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Afghanistan: Turkey, frustrated with the Taliban, only giving 'ad hoc' help at Kabul airport

Frustrated by the lack of diversity in the interim Afghan government, Ankara is in no rush to recognise it
A Taliban fighter stands guard as a Pakistan International Airlines plane, the first commercial international flight to land since the Taliban retook power last month, takes off from Kabul airport, 13 September 2021 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Turkey and the Taliban are still struggling to reach a final deal on securing and operating Kabul airport, with Ankara frustrated about the lack of diversity within the Taliban's interim Afghan government, two people familiar with the issue have told Middle East Eye.

“The new Taliban government has frustrated the western allies, including Ankara,” one of the sources said. “There isn’t a single inclusive individual within the cabinet.”

The person said Ankara was taking a wait-and-see approach, looking to give the Taliban some time to figure out the final form its government would take. 

“No one is going to be in a rush to recognise them,” the source added.

'The new Taliban government has frustrated the western allies, including Ankara. There isn’t a single inclusive individual within the cabinet'

- Source familiar with talks

Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu acknowledged that more than a dozen Turkish technicians had been in Kabul to help the Qataris operate the airport. MEE sources said they had been deployed there along with a small security team on 1 September.

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Cavusoglu also publicly called for the Taliban to include various ethnic groups and women as part of its cabinet. Yet the interim government announced by the group mainly consisted of senior Taliban commanders with hardline views.

The second person familiar with the issue said Turkey had been helping the operation at the airport on an “ad hoc and case-by-case” basis, even though there hasn't been any final deal on the issue.

"There isn't any deal on systematic and regular work [at the airport] yet," the person added.

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Turkey and Qatar have been thrashing out a deal with the Taliban to operate the airport since the Afghan group dramatically seized Kabul on 15 August amid the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years.

The draft deal revealed by MEE last month included provisions that would see Ankara recognising the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and providing security at Kabul airport through a private firm.

Additional members of the Turkish special forces, operating in plainclothes to secure Turkish technical staff, would also not leave the airport perimeter, according to the deal.

Even though parties still haven't reached a final deal, open-source data indicates that Turkish military planes have been transporting undisclosed cargo to Pakistan in the last few weeks, supposedly laying the groundwork for the Turkish operations needed for Afghanistan in the long term.

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