The presidents of Turkey and Pakistan bandied about a proposal to open an Afghan Taliban diplomatic office in Ankara for pushing forward talks to end the war when they met in the Turkish capital Wednesday, April 13.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was all for the establishment of a Taliban interests office in the West and, even better, in the capital of a NATO member taking part in the Afghanistan war. So, too, was Turkish president Abdullah Gul. Ankara never says no to any opportunity for brokering an international conflict.
But for the plan to move forward, the two governments must agree on several thorny details, such as the Taliban' office's diplomatic status, its relations with governments outside Turkey and the personnel manning it.
It was not clear if Pakistan had referred the plan to the Afghan Taliban leadership, whether it was approved and, if so, if a list had been drawn up of diplomats to be posted in Turkey.
Furthermore, did Turkey, whose soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan under US Gen. David Petraeus, clear the proposal with him? Or did Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan perhaps raise it with President Barack Obama in their last telephone conversation on March 22, when Obama voiced appreciation for the key role Turkey played in obtaining the release of four New York Times journalists from Libyan custody?
Most of these questions have to be answered in the negative, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report. Therefore, the scheme is very much in the air and may never come down to earth.
Turkey aspires to role of all-purpose middleman
Turkey's approach to the war in Libya is just as elusive. Ankara started out by opposing Western and NATO military intervention against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. Then, on March 24, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu suddenly informed NATO that Ankara wanted to join the coalition fighting Qaddafi.
This duplicity provoked Libyan rebels into attacking the Turkish consulate set up in Benghazi when Ankara earlier recognized the Libyan Provisional National Council, removing its nameplates and demanding the lowering of the Turkish flag. The protesters declared Prime Minister Erdogan persona non grata and accused him of letting the Libyan people down.
This practice of ducking and dodging is part and parcel of the basic conception held by Erdogan and Davutoglu that Turkey's strength as a world power – and pretensions as Middle East Islamic superpower – derive from its anointed mission as super-mediator willing and able to broker any political, national or religious conflicts – especially disputes affecting the Muslim world.
They believe they can teach the Muslim masses to look to Ankara for a ready ear and provider of panaceas for their problems.
In its first three years from 2007-2010, policies based on this perception brought Turkey success – despite an initial setback from which a lesson was drawn: After failing to bring Israel and Syria to the negotiating table in 2008, Erdogan and Davutoglu decided they would be better off concentrating on Muslim issues. They accordingly reconfigured their policies, making them independent of the United States, on the one hand, and avowedly anti-Israeli on the other.
Shunted aside by major events after brief flowering
This diplomatic posture earned Turkey wide popularity in Arab countries and across the Muslim world. It also brought Ankara close to Tehran, Syria and the Lebanese Hizballah. It was vindicated by the acclaim won by the widely-televised clash aboard a Gaza-bound Turkish ship on May 31, 2010 between militants and Israel troops who boarded the vessel. Building on its boosted prestige, the Erdogan government made itself godfather of all the extremist Palestinian organizations the West refuses to recognize.
In this capacity, Turkey upgraded itself to lead-mediator between Washington and Tehran in their nuclear dispute.
But the diplomatic flowering fathered by Erdogan and Davutogul proved short lived, lasting no more than six months. Turkey discovered there was no room for its good offices in the truly major upheavals that began sweeping the region from mid-December 2010, when Tunisian unrest against Zine ben Ali first erupted. The rebels in the street had no time for Turkish mediators; all they wanted was the old regime to be gone forthwith without palaver.
Turkey's role in the Egyptian uprising against President Hosni Mubarak rated negligible-to-nil. As to Turkey's role as middleman between Washington and Tehran, the spread of uprisings through the Middle East and North Africa diverted world attention from Iran and its nuclear misdeeds.
Turkey's decision to drop its efforts as broker went unnoticed by anyone in the West or even in Israel.
Ankara's services are also unwanted in Beirut and Damascus, although Lebanon has been without a government for four months due to a hopeless political stalemate and the Syrian president Bashar Assad, Erdogan's friend of yesterday, is in desperate straits, beaten back step by step by spreading popular protests against his regime.
Turkey chooses Muslim Brotherhood as its new vehicle
Erdogan and Davutoglu, still refusing to relinquish their self-appointed diplomatic mission, have shifted ground to different arenas. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report, while wooing the Muslim Brotherhood to be their current negotiating vehicle, the two Turkish leaders are immersed in a secret bid to bridge the differences between national MB organizations in Arab lands and the authorities.
In Cairo, Erdogan and Davutoglu are trying to bring the Egyptian military junta close to the formerly repressed Muslim Brotherhood. In Amman, they are working on a formula for coexistence between the Brotherhood and King Abdullah II, and, in Damascus, the Turkish mediators believe that if an understanding can be brokered between President Assad and the Brotherhood, it would neutralize the Syrian opposition movement which is close to destabilizing the regime.
There is no doubt that if Ankara managed to bring the sprawling Muslim Brotherhood under its patronage in the Arab countries beset by uprisings it would gain a strong hand in the region and the Muslim world at large. The only difficulty is that this radical supranational movement has always managed to avoid submitting to the bidding or the auspices of any national government and is unlikely to do so now that its rating has shot up on the Middle East uprising exchange.
In any case, Iran has got there first.