Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Interview with Mr. Basat Ozturk, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey in Afghanistan

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Interview with Mr. Basat Ozturk, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey in Afghanistan

Mr. Ambassador thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to interview you.

Q: Beginning with the first question, relations between Afghanistan and Turkey dates back to centuries, please explain the current level of relationship from your perspective.

A: Thank you very much. As you already indicated, the relationship between our two countries and our people dates back to centuries. These links are not based only on interaction between our peoples, we have strong shared cultural links, historic links. We share the same culture that is why the Turkish people feel themselves very closed to their Afghan sisters and brothers. And they do not forget that during the liberation war of the Turkish republic, in the beginning of 1920s the Afghan people with the people of the region helped the Turkish people in their struggle against invasion of imperialist forces.

In fact at that time there was colonialism, the Ottoman Empire collapsed because colonial powers wanted to disintegrate and colonize vast parts of this empire. And the empire collapsed, however, out of the ashes of that empire the Turkish Republic emerged. It is important to highlight that it was the first successful liberation war against colonial powers in the beginning of the 20th century.

In giving this struggle the Turkish people received support from their Afghan brothers and sisters, even if they were not so rich, the Turkish people does not forget this support. Of course the relations between the two nations did not start in the beginning of 1920s or in the context of Turkish liberation war. These two points can not define the full range of Turkish-Afghan relations.

The Turkish republic after its foundation continued strong relationship, even the presence of Turkish embassy in Kabul is an indication of this strong relationship between our two countries because as you know it is one of the largest lands where embassies are located and in fact one of the most beautiful pieces.

We have taken care of this land as like it is our own, this is where we still have signs from Amanullah Khan and pictures of his visit to Turkey, signs of visit by teams of Turkish doctors who came to train and educate Afghan medical students and doctors, also professors of political science, Turkish soldiers who came here to train the Afghan Army, so this relationship is so old. There was an interval in the last three decades, maybe, because of some foreign interventions in the country, but Turkey has never forgotten the situation of Afghans and has done everything possible to help them.

With the arrival of international forces here Turkey also took its part and is trying to do the same in the long term. Our presence here is not aimed at occupying or killing people, it is to provide security, stability and prosperity to the Afghans. Specially, we are providing projects in areas of agriculture, health and education among others, but these three areas are very important to us. So we want to support once again, like in the 30s, to revive the Afghan education, agricultural and health systems.

Q: Earlier this year Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu announced Turkey's commitment to double the size of its forces in Afghanistan, has that commitment been met, how many Turkish soldiers are currently present here?

A: in fact, the increase or the surge of troops is due to the fact that Turkey assumed regional command of ISAF. This is the reason why we had a surge in number of Turkish troops. Presently a Turkish brigadier general is in command of Kabul region, we took it from Italians and French, as you know.

Currently there is a dominant number of Turkish troops but with full cooperation and coordination with the Afghan army, Afghan National Police, Afghan security agencies and intelligence units and, more importantly, with the Afghan people trying to secure the Kabul region. The number of our troops in that context is around 1700 with some fluctuations. The lead role for security missions is for the Afghan security personnel.

Q: Are you Training ANA and ANP soldiers?

A: Regarding the capacity building of Afghan security personnel, we have continuous training for Afghan police with more focus on Maidan Wardak province. We are training Afghans in line with International standards but led by national trainers, we have also trained police trainers in Turkey which means that we have conducted training of trainers for Afghan National Police. We are ready to increase this capacity based on demand conveyed by our Afghan partners.

Also, we can increase this capacity by opening an extra PRT and bringing in more police training officers and increase the capacity for police training in our second PRT which we aim to open in another province, probably in Shiberghan or any other part of the northern region, of course if possible. We strongly intend to do something for the north, this decision will be based on what circumstance dictates.

I want to stress that this second PRT will not be dealing only with police capacity promotion, it will carry wide-range of civilian activities in three most important areas I outlined in answer to your first question. It is important to let your readers know that Turkish PRTs are not dominated by military, and are not managed by military. The Turkish PRT model is exclusive which is managed by civilians and overseen by diplomats from our ministry of foreign affairs.

Q: President Obama announced deployment of additional 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, hoping other NATO member states to complete the shortfall of troops Gen. McCrystal has asked for, is Turkey ready to increase its forces beyond the current commitment?

