What is the state of the relationship between the AKP and the TSK?

Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel taking a medical leave of absence of 15 days is not a typical development.

We don’t have any indication that Ozel has any health issue that would require him to take such a long leave. Ozel reportedly underwent a medical operation before he was given the medical leave. But last year, Ozel was treated at the Gulhane Military Academy of Medicine (GATA), yet didn’t take a similar medical leave. Or at least it wasn’t made public, if he did.

Ozel taking a leave of absence, either because of medical problems or due to his political qualms, sent tremors across Ankara and there is only one reason for this: the uneasiness between the military and the ruling party, which is known to everyone, but not openly discussed.

The tension is visible on several planes. First and foremost, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) seeks to turn the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in a party army. The quotparty bureaucracyquot mentality, implemented first at the National Intelligence Organization (MiT) and then at the police department and the judiciary, is now trickling down to the TSK.

To this end, the gendarmerie bill was amended. The gendarmerie was like the TSK’s interface with society. The gendarmerie served as a direct link between the TSK and society. For this reason, the TSK didn’t want this link to be severed. But the AKP cut out this link with the gendarmerie bill. Whether this was good or bad news is food for another debate. I just underline this as an observation.

The special reasons for the tension between the TSK and the government are as follows: the AKP policy regarding the Kurdish settlement process and the AKP’s efforts to pull the TSK into the matter upon the collapse of the process. Second, the AKP is trying to pull the TSK into the Syria business now that the AKP’s Syria policy has failed. Most importantly, the AKP is not acting like a responsible state when it complains about the TSK during foreign visits.

Now, let me elaborate on these three items. The AKP deliberately kept the TSK out of the settlement process. The top brass openly stated that they learned developments from the media, not from government officials. The TSK was uneasy about the fact that the AKP’s settlement strategy was known to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, but not to the TSK. But due to the delicate nature of the issue, they refrained from meddling with it directly or raising hell about it. quotPoliticians are taking the initiative on it. Let us not block their initiative,quot they reasoned.

However, the AKP’s policy has gone bankrupt. Not only did the PKK not lay down their arms, but it also established a state in Syria and declared de facto autonomy, and this brought the AKP to a dead end. Today, the AKP is trying to put an end to its settlement process. In this context, it passed a domestic security bill that was designed to be implemented like martial law.

Possibly, the AKP will try to elicit the TSK’s involvement in crises that may emerge after the election. The TSK will get involved, but it is afraid of being sandbagged by the AKP. Indeed, the AKP’s general policy is this: If things go well, they are planned and implemented by the AKP. If things go wrong, then the responsibility belongs to others. This applies to the TSK. For this reason, the TSK does not want to be used as a scapegoat when things go wrong in the Southeast. And this makes the TSK tense.

There is a similar situation regarding the Syria policy. The TSK has been kept away from the Syria policy. The AKP performed its Syria operation completely via MiT. However, the current situation regarding Turkey’s Syria policy reveals MiT’s deficiencies. MiT conducted operations that will give Turkey a big headache. Now, the AKP wants the TSK to do a housecleaning with regard to the Syria policy.

The Syria file also contains a possible military incursion into Syria. The AKP wants to send troops to Syria if necessary. But the TSK does not want to be part of such an adventure. They don’t want to play into the hands of the AKP from a political perspective, especially when domestic public opinion is so divided. So, the military is uneasy.

The third and least visible reason is that the AKP complains about the TSK when it visits its Western allies. In particular, the TSK is expected to play an active role in the US-led train and equip program for countering the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) threat. However, the AKP is dragging its feet. But they are telling the West that the TSK is cool to the idea. The TSK is quite uneasy about this ambivalent attitude.

This does not mean that there will be a military intervention or memorandum in Turkey. The TSK paid a high price for its past political interventions and they would not be inclined to try it once again. Accordingly, it would be wrong to expect an open reaction.

Some analysts even argue that the AKP is deliberately provoking the TSK to try a military intervention. In sum, the military is uneasy. This tension will not or should not lead to an intervention in politics. But as the AKP is willfully escalating this tension, this is doing a great disservice to Turkey’s national security policy.