Turkey, Iran to work together against PKK/PJAK?
Although the two countries share common ground when it comes to Kurdish extremists, policymakers see good reason to keep Tehran at a distance.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 27/10/11
After a summer of nearly daily clashes between Turkish security forces and the PKK, Turkey and Iran have indicated they are ready to work together in fighting the terrorist group -- and its Iranian offshoot PJAK -- in northern Iraq.
Iraqi Kurdish security personnel investigate a hole in a house caused by Iranian shelling near Qandil this summer. [Reuters]
On Friday (October 21st) Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi in Ankara, with the threat from Kurdish militants high on their agenda. But it is not yet clear what actions will be taken, and whether these will include joint co-ordinated operations.
The two countries signed a border security agreement in 1999, pledging to exchange intelligence information and co-ordinate anti-insurgent actions along the Iran-Turkey border. But Ankara continues to harbor suspicions, as Iran has covertly supported the PKK in the past. The level of actual co-operation to date has waxed and waned.
Meanwhile, analysts and policymakers debate the wisdom of bringing Tehran into Turkey's anti-terrorism strategy.
Alaettin Parmaksiz, a retired major general and author of several books on PKK operations, says the two countries have fundamental differences.
"Turkey is a NATO [member] country," he told SES Türkiye. "Our systems for fighting terrorism are different than Iran's."
Turkey operates within the rules of democracy, whereas Iran isn't bound by the same rules of engagement, Parmaksiz said. "Iran is facing political and economic isolation in the international arena, therefore they are approaching us," he added.
Similarly, Caroline Glick, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy, says that Iranian military co-operation with Turkey lends the regime credibility.
"If it is participating in joint military operations with a NATO member, that can only be beneficial for Iran's international standing," she says, while pointing out that both countries have common interests in weakening Kurdish nationalist movements.
Veteran diplomat Murat Bilman, who headed the Strategic Research Department at the Turkish Foreign Ministry for years, says Turkey has long realised that it can't finish off the rebels alone, as the PKK has close co-ordination with PJAK and other terrorist groups.
"Regional co-operation is very important," he told SES Türkiye, "The link between PJAK and the PKK should be cut."
Gerald Robbins, a Turkey analyst at the Foreign Policy Institute in Washington, DC, asks if any safeguards will be placed on intelligence sharing. Failure to do so "can be a serious concern, considering Turkey's NATO membership and Iran's belligerence towards Israel", he said.
There are also broader regional rivalries that may limit Turkish-Iranian co-operation. Although Turkey and Iran have sought to improve relations -- especially through trade -- the two countries are at odds over Iraq, Syria and the Arab Spring countries, and have different agendas towards Israel and Palestine.
Ziya Meral, a London-based Turkish analyst on the Middle East, argues that Iran and Turkey have entered a strained phase in their relationship, largely due to Turkish feelings of being let down by the Iranians on the uranium enrichment deal and Ankara's decision to allow a NATO radar system to be installed in Turkey.
"Also, Iranian and Turkish policies towards Iraq are in contention with each other, so there can't be a partnership there beyond the PKK/PJAK issue," he told SES Türkiye.