After Ankara

Published October 18, 2015
The writer is a freelance journalist and educator.
The writer is a freelance journalist and educator.

TURKEY has been left reeling after two bombs ripped through a peace rally in Ankara killing at least 105 people and leaving more than 200 injured. As the country mourned yet another bloody attack on its fragile democracy, offers of help arrived from its allies, including one from army chief Gen Raheel Sharif.

The two friendly nations of Pakistan and Turkey are dogged by similar challenges, though of course, their socio-political and historical contexts differ. But failing to address the discontent of their ethnic minorities, disastrous experiments with Muslim nationalism, double-dealing with militant outfits in the hope of achieving regional dominance and stretching the definition of terrorism for their own political ends are some of the unenviable traits that feature on the résumés of both countries. Whatever the nature of this alliance, the possibility that each country will reinforce the authoritarian traits of the other should raise concerns among the citizens of both states.

As their domestic situations become increasingly volatile, both countries are panicking about being sidelined. Turkey is increasingly concerned over threats to its territorial integrity after a ceasefire with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party collapsed in July and the United States started withdrawing the Patriot missile system along its border with Syria this month. Pakistan too worries about its regional dominance once the US pulls out of Afghanistan.

Pakistan and Turkey are dogged by similar challenges.

Though specific details regarding the nature of help Turkey requires from Pakistan have not been made available yet, it is understood that Turkey will seek material support as well as Pakistan’s expertise in dealing with the Taliban and the Baloch separatist insurgency.

Securing Balochistan from religiously-motivated militants and political insurgents has been vital for the fruition of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor deal (which in itself is not something to be taken for granted), and many suspect that Pakistan has used the popularity of Operation Zarb-i-Azb to further shroud the details of an opaque and questionable crackdown on Baloch political activists.

Concerns over curfews, collective punishment, extrajudicial and forced disappearances have fallen on deaf ears in an increasingly nationalist Pakistan, whilst the state has cleared the political arena to implement its unsentimental economic policies.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party derives its electoral strength from its promise of economic development. With predictions rife about an economic downturn ahead, it has no other option but to micro-target voters on a security-first, nationalist platform. This has resulted in the re-emergence of paramilitary forces like Osmanlı Ocakları, who are associated with the Turkish government in all sorts of unsavoury ways. Blind support for such unsustainable ‘development’ is bound to sideline ‘justice’, no matter where one is situated.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld the terror conviction of governor Salmaan Taseer’s murderer Mumtaz Qadri. This conviction has been praised by many, but little attention is paid to the former residents of the demolished I-11 katchi abadi, who are under trial in an anti-terrorism court. The line between political resistance and ideological terrorism is a question that Pakistan evades and actively complicates because doing so gives it the opportunity to practise its own brand of extremism against dissidents.

Similarly, Turkey has played with murky security policies that blur the line between terrorists and activists. It has launched airstrikes against the dissident Kurds, who happen to be fighting the Islamic State group along the same frontier. Journalists have been threatened by the secret police, and religiously motivated-nationalist paramilitary groups fostered by the state have practised political intimidation without any fear of a judicial crackdown.

The government’s response to the worsening security situation in the country has left the elections in a precarious position. In an interview with the Hurriyet newspaper, the head of the OSCE’s election observer mission, Ambassador Geert-Hinrich Ahrens said that deteriorating security conditions and attacks on political parties and on media freedom “do not make for an ideal situation” in the run-up to the upcoming general election: “One of the conditions for democratic elections is that all those who have the right to vote can exercise this right without the threat of violence or any other pressure.”

This is an important fact that nationalistic elements in Pakistan must be besieged with when they brush off concerns regarding Baloch representation. The freedom to vote must not be confused with the freedom to choose. And though it might make some of us feel more free and safer, given the policies of informal intimidation and collective punishment, as well as the loose definitions of terrorism that the two states employ in order to create internal divisions, this alliance will perhaps prove to be detrimental for whatever semblance of democracy survives in the two troubled countries.

The writer is a freelance journalist and educator.

Twitter: @FarhadMirza01

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2015

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