As critics warned, America’s premature and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan has created a power vacuum that has allowed malign actors to step in and gain greater influence. Much of the speculation has centered around Russia and China, but other countries are trying to leverage their Islamist ideology as a conduit to the Taliban. Turkish regime critic Asli Aydıntaşbaş recently wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his increasingly close allies, Qatar and Pakistan, are seeking to be “Taliban-whisperers.”
She makes an astute and important observation. But there is a larger truth: These “leading patrons of political Islam,” as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies describes them, are reshaping the wider politics of the region, for the worse.
The embrace of the Taliban is just part of a larger problem, but it is illuminating. Last summer, as the Taliban was beginning to take control of Afghanistan, Erdoğan pushed to be allowed a hand in running Kabul Airport, a move supported by Pakistan and Qatar. Erdoğan claimed that ”The Taliban should be able to conduct talks with Turkey much easier because Turkey does not have any conflicting issues with their (the Taliban’s) beliefs.” These talks continued, and Turkey is pressing the international community for further engagement with the Taliban.
It is shocking that the head of a NATO member state would give this sort of diplomatic support to an illegitimate theocracy like the Taliban. More surprising is that he would then try to package this support as a gift to the U.S., as Turkish propaganda continually tries to do. But unfortunately, the U.S. may let Erdoğan get away with it.