What initially seemed an innocuous incident of an explosion in an ammunition depot in Afyon in western Turkey last week resulting in the death of 25 soldiers is assuming ominous political overtones. Turkey has a difficult history and part of it is that just about everything about its military is ultimately political.
Suggestions are being made that there has been an act of sabotage in Afyon by disaffected sections within the military. The Afyon depot maintains strict NATO standards and obviously there has been a system failure in the proceedures, which in turn raises questions about the discipline of the Turkish military following the crackdown by the Islamist government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a sustained campaign to assert civilian supremacy.
Something like three dozen top military officials are facing trial and locked up in jail, and although their trial is far from over, they have been cashiered from the armed forces. Those locked up includes one chief of general staff, Ilker Basbug, a five-star general. Many recent episodes show that the morale of the army is affected. Erdogan has appointed as commanders individuals whom he can trust, but on the other hand, no one knows for sure how far they command respect and loyalty within the armed forces.
Meanwhile, Kurdish insurgency is surging and is taking a heavy toll on military casualties. The soldiers are no more showing the grit to fight the insurgents. And to think of it, all this when a situation may well arise for a Turkish intervention in Syria.
Again, at some point, the tensions between the military and the civilian government may spill over into politics. The main opposition party, which is known for “Kemalist” ideology, is sharpening its knives.
As things stand, Erdogan commands an enviable popular mandate and there are no signs that this charismatic politician’s popularity is on the wane. But then, Turkey also has a history of military coups. Erdogan’s best bet is that he enjoys western backing, especially American support. Read the nuanced comments by Murat Yetkin of the Hurriyet on the state of the Turkish military.
Parallels used to be often drawn between Turkey and Pakistan. What would happen in Pakistan if the 2013 election throws up an elected government that asserts civilian supremacy? On the other hand, what happens if it turns out to be an elected government that enjoys US support — like Erdogan’s?
Erdogan’s insurance against a military coup is the support he enjoys from the West. The sort of Islamism he represents is precisely what suits the US currently in the Middle East. Pakistan lacks an islamist politician of similar calibre and authenticity who could lend a useful hand for the advancement of the US’ regional policies in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Again, Pakistan has no politician to match Erdogan in his sheer courage of convictions. He is through and through a “desi” politician who came up with grass root support. He is immensely charismatic. The Pashas know Erdogan won’t meekly walk away into exile, if challenged, and they are unsure if they can pull off yet another coup in Turkey. But then, what alternative remains for them? Testing times lie ahead for Erdogan.
– September 10, 2012