A: I think first of all we should remember that Turkey is now having the responsibility of one out of five regional commands in Afghanistan. The Kabul command may seem small in terms of area but in terms of population and political importance it is a more sensitive and important command because the eyes of the world is first and most on Kabul. This is an important responsibility the Turkish forces are now fulfilling. As I said before, so far we have done a lot to train national police and the national army officers. Our approach is focused more on local responsibility; we can train the Afghan army and police forces.

The increase in number of troops alone will not mean so much if it is not complemented with necessary tools in the context of reconstruction, in the context of economic development, so there should be real investment in Afghanistan. I think the international community should do more to show concrete examples of economic development. In addition to roads we need some infrastructure which is going to start with power plants and electric power solution lines, bringing new energy resources to the area and also maybe developing the economy through modern ways such as supporting the industry based on agriculture.

We should have a much broader vision now, if we would really like Afghanistan and the Afghan people to develop. The increase in number of troops will not produce any meaningful result without complementing that with civilian reconstruction and economic development effort. This is the vision we share and will try to do everything possible in achieving this ideal.

I repeat once again, increase in the number of troops alone is never sufficient. I think there are many NATO allies and European countries that are in a position to make more assistance to Afghanistan, but they don't have troops and so do not contribute significantly or visibly to any international fund or effort. I think those countries should be asked to do more because they should also fulfill share of the burden, if not with troops, then with their financial resources or any other possible means if they really like to be part of the international effort to stabilize Afghanistan.

Q: Do you think war is the means to achieve peace, or civilian assistance can bring satisfaction among the deprived parts of Afghan society?

A: I think we have a comprehensive approach here. First of all, I agree that the word war is not the correct definition; we should rather use the term struggle or comprehensive effort which is aimed at stabilization and prosperity of Afghanistan.

This approach should also have a regional dimension. In this context we believe that this comprehensive effort should include first and foremost providing security because without security and safety there can be no economic development, so it is almost of utmost importance.

But providing security can not be achieved with war. Providing security requires, however, stationing of military troops or police forces but with cooperation with all different actors and without getting support of the Afghan people providing security would be difficult. So, there should be a situation where all the relevant actors and the Afghan people should be persuaded to believe that peace and stability is in the interest of the country and the region. In parallel we can increase our share in reconstruction arena, but both should go hand in hand twined with each other.

There must come real difference in the Afghan society and Afghans should believe and see the difference in their lives, they should know that their life is going to change in the positive direction; that there will be no electricity problem in the future, that we should start solving infrastructural shortages like drainage systems, healthy water pipelines for the inhabitants of cities.

So, Afghans should really see the good difference, the positive difference in their life both in terms of security and peace and increased economic activities and projects. This can be achieved when we have its regional complement.

All Afghanistan's neighbors and all the regional countries should work together in bringing stabilization to the region beyond Afghanistan. Then, all these countries will benefit from this prosperity and peace together.

In this context Turkey also intends to organize a regional economic summit with participation of all neighbors of Afghanistan in 2010. Although we know there are series of international conferences, but Turkey believes that it is of crucial importance to have the regional dimension which will include all neighbors of Afghanistan and also key regional countries and international partners where we can develop regional cooperation mechanism schemes and arrangements which will benefit all the regional countries. We will prepare this summit in the course of 2010.

Q: There are media reports which say that public support for foreign military involvement in Afghanistan is not that strong today in many major European countries; can you tell me about public support for Turkish military presence in Afghanistan?

A: again I will go back to my previous explanation and logic. Turkish people and government have never seen turkey's presence in Afghanistan only in the context of military troops here. This is only one factor and element among many in helping Afghanistan.

that is why nobody in turkey is questioning the Turkish presence in Afghanistan. we have not come here with ISAF, we have been here since long ago, as I said in answer to your previous question, we have been here in 1920s and 30s when others were not here.

We were here not for occupation, not for selfish interests, not for exploitation of any natural resource of Afghanistan, we were here as a friend, as a brother and sister country/people to help Afghanistan. this is the feeling in turkey that we want to help Afghanistan in these difficult times to bring to Afghanistan not only security but security in the broadest context which I have defined can only be possible with inclusion of other elements.

Sustainable security is that in which we include other dimensions in political, economic, cultural fields. Turkish presence here is regarded by Turkish public as a total presence which did not start with coming of ISAF forces and which will not end up also with the departure of these forces. With will be a neighbor of Afghanistan without shared border for ever.

Q: as a member of NATO, do you think NATO member states have failed to allocate enough military and civilian resources to Afghanistan?

