ANKARA: Turkey announced on Friday that it will host high-level talks on the Afghanistan peace process in April.
Confirming earlier reports about US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s call for a meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu revealed that next month’s discussions would take place in Istanbul.
A special envoy for Afghanistan will also be appointed by Turkey, suggesting that Ankara would be assuming a mediation role in the process.
It was unclear if Afghan President Ashraf Ghani or his “authoritative designees” would be attending the meeting.
Turkey has contributed to international efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, assumed the leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) under NATO by deploying thousands of troops, provided training for the Afghan National Army and Afghanistan’s civilian police force, and established ties with several Afghan factions.
In November 2003, Turkish politician Hikmet Cetin was appointed as NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan and was based in Kabul for his three-year stint.
Afghanistan has been one of the unique areas where Turkish and American policies have generally been aligned. Turkey has a non-combatant force in Afghanistan under the NATO-led coalition.
Experts have pointed out that the US preferred engaging Turkey with the Afghan peace process due to its historical links in Afghanistan and its relatively positive image among Afghans.
“It makes good sense for the US to ask Turkey to host this mediation event in Turkey for a couple of reasons,” Sinan Ulgen, executive chairman of Istanbul-based think tank Edam and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, told Arab News.
“Traditionally, Turkey has been one of the countries that have had an engagement in Afghanistan under the NATO umbrella. It has supported sizeable efforts in state-building. But even before the NATO intervention, Turkey has had a historical relationship with Afghanistan with a lot of Turkish humanitarian aid being targeted to the country,” he said.
The meeting is likely to contribute positively to the strained relations between Ankara and Washington and may create a new layer of trust and an avenue for cooperation under American President Joe Biden’s administration.
“This effort will provide a degree of positivity for the bilateral relationship,” Ulgen added.
However, experts say one meeting is unlikely to produce a magical formula to get US-Turkey relations back on track once and for all. Instead, they have noted that Turkey and the US might compartmentalize their disagreements in the eastern Mediterranean and Syria and cooperate at the same time in Afghanistan through an institutional level.
Whatever happens, Ulgen said there were still other big issues that needed to be addressed in the bilateral relationship such as the US’ partnership with the Syrian Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).
In tandem, the UN was also expected to convene another meeting of foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the US to discuss a united approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.
The US was still considering its decision on the full withdrawal of its forces by May 1, as its fulfillment of the commitment was tied to a reduction of violence by the Taliban and the group stopping Al-Qaeda from raising funds or recruiting militants in Afghanistan.