A terror attack in Ankara sends tremendous political signals and have tremendous security policy implications. Ankara is not only the nation's capital city, it has always been seen as its safest and most orderly metropolis. Yesterday's attack was the third one to hit the city within the last 6 months with unprecedented levels of civilian casualties. They alter perceptions of safety, confidence in the state, and touch deep social fault-lines, grievances and emotions.
The personal and political pressure this puts on policy makers is clear. Such attacks always evoke strong military responses. With initial signs pointing to PKK for yesterday's terror attack with almost all casualties being civilians, it is fair to expect that Turkish air force will bomb PKK targets in Northern Iraq through out the day, mass arrests of people with PKK links across the country will follow, HDP officials that do not follow a careful balancing act and emerge in support of the attack (after the last attack, an HDP MP was present at the burial of the suicide bomber) will face fierce political and legal pressure.
Yet, none of these will achieve the desired security outcomes for Turkey. In the short run, heavy security responses are understandable and often necessary. However, without addressing three major issues Turkey will continue to face serious insecurities: Kurdish issues, Syria portfolio and Chaos.
Much has been written on Kurdish issues in Turkey, and there is already a mass body of literature on how the issues can be addressed. Yet, neither the PKK nor the state seem to accept the fact that their self declared aims will never be achieved and use of force only deepens problems and have serious human costs. PKK will never be able to create a Kurdistan or cantons it governs out of Turkey, and given how such things became possible in Syria or Iraq, it will have to wait till the country collapses or is invaded by a superpower, both of which are rather implausible. Turkey will never see PKK leave weapons behind and disappear and continue as if nothing has ever happened and that somehow peace merely means lack of PKK attacks. Kurdish grievances are real, and they demand real responses. Political creativity, constructive attitudes and a genuine shared desire to work things out are needed, but alas, such basic commodities are rare in Turkey's zero-sum highly emotive and highly tribal social landscape.
In regards to Syria, Turkey's policy has been ad hoc and reactive, like all other stakeholders. It has evolved from seeking to use personal relations to convince Assad to compromise to eventually partaking in operations in supporting rebel groups to oust Assad. Though Turkey's Syria policy is largely now about its own security and concerns over advances of PKK related groups in Northern Syria, unless Turkey seeks a way to untangle itself from the war it will continue to pay a high price. Turkey has to accept realities on the ground, shift to a self-defensive long term policy and declare a new policy of ceasefire focus rather than toppling Assad.
What makes it impossible for Turkish policy makers at this stage to face these challenges, however, is the chaos that has dominated the country's politics, state structures and public arena for the last 2 years. Currently, Turkey faces a structural chaos with an over reaching presidency undermined prime ministry. Ever since the Gezi protests, but more significantly since the shady corruption scandal that broke out and triggered a messy clash between AKP and Gulen movement, Turkey has been managed through a state of exception, with the government taking any extraordinary measure it can take to protect itself with serious human rights breaches and chaos across state structures.
In the process, Turkey has become a country that can neither rejoice nor mourn together, or find a common sense to unite around. It has become an angry country, with ever shrinking and fragmenting tribal outlooks as each new development divided people more. Pressure on media and denials of freedom of expression are only fueling mistrust, dangerous propaganda and misinformation. This alone impacts Turkey's security climate more than it is imagined. It hinders solutions. It creates a perfect storm for new terror groups to emerge, young ones with no memories of where militancy took us seeing streets and mountains as a solution, and angry public demanding a heavy zero sum security response.
The key question that remains is whether the current Turkish government will be able address these. And the answer to that is possibly a No. AKP has played a part and at times was the main actor in these tensions. While it still enjoys a domination of politics by virtue of having no real opponents, it is no longer driven by pragmatism but only by its survival and securing of a presidential system. This means that unless AKP has an epiphany and decides to turn back to what it was prior to 2011, or unless a new party emerges, or somewhat miraculously CHP completely reforms itself thus emerge as a middle ground that can meet anxieties of the wider public, Turkey is set for a truly vulnerable 5 years ahead.