Having repeatedly come under terrorist attacks, Turkey was on high alert as revellers gathered at an upscale night-club in Istanbul to welcome the New Year.
Yet a lone gunman managed to sneak in and shoot down 39 people, several of them foreign tourists. Many jumped into the freezing waters of Bosphorus to save their lives. Taking advantage of the ensuing bedlam, the assailant managed to make good his escape. No one has claimed responsibility for the atrocity. During the last year, Turkey faced a string of terrorist attacks by the Kurdish separatists and the IS. Since Kurd fighters usually target police and military personnel and claim responsibility too, the latest brutality is believed to be the handiwork of the IS. Last June, suspected IS terrorists killed 41 people in a bomb and gun attack at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, and another 30 at a wedding party in Gaziantep.
This is a blowback from the civil war in neighbouring Syria – like Pakistan has been confronting from the war in Afghanistan. Turkey involved itself in the Syrian conflict on the side of the rebels, providing them with safe havens and help in other forms. At the initial stage, it had also let them establish, with Western backing, a government in exile.
No doubt, Turkey’s approach to the Syrian crisis has clearly illustrated its strategic imperatives and ambitions. The conflict, however, dragged on, fuelled by Western and regional powers, for nearly six years without handing victory to either side until the Russian intervention turned the tide in favour of the Syrian regime. Compelled by different factors, during the last few months the Erdogan government has been working alongside Russia to bring an end to the bloody conflict, angering extremists among its own population. Two weeks ago, an off-duty Turkish policeman killed the Russian Ambassador shouting that the murder was a payback for what Russia did in Aleppo.
With most of Syria under the government control and major powers having a common interest in defeating the IS, the focus is now going to be on this blood-thirsty, self-styled caliphate’s ouster from the Syrian and Iraqi territories. That will increase the danger of retaliatory terror attacks.
Even after the IS meets its imminent defeat, the widespread radicalisation the conflict has generated will continue to threaten the peace and security of peoples everywhere, especially in Turkey both because of its proximity to the source of trouble, and domestic unrest.
The Erdogan government needs to review its policy of wholesale purges of liberal elements that it undertook in the wake of the recent abortive coup attempt. A society at peace with itself can best deal with as grave a challenge as the IS cohorts pose to the lives of innocent people. -Business Recorder