The Turkish economy is evincing a high growth rate; new entrepreneurs are knocking on the doors of distant countries, Turkish schools are blossoming in many parts of the world, and with them they are taking the Turkish language and culture as instruments of soft power.
However there are challenges that require the use of hard power within and without such as with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). and a Syria in the midst of civil strife. We have used military power in the first instance and talked of using it in the latter. However, use of military force requires additional input to produce positive results. First of all such interventions must not look like invasions, as in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan under US occupation.
What is learned from these examples constitutes one aspect of counterterrorism policies that are employed by states today. The other aspect is what is learned from the European experience, which relies more on soft power such as economic incentives, legal inclusion and political participation (i.e., Irish, Basque). Turkey vacillates between the two, going back and forth from one method to the other.
For example in dealing with the “Kurdish problem,” neither the number of civilian casualties that would be suffered nor how to distinguish between Kurdish civilians and armed militants was paid much attention. But seeing how counterproductive it was to target a whole people, stringent measures employed in the 1980s and 1990s to deal with the Kurdish issue were abandoned in the following decade. Today there are fewer casualties on both sides, but the violence continues and its potential to escalate has not diminished.
The stillborn Undersecretariat of Public Order and Security (which could not compete with the National Intelligence Organization [MIT] that is favored by the prime minister in matters of counterinsurgency) was created to develop amiable relations with the popular base of the PKK and move them away from supporting the use of violence as a tool for demanding rights. This method did not bear the expected fruit because people’s choices (acknowledgement of the Kurdish identity and localization of government) were never considered to be more important than the control of the people by the government. Such an approach does not go well with intra-state ethnic and religious conflicts because they are political in nature.
While targeted and limited (discriminate) violence is needed against armed insurgency, other methods are necessary too. Experience tells us that:
1: Personnel employed in counterinsurgency measures must be specially trained not only as agents of law enforcement representing the central authority but also as protective agents of the people that support the rebels for political ends. They must not be perceived as enemies or an invasion force.
2: The legitimacy problem of the government as a representative of all the citizens must be solved. Even the insurgents must feel that their collective identity is acknowledged and afforded equal status by the government.
3: Population groups who feel excluded and marginalized must be won by integrating them into the system so that they will not force their way in through violence.
4: Representatives and/or symbolic figures of the marginalized must be recruited to work with the central and local governments to develop schemes of inclusion, integration and development. Civic organizations in which they will take part must be encouraged to work with official institutions.
5: Ways and means of reconciliation must be developed to produce a shared culture of coexistence. Formal and political/civic education must be shaped to cater to this need.
6: Results must not be measured in terms of “terrorists/insurgents” eliminated or disabled but by diminishing support of the armed insurrection by local (ethnic, religious) groups. Mechanisms to measure and assess success must be developed in order to minimize time, energy and resource losses. A relatively reliable system of data collection for measuring method relevancy and impact accuracy must be developed.
With the Arab awakening we have entered a new stage of intra-state conflict with an inclination towards turning into inter-state conflict. The question is this: Can we intervene in other (neighboring) conflicts successfully without first ending ours (Kurdish problem) if we do not employ the above measures even at the intra-state level?