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COMMENT: Will the real Turkish model please stand up?

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  • COMMENT: Will the real Turkish model please stand up?

    Daily Times, Pakistan
    July 9 2005

    COMMENT: Will the real Turkish model please stand up?

    - William B Milam

    What I see in Turkey is a democratically elected civilian
    government, moderately Islamic, running the show. Are the generals
    back there, behind-the-scenes, pulling the strings? I don't see any
    sign of that

    I remember hearing much, and reading some, about the `Turkish model'
    while I resided in Pakistan from mid-1998 to mid-2001. I always took
    this as part of the argument supporting the involvement of the
    Pakistani military in the politics of Pakistan. It was used most
    often when advocating a National Security Council in which, it was
    argued, the military should have veto power over policy decisions
    affecting `national security,' however that was defined.

    After doing some coincidental reading on Turkey, however, I find that
    there are several Turkish models which might be relevant to Pakistan.
    I wonder which Turkish model its proponents have in mind.

    There is, for example, the nation-building model that Turkey's
    founding father, Kemal Ataturk, used to make a polyglot country of
    many ethnic minorities into a nation. It began with the concept of
    `Turkishness'. Ethnic identities were supposed to be cast aside and
    citizens of the state were to be considered Turks. A national history
    was developed and taught in all the schools that helped define `Turk'

    There are three points to emphasise in this regard. First, Ataturk's
    determination to build a national identity in Turkey sprang from the
    times the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire had lived through as the
    empire slowly collapsed in the 19th century and the early years of
    the 20th century. They were traumatised by the continuing and growing
    losses of territory as well as the interference in the Empire because
    its religious minorities increasingly looked to outsiders for
    protection. In other words, national identity became an imperative
    because of the external threat.

    This is not to ignore that the Empire's treatment of religious
    minorities deviated progressively further from the ideals of Islam as
    the pressures upon it intensified. This is exemplified by the
    slaughter of Armenians between 1915 and 1919.
    The external threat
    peaked when the western powers attempted to divide Anatolia, the
    Turkish core of the empire, after the First World War.

    A second point is that most citizens of the new country accepted with
    alacrity this new Turkish identity. The Muslim minorities
    -descendents of immigrants from all over the former Empire who had
    retreated to the Anatolian core as the empire's former conquests were
    retaken - accepted the Turkish national identity readily for the same
    reason that their leaders pushed the concept - to avoid being divided
    up by hostile outside powers.

    The final point here is that Ataturk and the governments of Turkey's
    early years emphasised education for forming a national identity. Not
    only did the children learn the national history that Turkey
    developed, but they learned a common language and common Turkish
    characteristics, habits, and mindset.

    A common religion was not among the factors chosen by Ataturk and his
    colleagues in the 1920s to use as a binding thread of Turkish
    nationality. They were, of course, aiming at a secular state, and
    believed that Islam and modern development were, if not incompatible,
    at least not enthusiastic partners.

    This does not seem like the Turkish model that any Pakistani
    government, pre- or post-1971, has ever aspired to. Certainly, the
    use of education - and I mean universal education - as a way to
    create and strengthen national identity does not seem to have
    occurred to any Pakistani government since 1947. Otherwise national
    literacy would not still be around only 50 percent of the population.
    And while Pakistani governments have often been driven by the
    perception of external threat to search for a national identity, they
    have, as often as not, looked for Islam to provide the glue. That
    this has not worked is evident from the 1971 debacle.

    Using religion as the core of national identity can be perniciously
    counterproductive in a country of many minorities. While Turkey has
    tried to make its national identity an inclusive one, Pakistan has
    become less inclusive and tolerant as Islamism gained strength in the
    past 25-30 years. This not only involves excluding other religions
    from the national identity definition, but even Muslim minorities -
    those not following the script laid out by the Islamists as the only
    path to virtue. Minorities, even Muslim minorities, have less and
    less reason to want to be part of a Pakistani identity.

    Now, before the e-mails start which accuse me of historical amnesia,
    I know - in fact everybody knows - that the Kurds were not happy
    campers in the new national identity that Ataturk pushed on his
    countrymen and women. The Kurds were there before the Turks and
    resented being designated as Turks. This has led to separatist
    sentiment and rebellion for several decades, usually put down by
    force costing many lives.

    Using force to settle political problems with minorities is also a
    Turkish model that Pakistan has occasionally followed in the past,
    but perhaps both countries have learned their lesson. The Musharraf
    government seems to have concluded that a political solution is the
    only viable one in Balochistan; the Erdogan government in Turkey is
    making moves to reach out to Kurds and eliminate some of the major
    reasons for their bitterness, including legalising use of the Kurdish
    language and releasing hundreds of Kurdish nationalists from jail.

    This is a model that both governments should follow assiduously, and
    it involves learning to work with minorities to accommodate their
    needs, not just steamroll over them because they are in the minority.

    On reflection, I guess that the Turkish model that I heard so much
    about in Pakistan is the one I mentioned at the beginning of this
    piece - a model of government that allows the military ultimate
    authority on policy. But is that really the case in Turkey? I leave
    it to the experts, which I am definitely not, to answer that

    But what I see in Turkey is a democratically elected civilian
    government, moderately Islamic, running the show. Are the generals
    back there, behind-the-scenes, pulling the strings? I don't see any
    sign of that, but perhaps they are.

    Or is the real Turkish model one in which the military is receding
    (or has receded) from a political role and the civilian politicians
    are (or are becoming) really in charge. How refreshing it would be if
    that is the model my Pakistani friends are talking about, and the one
    the military intends to follow.

    William Milam is a former US ambassador to Pakistan and Bangladesh.
    He is currently at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC
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