Turkey Shoulders Afghanistan

12 April 2010
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A new era in Afghanistan has started with the collapse of the Taliban regime. The result of the September 11, 2001 attack was horrible for the country. In this terrorist act against the United States, Al-Qaeda was seen as the only suspect. This terrorist organization placed in the lands of Afghanistan and was protected by the Taliban regime. All these made Afghanistan a target country. Consequently on 7 October 2001 with a military operation Taliban regime was destroyed. This was a start of a new era for Afghanistan (1).

After September 11 happened Turkey directly announced its unity with the American people and its position against global terrorism. This was not the first cooperation that Turkey made with the USA for providing stability in the region. In 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; Turkey shook hands with Washington and supported its effort to restructure peace and security in the West Asia and its fight against Communism. On November 2 2001, Turkish Special Forces are sent to Afghanistan to assist American troops and give technical assistance to the Northern Alliance. One opinion suggests that Turkey played its biggest role in Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban regime. “Since that time Turks have maintained a contingent of 825 troops in Afghanistan and have twice led the NATO International Security Assistance Force there” (2).

According to news, in the palace of Afghanistan Head of the State and in all the important points of Kabul; Afghan soldiers are receiving education from Turkish soldiers, they dress like Turkish soldiers, they walk like Turkish soldiers and they sing their national anthems in their own language as “I Am Soldier (Men Askerem).” According to the news report, while in all of the military camps Afghan soldiers are free to grow beard or having long hair; however in Gazi Camp, Afghans sit on barbers’ seat to become like Turkish soldiers whom they trust into. In other camps Afghan soldiers are educated in Russian style. Also Afghan soldiers carry both Turkish and Afghan flag badges (3). Turkey took over International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) Kabul command and now gives education to Afghan soldiers. The impact of the close relationship between two countries is reflected like this.

An Overview of Turkish-Afghan Relations on Socio-cultural Context
Generally it is said that “Turkey is Afghanistan’s closest neighbor without common borders” (4). Some theories interlink the close relations between two countries to this feature. However the geographical conditions are not enough to explain the strong bonds. There are two opinions which compose the fundamentals of Turkish-Afghan relations. It is said in Afghanistan “no Afghan was ever killed by a Turkish bullet” and “no Afghan trained by Turks has ever betrayed his country” (5).


Basically the base of good relations between Turkey and Afghanistan are dependent on three factors (6): Firstly, two countries do not share a common border. Thereby they do not experience and conflicts between over their borders. Second factor is that, Turkey’s ambitions over Afghanistan did never carry an imperial or colonial viewpoint. Turkey thrust its hand out to Afghanistan that had give long fights against the Russian and British empires after its independence. During its process of modernization Turkey treated Afghanistan as they are at the same level. The third factor is religion which is shared by the two nations, namely Islam.

Since 1920s Turkey enjoyed its prestige in Afghanistan. Both countries established education and cultural exchange programs. Inside Afghanistan Turkish schools were established. Furthermore Turkish army officers assisted or even commanded the training of Afghan military members. The foreign relations of Afghanistan have changed so much politically, socially and economically. Today the relations between the two countries go beyond giving military education. In this respect it is noteworthy that this article handles the developments in the relationship between Afghanistan and Turkey in historical context. 

The Developments in Afghanistan and Turkish-Afghan Relations

The Period between 1919 – 1979
It is a fact that almost 12 percent of the Afghanistan population, which is 25 million overall, is ethnic Turkic. Despite the common ethnic origin, the historical ties also keep these two nations close together.  Historically Afghanistan was the second country that recognized the very young Turkish Republic after the Soviet Union. In the period of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Afghan King Amanullah, the relations between the two countries became stronger. Because Amanullah was innovative like Atatürk and he was eager to follow the path of secular Turkish Republic.

The first treaty between the young Turkish Republic and Afghanistan was signed on 1 March 1921 in Moscow. According to this treaty, Turkey was recognizing the independency of Afghanistan. Moreover if one side would be under attack, other side would also consider itself was treated in the same negative way. In terms of this treaty Turkey would send teachers and army officers to Afghanistan in the framework of cultural aid.