A: My statement was that those countries who are in a position to provide assistance should be urged to do more, either they are members of NATO or members of European Union or members of other regional organizations or members of the United Nations. Specially when talk about members of NATO, we should remember that many of those countries are also members of the European Union, so without naming any country or without making any criticism against any country I say that in this renewed international commitment to Afghanistan those countries who are capable of providing any help to Afghanistan should be urged to do more.

As all know, Turkey has been doing its fair share, but of course will be open to do more in a creative and productive way on the condition that the kind of support is asked by the Afghan people. Any kind of additional support or assistance Turkey will make will be within the framework I have just defined, which means we will only do anything if it is in the interest of the Afghan people. We will increase our contributions in terms of productivity, efficiency and well reception.

Q: Please tell our readers about Turkey's developmental projects in the coming year…

A: In the year 2010 we will have additional projects with the same logic and vision I have defined. We will continue our developmental projects and we will seek and analyze other areas where turkey can make contribution in addition to a second PRT foresaid. Turkey will continue its training and capacity building programs and courses.

There are so many things which we don't want to publicize or make propaganda out of, we have small assistance groups which come directly from Turkey on a voluntary basis like the team of Turkish doctors who visited Afghanistan's hospitals recently and helped patients.

Also many Afghans go to get treatment in Turkey; there are many Afghan students who have been awarded full scholarships to attend Turkish universities for higher education in faculties of medical, law and political science.

We also intend to provide vocational training programs for Afghanistan so that we can make a direct contribution to Afghanistan's economic development. We will invite more professional trainers from Turkey or we will take more Afghan students to Turkey for higher studies. In any case, Turkey will continue its support to Afghanistan by any means we have at our disposal.

Q: You have implemented many of your projects in Maidan Wardak province with Turkish PRT stationed there. Some donor countries have not observed balance in allocation of funds for Afghanistan's regions and provinces, don't you think your assistance is limited to only one province out of 34?

A: I can say that Turkey has implemented projects in 31 out of 34 provinces of Afghanistan with three province left so far. We will consider those three provinces in our future plans if security situation allows us. But the visibility of Wardak is of course because of the existence of our PRT in that province.

Beyond that there are many schools, polyclinics, roads, bridges which are funded by Turkish assistance funds through agencies like Turkish Economic Development Assistance Agency (TIKA). So Turkey is very careful about this and does not discriminate in reaching to any of Afghanistan's ethnic tribes against any other. Our comprehensive approach in Afghanistan is that all Afghans from whatever ethnic background or from any sect are equally considered as Afghans.

Q: The third trilateral summit between president Karzai, President Zardari and President Gul was held in Ankara this year, please provide follow up details to our readers about Turkey's role to strengthen understanding and mutual ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan…

A: As you know we congratulated president Karzai in his reelection. To repeat once more, Turkey has supported Afghan people without hesitation, therefore, we respect Afghan choice, Afghan constitution, and Afghan dignity. Because of this close relationship president Karzai made his first foreign trip to Istanbul to attend the conference of OIC economic development committee last November. In the margin of this summit there was a mini summit too which was organized by president Gul. In that summit all neighbors of Afghanistan - except India and China because they are not members of OIC – met together on Afghanistan.

In that summit the will to organize a regional summit with participation of all Afghanistan's neighbors was reaffirmed. In addition to that, there were also bilateral talks between our presidents. All agreed to hold the next trilateral meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey which is going to be organized this year as soon as possible. Of course we will have to take into account series of international conferences which are going to be organized until mid 2010.

I think there is strong political will in all three countries to organize this summit at an apt time in 2010. As you know, from the beginning this was a Turkish initiative which won support from our partners (Afghanistan & Pakistan) for which we thank them. The trilateral summits are progressing very well and does not include only political dimension, we are adding other dimensions to these summits too.

We believe this mechanism will strengthen understanding between these three countries as well as will constitute a strong basis for the advancement of our relations bilaterally and trilaterally. Even these three countries can form a core group to bring stability and security in the greater region.

We have a positive vision about the outcome of these trilateral summits and the future of Afghanistan. The pessimism you mentioned exists in some European countries who provide troops for Afghanistan does not exist in Turkey. We believe in positive future of Afghanistan, we will not be demoralized and with no hesitation continue to support Afghanistan so that we produce concrete results here.

This is aimed to benefit Afghanistan and the region as a whole. My message to the Afghan people is the following: know that Turkish people are with you in all circumstances, we will be with you forever.

Interview with Mr. Basat Ozturk, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey in Afghanistan

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