Turkish charity leaders meet with Taliban officials

Taliban flag

On June 13, representatives from two Turkish charities met with Salam Hanafi, the Taliban’s deputy prime minister, in Afghanistan. Mehmet Ubeyd Kosger, representing the Hayrat Foundation, accompanied Ali Senef of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH).

The two organizations provide aid to Afghanistan, assistance which became more vital after the abrupt US departure from Kabul in 2021, and Turkey is the only NATO country with a staffed embassy in the country.

The meeting represents renewed economic and investment interest by Turkish entities in Afghanistan. Following the US withdrawal, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was keen to secure operating rights for Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. However, the airport deal never materialized after lengthy negotiations between the Taliban and their Turkish counterparts that lasted into 2022.

Some analysts have speculated that Turkey’s motivation to gain a larger presence in Afghanistan is linked to its broader regional goals. These aims included Turkey’s desire to play a role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and deepen its religious and cultural roots in Central Asia.

However, there are worries about less-publicized and unofficial interactions between the two countries. Turkey is one of the biggest transit routes for illegal drugs, primarily heroin and methamphetamine, between Europe and Afghanistan. The Taliban remains heavily involved in the European narcotics trade despite the group’s claim it has outlawed drug activities.

Mullah Naim Barich, the former shadow governor of Helmand province and an influential Taliban leader, was listed by the US State Department as a “Foreign Narcotics Kingpin” for supporting heroin and opium smuggling in Iran and Afghanistan. Barich currently serves as the Taliban’s governor of Nangarhar province, a major narcotics production and smuggling hub.

Both IHH and Hayrat are Islamist aid organizations with close ties to Erdogan. IHH’s reputation is particularly notable, as it is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated “Union of Good” umbrella organization, which the US Treasury Department sanctioned for its radical ties in 2008.

Israel maintains that IHH has been providing material support to terrorist organizations like Hamas and has urged the US to designate the entity as a supporter of terrorism. IHH is also behind a current initiative to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza by attempting to deliver aid directly. IHH also tried to breach an Israeli blockade of Gaza during the conflict in 2010.

The Taliban has been attempting to restore ties with foreign countries and non-government organizations since it seized control of Afghanistan in August 2021 and reestablished its Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. While no country has officially recognized the Taliban as the official government, nations such as China, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, India, Pakistan, and Japan maintain embassies in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s growing ties with Turkey are a worrying development since the Taliban continues to host Al Qaeda and allow Afghanistan to maintain and develop an extensive terror infrastructure.

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an expert on Turkish domestic politics and foreign policy.. Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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