According to the 1 March 1921 treaty, Turkey would support Afghanistan not only for developing its army but also to reach modernization in education and administration (7). As a result, modernization process in Afghanistan developed faster with the help of the Turkish experts who were sent to Afghan lands. Also lots of Afghan youngsters were started to be sent to Europe and Turkey to be educated. Eventually at the end of this treaty the long lasting solidarity between the two nations turned into an official agreement.

In 1950s Turkey’s assistance for Afghanistan continued. However Afghanistan turned a deaf ear to Turkey’s warnings about the upcoming Soviet invasion. Coming to 1970s Afghan statesmen were agree that Communism could never have access to their lands because there is neither labor class nor suffering villagers in the country. Also bureaucrats of higher segments of society do not exist in Afghanistan. Besides, the statesmen relied on Afghan people’s extremist Islamic faithfulness. However Soviets found the opportunity to penetrate through Afghan borders when the USA rejected Afghanistan’s help requests. After the Soviet government changed from Stalin to Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev; policies of the country also changed from a repressive regime to soft expansionism based on charity. Afghanistan’s newly constructed close relations with Russia would drag the country to a Communist invasion that Turkey warned them about.

On 1954 Soviets and Afghanistan signed their very first economical agreement and made mutual visits to each other. On 1956 Afghan men were started to be sent to Russia to receive military education. After 1960, Soviet experts came to Kabul to work in military colleges. These developments were followed by other collaborations between two sides about education, road construction, irrigation, geological researches and agricultural studies (8). On the other hand, Turkey has always been undertaken humanitarian activities in Afghanistan and this has not changed depending on which country was controlling Afghanistan.

In regard to contemporary times, Turkey’s support for Afghanistan goes far beyond educational help. Turkish assistance has been effective and well targeted which focuses on health, education and social development. Since years Turkey has been an active player in this Central Asian country. Today Ankara is looking for an opportunity to become more active in the region; in this respect Afghanistan is a decent partner. Afghan people’s positive attitude towards Turkey cannot be ignored. Considering all the common history, Turkey has never seen as a threat by the Afghan people unlike any other nations. Actually Turks do not use their Muslim card, but the Afghans do. This makes Turks even more welcome than most countries at the moment (9).

Afghanistan and Turkey do not have common borders. This might be one of the reasons for the good relations between the two countries. They are way too far away to have tense agendas about each other. This can only be one of the reasons that why Turkey is always welcome in Afghanistan. However, to have a more clear idea, the historical background of the countries should be investigated deeper.

Turkey is growing up to be a potential key player in the restoration of Afghanistan’s future. Turkey has participated in the ISAF in 2001. It took the command of ISAF II in June 2002 – February 2003 and ISAF VII in February-August 2005. Both Britain and the USA are enthusiastic about Turkey’s commandment in the ISAF to maintain Kabul’s security which was consigned by the UN Security Council. Britain and the USA’s eagerness caused from Turkey’s geostrategic importance and its close relations with Afghanistan. Besides being a member of NATO; Turkey is a secular and Muslim country and it is seen as a bridge that bonds the West and the East together.

Every political actor should respect for Afghanistan’s political choices. However, Turkey’s role as a political and economic actor should not be ignored. It is a fact that, a secular and Muslim Turkey with developing democratic governance and economy will be the right example for this country. In this sense, Turkey can teach Afghans to stand on their own feet. Turkey assisted Afghanistan to participate in world affairs when it was a newly founded state in 1920s. Today this can happen once again. Turkey, as a NATO member, a soft power user and historical friend to Afghanistan, can make a dramatic change in the region.

Distributing food aid would not be enough to achieve influential results in the region. The secret of Turkey is winning hearts and minds by understanding the local norms, respect for differences and trying to construct close relations on common values. Turkish soft power is effective in the region. Both countries have strong historical ties and this makes it easier to construct an understanding between each other. This feature puts Turkey in a position that can bring peace to the region by creating solidarity between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In this respect, the countries and supranational entities like the EU and NATO should support Turkey in its struggle for regional stability.



1- http://www.turksam.org/tr/a273.html
2- Cook, S. and Randal-Sherwood, E (2006): Generating Momentum for a New Era in Us- Turkey Relations. Council on Foreign Relations. 15 June.
3- http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/dunya/14317589.asp

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