Sunday, 31 July 2016

Turkey Shoot in Turkey

2016 has been one of the bloodiest years so far in this decade. Extremism is spreading far and wide. What was typically considered a middle-east and south-east Asia problem, has effectively taken roots in Europe. And that unfortunately is here to stay – a harsh reality. On the positive note, it is fortunate that Europe has better gun control laws than US, else it would have been much worse to rein in the dissidents, given the current spate of lone wolf attacks across Europe. The Metropolitan Police Chief, UK, Sir Bernard Hogan Howe has clearly stated that it is not a matter of if, but rather when a terror attack may take place in UK. It is worrisome indeed.

But more interesting and seemingly out of context was the recent events in Turkey. The coup doesn’t really surprise me, though its failure does. Turkey is at a critical juncture –  militarily, politically and strategically. It has the second largest army by size in Europe and fairly modern and well trained. Being a NATO partner, it’s primary responsibility is to thwart any possible aggression by ISIS into Europe. But the dynamics of engagement are extremely complex.

A simple example of this complex equation is the dealing with the Kurds. The 3 main Kurdish groups based on their location –  the Turkish Kurds, Syrian Kurds and Iraqi Kurds. The below chart depicts the relationship they have with Turkey and vice-versa and how they are battling ISIS together – a multi-player war fighting each other.

On one hand, Turkey is at loggerheads with PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and YPG, while on the other, Turkey does support the Iraqi Kurds or the Peshmarga troops. One of the greatest dichotomy is how Turkey selectively allows arms and ammunition to pass on to the Iraqi Kurds while blocking the same for the PKK, obviously keeping its own national interests in mind. A weakened PKK and YPG is beneficial for Turkey. A country which is democratically ruled, is well allowed to make its policies – but unfortunately as is the case with all such outcomes, civil rights and liberties have been curtailed to rein in these dissidents.

From strategic perspective, not only Turkey is a NATO ally with ISIS at its borders, it acts as a buffer state to keep the menace of ISIS at bay. Its geostrategic location has been fully utilised by NATO troops to launch countless raids on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Turkey has also been well funded to stem the tide of refugees pouring into Europe. Recent talks are also underway to include Turkey in EU.

Now, it needs further analysis why the coup was orchestrated and it easily points to one key factor – Mr. Ergodan’s policies. It needs to be lauded here that Turkey is one of the few countries in the world that has majority Muslim population and has been able to remain secular in its outlook fundamentally and constitutionally. The President, Mr Ergodan, is seemingly popular, but there have been accusations for centralising the power and slowly eroding the secular outlook that Turkey enjoys.

Fundamentally, the Turkish Military and Judiciary believes themselves to be the guardians of ideals on which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the country. That is why, one has witnessed the dismissal of huge number of judges in the coup aftermath. There were four successful coup attempts in Turkey in the past which was able to remove the governments. Fifth resulted in a disastrous failure.

There have been finger pointing, mud-slinging and accusations at the various instigators involved both within and outside the country [Fethullah Gulen], but the question remains – why the coup failed and what were the objectives?

While the objectives of this coup were not clear, but the factors mentioned above, could easily provide some clarity as to why the coup was orchestrated. The major cause of failure can be attributed to one single fact – the interconnected world that we live in – internet and social media coupled with network centric lives that we are now used to played a critical role for coup failure. The coup plotters were not able to block all media communications. Mr. Ergodan was able to connect to the outside world through FaceTime and had effectively used social media to instigate common public to rise against the military to oppose them, within hours of attempt on his life, despite blocking state media channels. We were able to get live updates of the situation through Periscope views, twitter and even Facebook Live! It is the single biggest cause for failure according to me that has worked against the coup plotters. They did not envisage such a scenario despite trying to cut access to internet. Also, there was lack of total public support.

If the coup would have been successful, would it have led to a better Turkey? Maybe, but at what cost? Still countless lives would have been lost. Now that the coup was a failure, it has weakened the Turkish state further – vast number of senior military personnel have been dismissed leaving Turkey militarily weak. It will take Turkey decades to replace the losses. Mr. Ergodan, in all his rights will come down heavily on the dissidents and choke up opposition further while cementing his position. Death penalty may be re-instigated. Open discourse and debates will be frowned upon. Voice of democracy, in the name of democracy will be muffled. It is a sad and sorry state indeed.

In my book, “Game of Anarchy”, I argue on these points, how difficult it is to attempt a coup in this digital age and era. It is seemingly impossible to cut off all communication channels and ensure radio silence. Common man has a voice of his own and through digital interconnectedness can topple governments as Arab Spring demonstrated. In Turkey’s case, common man rose to the occasion to resist the coup. There were even live feeds that showed people beating up tank commanders, dragging them out from the tanks. This reminds me the picture of a lone individual standing up courageously against an oncoming tank in Tienanmen Square, China in 1989 – what a stark contrast!

In developed and developing countries today, the age of dictatorship is almost over. It still remains in the under-developed countries like DPR Korea, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, etc. But it will steadily decline as the world gets more interconnected and openly accepts the idea of liberty and equality.

In the book “Game of Anarchy”, there is one more angle that was touched upon – constitutional strength that is conferred upon the civilians vs. the army and whether army can remain apolitical when internal crises arise. As is the case with Indian Army, which has remained always apolitical vs. Pakistan military which has overthrown multiple governments over the past 70 yrs of independence. It was the strength and test of character of Indian Army where there was debate whether to involve the armed forces directly in combating the Maoist insurgencies that affects 13 states in India – the then Indian Army General cautioned that it is akin to engaging the army to fire at its own citizens; eventually only Indian Air Force was involved, and that too at a passive role. An army when called upon, it destroys everything in its path effectively – the very reason for its existence; and hence cannot be used to tackle civilian outcry everytime, except in certain dire circumstances. As someone commented, Army is a broad sword and not a scalpel.

In conclusion, this is not the last coup that we will see. The one in Turkey is a precursor to much more complex methods that will originate over a period of time that will topple unpopular governments when voice of dissidence is choked. The variables will change, so will be the methods. But this coup failure will stand out as one of the reminders and lessons to future coup plotters that even the best of the plots can and will fail if public support is missing and technological innovations aren’t factored in. The power is effectively at the hands of the people!

“Game of Anarchy” is available on Amazon:

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