Excerpts from an August 2 feature in Al Jazeera by Zahid Shahab Ahmed and Abdul Basit.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes no secret of his desire to increase Turkey’s clout in the Muslim world. Under his rule, Turkey significantly increased its influence in Muslim South Asia through media and educational projects….
Moreover, in recent years, Ankara made various foreign policy moves aimed at sidelining Saudi Arabia and positioning Turkey as the new leader of the Sunni Muslim world. It actively participated in regional conflicts, such as the Syrian war, against Saudi Arabia and its allies, and has been vocal in its criticism of Riyadh on various issues, from the Qatar blockade to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. Turkish efforts to maintain a continued presence in post-US Afghanistan by becoming the gatekeeper of the Kabul airport are in part an extension of these geopolitical ambitions. By insisting on assuming a major role in post-US Afghanistan, Erdogan wants not only to challenge Saudi Arabia’s leadership of the Sunni-Muslim world but also demonstrate Turkey’s soft power capabilities to the wider international community.
Maintaining an active role in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal would also help Turkey achieve its ambitions of increasing its importance within NATO and repairing its strained relationship with the US.
By volunteering to provide security to the Kabul airport and thus ensuring that NATO maintains a presence in the country after the US’s exit, Turkey is hoping to ameliorate its relations with Washington.