Turkey's ‘Plan B’ if Kurdish Peace Process Fails

Emru Uslu argues that Turkey's latest round of talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) are unlikely to produce a peace deal, and speculates about Ankara's political calculations.

al-monitor Turkish-Kurdish women flash V for victory signs during a demonstration in support of Syrian Kurds, in the southeastern Turkish town of Nusaybin, near the Turkish-Syrian border, Jan. 26, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Sertac Kayar.

Topics covered

pkk, ocalan, kurds

Feb 7, 2013

Actress Aysen Gruda best captured the climate of optimism about a supposedly imminent peace, which the media has pumped. “If the state gives me an assignment, I am ready to go to the caves — with no fear at all — and persuade those people. They will listen to me even if I tell them fairy tales. I am ready to go to the Kandil Mountains and convince the [Kurdistan Workers' Party] (PKK),” she said. In a country where everyone has a story of bringing peace, Gruda is free to tell her own story, too. When it comes to telling stories, she is more sincere and talented than many others.

I no longer buy those stories. I will maintain my distrust until the day the PKK declares that it is pulling out of Turkish territory. Those who say that peace is near can't answer this question: What has changed since the 2011 Silvan attack that would make the PKK accept a peace deal? Why would the PKK agree to a peace process that will lead to its disarmament?

I believe that PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, quite skillful in brushing off the state, has emerged as the winner from all such “peace” initiatives. I believe that Ocalan will soon find a new pretext to step back. The PKK needs some fresh air, and Ocalan appears likely to gain from this process, and through the visits to him by members of parliament. Once those gains are secured and become the norm, the PKK will again play the “spoilsport.” Ocalan will again pretend to be stepping back, the clashes would erupt anew and we would be again left empty-handed.

I continue to use my right to distrust. Which state sources are spreading rumors that peace is near? Can't they what I see?

The state undoubtedly sees what I see. The state knows that the chance for peace is tiny. And that’s why they want us to believe in an unlikely peace: while telling us about their Plan A, they are in fact making calculations for Plan B.

Here is the state's Plan B: First, regardless of whether peace is achieved, we nourish that hope through the Imrali process. If we can capitalize on that hope and secure a conflict-free environment, we will save the next two years. Since those are election years, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) will not only win the elections, but will also overcome this troubled period by delaying the process. We can then focus our energy on issues such as Syria.

Second, if the PKK heeds the process and agrees to a “no clashes” compromise, the resulting atmosphere will suggest that the PKK also agrees to withdraw beyond Turkish borders. If nothing else, that idea would at least be infused within the PKK’s base of support. This could lead the PKK’s own base to apply pressure on the PKK to pull out. Making them receptive of such ideas is itself a gain. It would mean that the PKK base has, for the first time, discussed and nearly accepted a political discourse that didn't originate from the PKK.

Third, if the resulting political atmosphere leads Ocalan to order the PKK to move outside Turkish borders, that would be a big gain. If he fails to issue such instructions, his leadership will come into question. At least several Kurdish quarters would seriously question Ocalan’s leadership. This is a gain, too.

Fourth, if the PKK refuses to heed Ocalan’s appeal to withdraw, the cracks between Ocalan and the PKK would for the first time surface in an obvious manner. We would pit them against each other. This would result in a rift between the pro-Ocalan support base and the disobedient PKK leadership — also a gain.

Fifth, even if we fail in this process, the AKP will emerge stronger at a time when its regional influence is waning. All sins will rest on the PKK’s shoulders; the relation between the AKP and the Kurdish people will improve, while ties between the PKK and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) will suffer. In other words, even if the process fails, the AKP will be the political winner.

I believe this is roughly how the government and the AKP calculate the risk of this process, as they aim to at least cajole Ocalan and the PKK into making a choice. The sides will have to make a choice. If the choice bears fruit, the state and the AKP will be the winners. If it fails, the state and the AKP will be again the winners. The AKP will preserve its popular support in the south-east, and Ocalan and the PKK will confront each other.

Is anything wrong with this calculation? Its purpose may be benevolent, but the calculation itself is wrong. There is another side to it. My objections pertain to the missing component of the calculation. The question is: How will the PKK emerge from this process?

More than anything else, the failure to produce peace will destroy our hopes. This is a serious risk. And the PKK, meanwhile, has its own maneuvers. The state’s calculation may be to save the next two years — but the PKK’s calculation is based on the next 20 years. Even if the AKP and the state appear to be the winners in the short term, the PKK is likely to be the winner in the long run.

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