Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan conducted a joint military exercise in Tuzla, Turkey, last month. The joint exercise had been decided on at a summit meeting in December under the auspices of the Turkey-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Forum. In an email interview, Ishtiaq Ahmad, the Quaid-i-Azam Fellow at St. Antony's College, University of Oxford, discussed the trilateral forum.
WPR: What is the background of the trilateral forum, and to what extent has it been formally institutionalized?
Ishtiaq Ahmad: The Turkey-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Forum was launched in April 2007 as a regional effort to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan by fostering multifaceted cooperation among three Muslim countries that share a long history. Turkey is a key player in this process, the highlight of which is an annual summit meeting of the presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey in Ankara. So far five summits have been held, with the latest and perhaps most productive being in December 2010. Over time, the trilateral forum has expanded to include trilateral meetings among foreign ministers, military chiefs of staff, intelligence heads, interior ministers, other civilian and military officials, and parliamentarians. The Istanbul Forum is an additional initiative intended to connect the private sectors of the three countries through regular meetings of officials from their chambers of commerce.
WPR: What are the major agenda items for the three in the context of the forum?
Ahmad: The forum strives to offer a joint response to a common danger in the region, which is identified in each summit declaration as "terrorism and extremism in all its forms." Therefore, fostering security cooperation among Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey seems to top the agenda. This includes interaction among their military chiefs and heads of intelligence services, joint military exercises and training courses for army officers and cooperation among counternarcotics agencies. Over time, however, trilateral cooperation has expanded to include a range of issues such as trade and business -- particularly private sector interaction -- as well as education, communication, transportation and energy.
WPR: Has interaction in the forum led to broader international cooperation among the three?
Ahmad: After four years, the trilateral process has started to produce tangible outcomes. In late-March, the three countries held their first joint military exercise on urban warfare in Turkey. Other instances indicating the political will of their leaders translating into concrete steps include: the establishment of a trilateral direct video-telephone conference line among the three presidents; a Trilateral Minds Platform composed of members of academia, media and thinks tanks; and other joint capacity-building programs. Through the trilateral forum, as well as bilaterally, preliminary progress in meaningful cooperation in education, transport and commerce is also visible. However, it is within the context of Afghanistan's current reconciliation and reintegration efforts that the potentially pivotal value of the trilateral forum is becoming apparent. At the December summit, the leaders discussed an idea proposed recently by the Afghan High Peace Council, which is mandated to reconcile the Afghan government with the insurgent leadership. Under the proposal, the Taliban would open a representative office in Turkey in order to facilitate talks, with Turkey playing the role of honest peace broker, fully supported by Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Access this interview at worldpoliticsreview.com