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Is February 3rd good or bad?
I wonder whether anyone told President Obama to "Beware of the February 3rd". We cannot know the answer. If the two developments that happened on the third day of February 2009 are addressed in conjunction, the impacts reach even here in Turkey. The first development is that a bridge in Pakistan, Peshawar was blown up. All the traffic on the Khyber Pass was suspended for the third time in the last six months. Second development of the day was in Kirghizstan. President of Kirghizstan Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced that the Manas Air Base next to the Bishkek Airport, granted to the US was to be closed. There were problems between two countries arising from the lease contract. Thus, the issue of establishing an alternative supply chain for the NATO forces in Afghanistan became the core of the agenda. Let us see what sort of a picture appeared.
President Obama has not spent much time at the office. He is still trying to form his team. Besides, he is dealing with a trouble that the world has been encountering for the first time: the global economic crisis. No American President has tried to deal with a problem at this scale before. So much time was wasted in the past that it is impossible to solve the problem solely based on the measures introduced in the US. Yesterday, it was possible to solve the crisis by solely introducing measures in the US. However, tomorrow, as the virus further spreads in our system, it will be harder to discharge it. All of us will pay high costs for the delay. Though the joke of the week does not say so, this is the situation.
Now, while Obama is focused on the economy and while everybody is wondering "What will he do about the Israel-Palestine issue", this "February 3rd" problem appeared. A while ago, Obama pointed out that his priority will be the Afghanistan issue. He also announced that more soldiers will be transferred to Afghanistan. Currently, the US soldiers constitute the foundation of the NATO forces in the region. There are already 32.000 US soldiers in the region. The number is expected to reach 65.000 this year. Sending soldiers to a country also means establishing supply lines and providing logistics support. 80 percent of the needs of the foreign soldier troops still deployed in the region are provided through Pakistan. As the supply line passes through Pakistan, the historical Khyber Pass, the major connection point between Pakistan and Afghanistan gains importance. Therefore, the fact that the Khyber Pass is closed to the land traffic for the third time in six months implies that the doubts of the troops in the region about the logistics support have been intensified. Under these circumstances, search for an alternative supply line necessarily begins.
So, what is the situation? The sake of the Afghanistan operation is closely related to the health of the supply paths towards the troops there. Therefore, it will be wise to take a look at the map of the region: The logistics support provided through Pakistan has to pass through the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), which is governed autonomously by tribes since the British rule in the region. FATA covers the northeast Pakistan and lately is the target of intense terrorist attacks. Both Taliban and Al-Qaeda live around there. Such is life. Taliban fed and raised by Pakistan intelligence bureau against Afghanistan, is now active in Pakistan. How is that possible? It is possible because Taliban, unlike Al-Qaeda, is not an international terrorist movement but a local movement. It is a part of Pasthun nationalism. All of the FATA region as well as the South Afghanistan in fact constitute Pasthunistan. Pasthuns are living in that region. The border passing through is the "Durand line" the British had drawn randomly in the past. Just like the border between Turkey and Iran, it is not historical. That is why Afghans do not accept the "Durand line" as a border. An important aspect of the Pakistan-Afghanistan conflict is the border itself. The military operations centre around the FATA region in the recent period because of the Khyber Pass. This pass located at thousand meters height on the Safed Koh mountain on the south east of the Hindu Kush mountains, does not link only Afghanistan to Pakistan but also the Central Asia to the sea route. It is crucial for all types of supply chains, but recently is vital for NATO operations.
As the logistics facilities in the south get limited, naturally you immediately start to look around. This is why the second statement made at the same day is remarkably important. If you will find an alternative route for logistics from the north, the map points Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. However, these countries will gain importance only if the supplies are brought to the region. A supply line cannot be established without a logistics base. This was the function of the Manas Air Base. Therefore, the statement by Kirghizstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on February 3rd announcing the closure of the Manas Base is important. The statement eliminates the opportunity to establish a logistics base at the north.
So, are these two developments as serious to require a dramatic warning such as "Beware of the February 3rd"? I guess so. The search for an alternative route alters the balances for three countries: Iran, Russia and Turkey. Since December, "putting Russia into effect concerning the Afghanistan issue" turned into a significant search. If the US, because of the developments in February 3rd, will pursue a strategy to increase the number of common items regarding the policies about Russia, it means that the opportunities for Turkey will indirectly increase. The same is also valid for Iran. If the US will leave the disagreement attitude with respect to the policies towards Iran, this implies that the mobility of Turkey will expand. Therefore, it is possible to state the first point as follows: To the extent that the US policies oriented towards the region surrounding Turkey includes less "sticks" and more "carrots", the mobility of Turkey in the region will increase. The opposite is also true. The second point is obvious: The closure of the Manas Base will increase the importance of İncirlik. And the third point is: Caucasus has the potential to be the center of the world in the near future. Caucasus is quite important in the process of cooperation. The Caucasus initiation Honorable President of Turkey attempted is more important since the February 3rd. Fourth, the project for establishing the supply line of the Afghan operations may also determine the path the new Silk Road will follow. Therefore, it will be wise to be cautious.
Such is life. "February 3rd", which has created problems for the US has slightly opened new opportunity windows for Turkey. And this is the fifth point.
What did we state? We are in a period where foreign policy will determine the near future of the economy. We have to focus on the game without losing out temper. Making the "right" move "at the right time" has never been this important.
Kindly submitted for the information of the ones wondering about the IMF agreement.
This commentary was published in Referans daily on 14.02.2009