ME­DIA WATCH Be­hind the cruel at­tack on Turkey

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS -

THE world is once again stunned and griev­ing over a bru­tal ter­ror­ist at­tack. This time it was in Turkey, where three sui­cide bombers killed at least 41 peo­ple and wounded more than 200 oth­ers at the in­ter­na­tional air­port in Is­tan­bul. The tim­ing on Tues­day was es­pe­cially cruel for a Mus­lim ma­jor­ity coun­try, com­ing dur­ing the 10 holi­est days of the holy month of Ra­mazan. The as­sault, for which Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties blamed the so­called Is­lamic State (ISIS), is the lat­est ev­i­dence of how the chaos in the Mid­dle East, in par­tic­u­lar the Syr­ian war, has metas­ta­sised, spilling over bor­ders and rat­tling coun­tries that are cru­cial to re­gional sta­bil­ity. Few are more im­por­tant than Turkey, a NATO ally and a strate­gic link with the West. The shar­ing of in­tel­li­gence be­tween Turkey and the West, al­ready close, will need to be made even closer.

Though Turkey has been at war with Kur­dish sep­a­ratist forces, this at­tack, ex­perts agree, was the work of the ISIS. The air­port sym­bol­ises everything the ter­ror­ist group de­tests, in­clud­ing mod­ern­iza­tion, in­ter­na­tional in­te­gra­tion and a sec­u­lar demo­cratic sys­tem. A string of at­tacks and ex­plo­sions over the last few years, some at­trib­uted to the ISIS and oth­ers to Kur­dish sep­a­ratists, has badly dam­aged tourism, an im­por­tant source of in­come in Turkey. Tues­day’s at­tack could cause a fur­ther de­cline that a frag­ile econ­omy can ill af­ford. That Turkey has be­come a tar­get is not a sur­prise. For too long, the gov­ern­ment in Ankara un­der­es­ti­mated the ISIS threat, even as it fo­cused on other groups in Syria try­ing to over­throw Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad.

Turk­ish of­fi­cials al­lowed great quan­ti­ties of arms and thou­sands of ex­trem­ist for­eign fight­ers to pass through its bor­der into Syria. Some of those fight­ers have found a home in Turkey and are likely to be a threat for some time to come. Mean­while, Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan has al­lowed a more rad­i­cal strain of Is­lam to flour­ish in Turkey. It wasn’t un­til last year, un­der Amer­i­can pres­sure, that Turkey be­gan car­ry­ing out airstrikes against ISIS tar­gets and al­low­ing Amer­i­can air­craft tar­get­ing the ter­ror­ist group to fly sor­ties out of Turkey. Turkey also has been more rig­or­ous in shut­ting down the Syr­ian bor­der. This has clearly an­gered the ISIS and made Turkey a more likely tar­get. Fur­ther, Amer­i­can of­fi­cials say that re­cent gains by the coali­tion fight­ing the ISIS has in­spired the ter­ror­ist group to move against soft tar­gets like shop­ping ar­eas and the air­port.

Over the last 18 months, the ISIS has lost nearly half the ter­ri­tory it once con­trolled in Iraq and 20 per­cent of the ter­ri­tory it held in Syria, the of­fi­cials say, while the group’s ac­cess to fi­nanc­ing and the num­ber of for­eign fight­ers en­ter­ing Syria have been re­duced. A ma­jor ef­fort now un­der­way to re­take the town of Man­bij in Syria could fur­ther re­strict the ISIS’ ac­cess to the Syr­ian-Turk­ish bor­der. Tues­day’s at­tack comes at a vul­ner­a­ble mo­ment for Mr. Er­do­gan. His au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­er­ship has dis­turbed NATO al­lies and he is jug­gling mul­ti­ple crises, in­clud­ing the flow of Syr­ian refugees into Turkey, as well as the war with the Kurds that he should have tried harder to con­tain. Af­ter alien­at­ing many coun­tries in the re­gion, he be­gan this week to make amends, in­clud­ing apol­o­giz­ing to Rus­sia for shoot­ing down a jet last year and re-es­tab­lish­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions with Is­rael af­ter a six-year hia­tus. The ISIS, of course, is not solely Mr. Er­do­gan’s prob­lem. The grow­ing threat to Turkey is only the lat­est rea­son for the United States and its part­ners to work more ur­gently to de­feat the group in Iraq and Syria, while seek­ing to end the civil war in Syria, which has not only brought dev­as­ta­tion to hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians, but pro­vided fer­tile ground for ex­trem­ism. — The New York Times

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