Can Turkish Negotiations With PKK End Terror?

Article Summary
Talks between the Turkish government and Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the PKK, are positive, but Turks should be weary of landmines along the road to peace, writes Sedat Laciner.

Easy solutions to big questions only exist in fairy tales and ideologies. Solutions to terrorism and the Kurdish separatist issue won’t be easy. They require patience and a lot of effort.

True, the Ocalan-National Intelligence Organization dialogue is useful. A new process is underway. But instead of resolving any single question, all we have to show are the bitter experiences of past failures. Although the list of landmines along the way is long, we can narrow them down to four basic risks in these negotiations.

The first risk is Ocalan himself. Although some would like to compare him to Mandela or Gandhi, Ocalan is neither a pacifist nor someone looking for political solutions. His commitment to guns and terror has not changed even during the 14 years he has spent in prison. If you look at his communications with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party you will see that he still believes in terror. The difference is that he is a utilitarian — even an opportunist — who can do anything when he has to. His ability to lower his profile until he gets his way is what has kept him alive. In that context, we are lucky he is in prison. Today he is 63 years old. If he spends another 14 years in prison, he won’t be able to do much at 77 or 78. Therefore, to get him out of Imrali Prison will be the focus of the Kurdish movement.

The second major risk is the PKK. The organization is not courageous enough to defy Ocalan. The image of Ocalan keeps the organization together and prevents it from crumbling. Moreover, that image provides the PKK with a support base. That is how they collect money and recruit militants. But Ocalan’s priorities are different from the PKK’s. At some point in the negotiations, the ties between the organization and Ocalan could rupture, allowing the hawks to sabotage the process.

The third major risk is the PKK’s international connections. Only a few days ago, two militants killed were of Iranian origin. The proportion of Syrian and Iranian-origin militants has gone up substantially. Indeed, not just their numbers have increased, but their influence in the movement has grown as well. We have to think hard to understand how Iran, Syria and even Iraq will react to the process. We have to carefully calculate the positions of Israel, Russia, the US and Europe. The PKK is no longer a Turkish organization but an international one, and Ocalan’s international connections have shrunk to almost nil.

Even if all these risks can be avoided, the disintegration of the PKK into many mini-PKKs could make the situation worse instead of ending it. These mini-organizations are not likely to appeal to large constituencies, but they could be deadly enough to drag Turkey into a new Kurdish terror wave.

Don’t think that I am pessimistic or that I don’t support the negotiations. To the contrary; I am listing these risks not to block the negotiations but to encourage a more prudent approach to them.

What is most important is for Turkey to step up its security measures as if there were no negotiations. These measures, particularly for border security, must be completed as soon as possible. The narcotics trade and smuggling along the border should never be tolerated. If not, these two major resources will continue to finance terror and other crimes. Finally, the harmony recently achieved between security forces should be reinforced and continued. Even if an accord is reached with the PKK and the organization gets rid of all its weapons, a Turkey that shows weakness in any of these fields would be inviting disaster. The past is full of examples.

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Found in: turkish kurds, pkk, ocalan
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