Last week, while participating at a conference on Afghanistan at Fort Hood, I met some U.S. officers who served in Turkey a bit over a decade ago. While they clearly loved their time in Turkey, they noted how many of their Turkish counterparts had quietly fled the army and Turkey itself over the past few years. Many disagree with the Islamism which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan, and fear his arbitrary justice, as well as the blind eye so many in Europe and our own Foggy Bottom who care little so long as the victims are soldiers.
The flight of old guard Turkish officers reminds me of the flight of Pakistani officers in the wake of the 1971 loss of East Pakistan/Bangladesh when Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who came to power in 1978, accelerated Islamization as a means to build an overarching Pakistani identity. Many high-ranking Pakistani veterans, uncomfortable with religious radicalization, fled Pakistan. Whereas the Turkish military, at least until a few years ago, served as the bulwark against Islamic radicalism in society, the Pakistani military—under which Pakistani intelligence falls—became the catalyst for radicalization. Several decades later, Pakistani is a state sponsor of terrorism in all but name.
Erdoǧan has made no secret of his desire to Islamize Turkey, and it is now clear that the country’s military is a shadow of its former self. Many of the generals who saw Turkey as a Western country or one that would honor the separation of mosque and state are now retired, in exile, or in prison. The few who remain are muzzled or Quislings. Most live in constant fear. Many of the new recruits and mid-rank officers are conservative Muslims if not Islamists. The Turkish intelligence service is also in the hands of political Islamists. While the State Department seldom criticizes Turkey’s role in the Middle East, many Kurds accuse Turkey of sponsoring outright Jihadist elements in Syria in an effort to counter secular ethnic nationalism among the Syrian Kurds. In a sense, Turkey is sponsoring Islamism abroad in the same way that Pakistan, fearing Pashtun nationalism, only allowed supply to groups in Afghanistan that made Islam their chief identity.
The parallels continue: While Zia ul Haq sponsored scores of madrasas to radicalize permanently Pakistan’s education system and, with time, its bureaucracy, Erdoǧan too now prioritizes the Imam Hatips, Turkey’s equivalent. The results will be felt in the decades to come. And while Zia used the state media to incite virulent anti-Western conspiracies and hatred, Erdoǧan seems intent to do the same thing as he consolidates control over the media and infuses it with anti-American and anti-Semitic poison.
How ironic it is that while the White House praises the “Turkish model,” Turkey itself seems intent on following the Pakistani model.