Earlier this month, Turkey hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a two-day visit designed to strengthen ties between Ankara and Kabul. The occasion marked the first official visit by an Afghan leader since 1928, when King Amanullah Khan became the first foreign head of state to visit the young Republic of Turkey.
Like King Amanullah, Karzai came looking for military and social development assistance from a fellow Muslim country that has been successful in its modernization and secularization endeavors. And like King Amanullah, Karzai sees the success of his own reforms as hinging on Turkey.
As a Muslim and democratic country, Turkey can be a model for Afghanistan, Karzai said during his January 6-7 visit. "Turkey has never left Afghanistan alone," the Afghan leader stated. "We request the continuation of Turkey's contributions. Our government needs it in order to be successful."
Turkey is one of the major supporters of the post-Taliban reconstruction process in Afghanistan and, as Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer stated, is "determined to press ahead with its contributions to ensure long lasting stability and [to] restructure the country." One important step taken during Karzai's visit was the long-awaited signing of a protocol on the establishment of a Program Coordination Office of the Turkish International Cooperation Agency in Kabul. This agency is involved in coordinating Turkish financial assistance some $11.6 million -- to Afghanistan.
But the private sector is where Turkey's presence has been most keenly felt. Turkish firms are the largest private investors in Afghanistan. To date, the total value of projects undertaken by Turkish firms in Afghanistan is $1 billion, compared with $25 billion in the former Soviet Union and $60 billion worldwide, according to the Turkish Under-Secretariat of Foreign Trade.
The volume of Turkish investment is likely to rise further. Historical ties explain much of the interest, but there is also an economic rationale behind the Turks' growing presence. Turkish companies already have a substantial presence in the surrounding markets of Central Asia. In many non-energy sectors, Turkish companies are the leading investors in this region. Thus, for many Turkish entities, moving into Afghanistan simply meant an expansion of existing operations.
Turkish companies are playing a major role in rebuilding Afghanistan's war-ravaged infrastructure, mainly acting as subcontractors to US firms in large projects financed by the United States and World Bank, including the reconstruction of the Kabul-Kandahar-Herat highway. Turkish contractors want to do more in Afghanistan and have pressed Karzai to simplify taxation policies and to arrange for the government to accept guarantee letters issued by Turkish banks.
A recent survey published by the Turkish-Afghan Business Council forecasts that Turkey's trade with Afghanistan will accelerate along with the growth in investments and contracting services. "I want Turkish companies to come to Afghanistan to make money" said Karzai, at a meeting in Istanbul organized by the Turkish-Afghan Business Council. "If you make money, it would mean that Afghans are making money, too."
Turkey's involvement in post-Taliban Afghanistan is not limited to commercial activity. The Turkish military has played a leading role in re-establishing the Afghan National Army, and has twice led the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF); first between June 2002 and February 2003 and then between February and November 2005. During his meeting with Karzai, President Sezer announced that Turkey will operate a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan and establish a joint headquarters with France and Italy to provide for the security of Kabul, where 800 new Turkish troops will be deployed.
A former Turkish foreign minister, Hikmet Cetin, serves as NATO's Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan. Under Cetin's watch, Afghanistan managed to hold peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections, two crucial steps in the country's democratic transition. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The Afghan government is reportedly pressing for Cetin's term, which ends in February, to be extended.
Altay Atli is a research associate at the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey. He graduated from Bosphorus University in Istanbul and Deakin University in Melbourne. He has published articles on East Asia and the former Soviet Union in several daily newspapers and web portals. His e-mail: [email protected].