The New Year’s-eve attack on an Istanbul nightclub that killed at least 39 people, mostly foreigners including two Indians, is yet another reminder of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Turkey. It comes days after the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was shot dead in Ankara by a lone gunman. In 2016, there were dozens of violent incidents, both by the Islamic State and Kurdish rebels, which have raised questions about the government’s ability to provide even basic public security.
THE ATTACKS HAVE ALSO BADLY HIT THE TOURISM ECONOMY
The attacks have also badly hit the tourism economy, which makes a sizeable contribution to Turkey’s GDP. The Istanbul attacker, who the IS has called “a heroic soldier of the Caliphate”, has followed a similar pattern. He chose an upmarket nightclub in the western part of Istanbul where foreign tourists had gathered to welcome the New Year. But why is Turkey being repeatedly targeted? Or, how has the country, till a few years ago politically stable with a booming economy, descended into instability and chaos? In part, it is a blowback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Syria policy, which turned out to be a monumental failure.
LIKE MANY OF THIS WESTERN ALLIES MR ERDOGAN …
Like many of his Western allies, Mr. Erdogan also initially thought that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was about to fall, and offered help to the anti-regime rebels. Ankara also inadvertently helped the rise of the IS by allowing jihadists to cross into Syria via the Turkish border. By the time the government realised its folly and started attacking the IS, the group had grown into a real terror machine.
Mr. Erdogan’s decision to relaunch the war with Kurdish rebels was also linked to his policy debacle in Syria. When the rebels started building an autonomous Kurdistan in Syria in the wake of the government’s withdrawal from the border region and emerged as battlefield allies of the U.S. against the IS, Mr. Erdogan saw it as a long-term challenge to Turkey, given the long history of fighting between the Turkish state and the Kurdish militants. He abandoned a ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers Party, kicking off a new phase of the civil war. Mr. Erdogan is now in a tight spot. The country faces constant threats from the IS, a group that it once ignored. The civil war with Kurdish rebels, which Mr. Erdogan might have hoped would curtail the nationalist ambitions of the Kurdish minority, is growing out of control. Besides, Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies and the crackdown on dissent and opposition parties are deeply polarising the country. It is this fragility of the security architecture in Turkey that is frequently being exposed by the attackers