern Afghanistan and Kandahar in the south have started", the Afghan airline said in a statement on its Facebook page last weekend.

"Ariana Afghan Airlines is proud to resume its domestic flights," it added, but it did not reveal the entity from which it received assistance in the re-operation of Kabul International Airport.

On the other hand, The Turkish president insists on assigning the security mission of Kabul Airport to the armed forces of his country. He criticized the Taliban movement a few days ago, after the Kabul airport witnessed a bombing that was claimed by the extremist organization ISIS, according to what was quoted by the Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency.

"How can we hand them the tasks of securing the airport?" the Turkish president said, referring to the Taliban. Erdogan also asked: "Assuming that we hand over the security duties to the movement, how can we justify our position to the world if the bloodbath we witnessed at the airport is repeated again?”


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