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27 Dec 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) On U.S.-Turkey relations: Cracks in the relic

  • Rising tensions in U.S.-Turkey relations are threatening to upset North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) unity.
  •  In the latest of a series of incidents, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened to shut down two U.S. bases in retaliation for the proposed American sanctions on Ankara over purchasing Russian weapons. 
  • The U.S. and Turkey are the largest and second largest standing armies of NATO, respectively. There are U.S. nuclear warheads in the Incirlik airb̥ase, a critical facility for American operations in West Asia. 
  • Mr. Erdoğan has warned that Incirlik and the Kurecik radar base would be shut if there are sanctions. 
  • U.S.-Turkey ties began slumping in recent years after Washington’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Turkish Islamic preacher who is accused by Ankara of orchestrating the failed 2016 coup against Mr. Erdoğan. 
  • The U.S. decision to arm and assist Kurdish rebels in Syria against the Islamic State was another blow. 
  • Ankara sees the People’s Protection Units, the main Syrian Kurdish militia that became an American ally in the anti-IS war, as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the Kurdish militia on the Turkish side. 
  • In return, Turkey moved closer towards Russia, now trying to raise its regional profile, and invaded Kurdish-held towns in northern Syria earlier this year. Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 missile system despite U.S.-NATO opposition, was the tipping point.
  • After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, NATO - founded as a Soviet counterweight - remained as a vehicle of western military might and continued to expand to Russia’s borders, creating tensions between Russia and the West in the recent past. 
  • But with the resurgence of populist, nationalist leaders in several western countries, the NATO’s relevance has been called into question several times; U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron have used the words “obsolete” and “brain death”, respectively. 
  • Fast-deteriorating ties between the U.S. and Turkey is adding to the crisis. The Trump administration has already suspended Turkey from the F-35 programme, citing concerns over Russia spying on the fighter jet’s capabilities using the S-400 system’s radar. 
  • Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a Bill seeking sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase and the Syria offensive. But Ankara seems determined to go ahead with the S-400 deal and even buy advanced Russian aircraft if the U.S. does not deliver the F-35s. 
  • And with threats to shut down Incirlik and Kurecik bases, it is now clear that the cracks are wide open. The downturn in Turkey’s relations with the U.S. holds implications for the future of NATO.
  • The question the Atlantic alliance faces in this hour of crisis is not just whether the U.S. and Turkey would manage to resolve their differences, but also whether NATO, a Cold War relic, could stay relevant in a post-Cold War era where bilateral ties are fast-changing.


2) On Afghanistan Presidential election: Endless wait

  • The announcement of preliminary results for the Afghanistan Presidential election is a significant step for India’s war-torn neighbour. 
  • The fourth Presidential poll since the Taliban’s fall in 2001, it consolidates the country’s democratic process in the face of odds, including continuing violence and terrorism there. 
  • According to the Independent Election Commission, President Ashraf Ghani has won 50.64% of the votes counted, which, if ratified, will obviate the need for a second round of polling. 
  • A second round - probably only after winter - would prolong the uncertainty around the polls, given that even these results took more than three months to announce. 
  • That these polls were held was a miracle, having been delayed for months, and almost cancelled after progress in reconciliation talks with Taliban leaders, who do not recognise the electoral process. 
  • The U.S.’s decision to cancel the talks in September - now resumed - gave the necessary breather for the September 28 polls and counting to be carried out. But questions remain. 
  • Voter turnout was a record low, with only about a quarter of 9.6 million registered voters voting. Thousands of votes were also disqualified after biometric match failures and other irregularities, setting off allegations of voter fraud. 
  • As a result, Afghanistan’s former Chief Executive Officer and Mr. Ghani’s chief rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, has rejected the preliminary results. A prolonged election process will do little to end political instability in Afghanistan.
  • Mr. Ghani’s vote margin over Mr. Abdullah is only about 214,769, and if more votes are disqualified during the review process, the men may have to fight the second round. 
  • This will possibly be more divisive for Afghanistan given that Mr. Ghani, a Pashtun leader, has drawn much of his support from the Pashtun-majority south and Mr. Abdullah has won mainly in the Northern areas with Tajik presence. 
  • The U.S.-Taliban talks also cast a shadow over whether the results will be respected if the Taliban negotiates its way into a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul.
  • Setting aside the concerns, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Mr. Ghani for winning the elections, a gesture which will be noted by Mr. Ghani and Vice President-elect Amrullah Saleh. 
  • Mr. Modi reaffirmed India’s close and strategic partnership with Afghanistan since 2010. The move came in sharp contrast to the rest of world that has chosen to be more cautious at present. 
  • The U.S. Ambassador has reminded all that “many steps remain” before the final results are certified and declared, and the UN has called for all candidates to “safeguard and complete the election”. 
  • It will be in everyone’s interests, particularly the Afghans who braved violent attacks to go out and vote, if the remaining steps of the electoral process are completed at the earliest, and democracy is reaffirmed in Afghanistan.