Spearhead Analysis – 18.07.2016
Troubled by IS (Islamic State) and Kurd separatist instigated violence with a segment of its population resenting state sponsored religiosity and autocratic actions against the media and dissenting voices, Turkey has just faced down a coup attempt by a faction of its armed forces. While there are negative perceptions about his style of governance and foreign relations that have made more enemies than friends the fact is that under President Tayyap Erdogan Turkey’s economy has improved vastly and per capita income is higher than ever before, tourism is booming in spite of terrorist acts and Turkey has become the key country for the West in the fight against the IS and for control of the flood of immigrants into Europe. There is no doubt that President Erdogan is committed to democracy but he favors centralized control to avert unrest, establish civilian supremacy and move the country forward according to his vision of Turkey’s future. Turkey’s armed forces that have an interventionist track record were for years the fierce guardians of Kemal Ataturks secular culture. However with conscription and recruitment from across the country the armed forces could not have been immune to the trends in society or oblivious of its impact within their ranks. The question that will long be debated is whether the coup was driven by a clash of ideologies or whether it was a response to perceived governance failures. It may have been a bit of both as the two could be seen as connected.
Documents obtained by media channels indicate that the coup was planned and that specific actions to be taken had been identified and a post- coup governance structure created. Its scale can be gauged from the fact that the coup makers had access to planes, tanks, ammunition vehicles and troops. The planning must have taken considerable work over a period of time, and it has been reported that ‘WhatsApp’ was used extensively by creating some sort of “Save Turkey” group. The clear conclusion is that there was a massive command, control and intelligence failure at the armed forces and state level. That the coup failed is because there were serious flaws in implementation and key actions like taking the President into custody, cutting communications and controlling media failed. At the conceptual level the political response was not correctly assessed and public support for democracy and President Erdogan was not understood. The power of social media was ignored. The President evaded arrest by changing his known location and used the social media to ask the people to confront and defeat the coup makers knowing full well that the center of gravity resided in the people and not in the armed forces. By not using the segment of the army loyal to the state against the faction that had staged the coup he saved the institution of the military from infighting and disintegration. He relied on the people, the police and civilian agencies. So the coup that started with roaring jets and racing tanks subsided with a whimper with the military personnel publicly humiliated and castigated. Such events invariably diminish the country and its institutions therefore the effort now will be to restore the country’s image, and the political institution that came together against this attack on democracy is well poised to do this.
The cost has been high. More than 160 people killed, more than a thousand injured and at last count more than six thousand from the military, the judiciary and other institutions under arrest. Those arrested from the military include generals and admirals. Turkey-US relations are under strain as President Erdogan has identified Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania (US) based head of a religious foundation as the instigator of the coup and demanded his extradition to Turkey. The US also uses a Turkish air base for operations against IS. Turkey also needs to mend relations with its neighbors as well as Russia and the EU that it aspires to join as a member. Turkey is also part of NATO. It seems that there will be a major reset of Turkey’s external relations. The US has cautioned against overstepping bounds in post-coup actions sensing calls for executions after restoration of the death penalty. President Erdogan has taken all the right decisions so far and his participation in the funerals with complete disregard for his security has brought him closer to the people who are celebrating their victory and support for him in public squares. Action against the coup makers will have to be tempered with considerations of long term consequences and institutional morale — already the armed forces stand humiliated. There have been expressions of praise from the Prime Minister for the majority of the armed forces that remained loyal. The indications are that while President will seek to consolidate his power, his actions will be fully considered so that there are no witch hunts or revenge oriented actions. Turkey has saved itself. It will emerge stronger and more confident. For Pakistan this is good news because the Turkish people are very close to Pakistani hearts.
The major lesson from this episode is that in a democratic dispensation perceptions are important and governance is critically important. The people matter the most.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)