Posted by: hevallo | September 18, 2008

Turks ask "Why Can’t We Beat the PKK?"

As the Turkish government extend its military mandate and move to close down DTP, Turkish security analysts ask:

Why can’t we beat the PKK?
17 September, 2008 Zaman Newspaper.
(pictures added by Hevallo)

The civilian and military authorities have finally admitted that state policies so far have failed to prevent people from joining the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Recently Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the PKK now has roughly 6,000 militants in the mountains, a level of strength similar to what it had in the 1990s. Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ has on several occasions admitted that the state failed to counteract the PKK’s successful recruitment strategies.

Such acknowledgements are a slap in the face from a bitter reality: We have not been able to beat the PKK in the last 30 years of intense warfare and, if we continue to implement similar policies, we will never win this fight. However, we haven’t lost this war, either.

The war has taken up enormous amounts of economic resources in the last 30 years, claimed thousands of lives, significantly destabilized political conditions in the country and deeply affected everyday life in this country, but we can still argue that this war is neither won nor lost.

It is not lost because there is no winner yet. The PKK has not won, either. The question is: Why can’t we win this war? Several explanations can be offered. First, we can’t win this war because the security bureaucracy produces the same old hypocritical policies and deceives politicians about offering a solution to this problem.

The bureaucrats in the security bureaucracy are not encouraged to study this question from different perspectives. What is expected from them is that they do what they are told to do.

We have a striking example that we share often. In 1999 the National Security Council (MGK) sent a letter to the Turkish National Police Department asking its institutional opinion on whether television broadcasting in Kurdish would be a good policy to implement.

The deputy director of the police department assigned a junior officer to study the issue. The officer studied the case, asked units’ opinions about broadcasting in Kurdish, analyzed the literature on the subject and came up with the answer that broadcasting in Kurdish would be a good policy for counterterrorism.

However, the deputy director rejected this work and the officer’s suggestions, reassigning him to come up with something to support the contention that “Kurdish broadcasting would be a bad policy.”

The explanation the director gave for why he rejected the initial suggestion was because the military wanted it to be rejected. Given the fact that the country’s political parties have no policy agenda on the Kurdish question, a bureaucracy with this structure cannot produce effective policies to win the war.

Second, the way the PKK’s network in city centers and small towns is set up does not allow Turkish security agents to stop all PKK activities at the same time for a certain period. To clarify this point, one needs to examine when and under what conditions a terror network emerges, flourishes and becomes an influential political actor.

A terror network, regardless of its terror campaign, as a means to expand its influence over a certain political domain works with the principles of social movement organizations.

For a social movement organization to penetrate into a society there must be available political space. The organizations operate within this space to expand their influence over ordinary people and the political domain. Targeting political space Thus, counterterrorism strategies should target the political space that benefits terror networks.

However, it is not an easy task to transform the political space overnight. Furthermore, it is not up to state policies to transform politics. Almost all political actors operate within the opportunity space and every actor has their own agenda to derive benefits from the available space.

Thus, the transformation of the opportunity space takes time and there are multiple variables to be considered. In a given situation what the state agencies can do is to hinder the everyday activities of the terror network to slow it down and prevent it from penetrating into larger segments of society.

When it comes to the PKK networks, however, it is impossible to slow its everyday activities, which are organized by legal associations, youth organizations and political parties.

To further clarify the argument, the following example would help: If the police want to stop the activities of the Islamic Great East Raiders Front (İBDA-C), the police would raid the apartments and offices that the organization’s members use, preventing the İBDA-C from reorganizing for a while.

However, for the PKK there is no designated spot for security agencies to launch operations that would cause a delay in the PKK’s attempt to reorganize its base. If police launch an operation on the PKK’s activities in universities, they only delay the activities of that particular group, not the whole organization.

The other wings still operate and recruit new members into Kurdish nationalism and the PKK structure. Thus, it is not possible for security agencies to fight against the PKK with classic counterterrorism strategies. What needs to be done is to transform the opportunity space that helps the PKK expand its influence over Kurdish society.

However, as mentioned above, this takes time and is not an easy task. In addition, the PKK is an organization that adopts new circumstances quickly and transforms itself to operate in new opportunity spaces. Thus, in the short run, it is not possible for the state to offer a counterterrorism strategy to wipe out the PKK permanently.

At this stage what needs to be done is to admit that it will take time to remove the organization from Kurdish politics. Then counterterrorism strategies should be constructed to manage the PKK crisis, not to beat it. To implement an effective strategy to manage the PKK question, the state should inform the public about the question and its counterterrorism strategies.

It should work with the Kurdish communities to develop new organizations that challenge the PKK’s dominant position in Kurdish politics.

* Dr. Emre Uslu is an analyst working with the Washington-based think tank the Jamestown Foundation. Önder Aytaç is an associate professor at Gazi University’s department of communications and works with the Security Studies Institute in Ankara. 17.09.2008 Op-Ed Source: Zaman



  1. Because they don’t want to beat them.

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