ANKARA — Turkey’s procurement authorities may have to revise their procurement priorities if the government’s ambitious plan to broker peace with the country’s Kurdish insurgents succeeds, officials and analysts said.
Under orders from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s secret services late last year resumed peace talks with Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union recognize the PKK as a terrorist entity.
The plan aims to disarm the rebels, who use bases in Turkey, northern Iraq and Iran to launch attacks on security forces in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.
“That will make a landmark change on Turkey’s security threat perceptions,” said one senior Army officer here. “But change will come gradually ... and only if this initiative proves to be a lasting peace, not a long cease-fire.”
A senior procurement official agrees: “We may have to change priorities in line with a new threat concept. The systems we essentially need in times of asymmetrical war may no longer occupy top ranks in our shopping list. And other items may go up in the list, such as conventional platforms.”
Industry sources and analysts agree that UAVs, smart ammunition, attack helicopters, and anti-riot and armored vehicles — especially bomb-resistant ones — may be required in smaller quantities and less urgently.
“Turkey may narrow some of its unmanned aerial vehicle programs,” said Ceyhun Ozguven, a defense analyst here. “The same is true for the future orders for armored vehicles and attack helicopters. As for previous commitments, Ankara may seek sales to third countries.”
The PKK has said that it may agree to a peace deal — including a withdrawal of PKK fighters from Turkish territory — if Ankara grants Kurds local autonomy and broader political rights and guaranteed safe exit for its fighters, possibly to other countries.
Looming local and presidential elections next year, parliamentary elections in 2015 and the risk of renewed clashes as summer approaches mean Erdogan will need to initiate such Kurdish minority rights reforms quickly.
Erdogan’s government also is seeking ways to push through the parliament a constitution that would give executive power to the president — a position that Erdogan is expected to run for.
“If Ocalan is convinced, [the PKK’s commanders] will be convinced,” said Cengiz Candar, author of a report on ending the conflict, which has claimed more than 35,000 lives since clashes erupted in 1984.
Last year, 771 people were killed and 642 injured in battles between the two entities.
“This is a historic opportunity,” Erdogan said Feb. 19. “It is finally time to embrace each other. We shall no longer please war lords.”
The armored vehicles industry here evolved to answer the military’s needs in the war against the PKK. It has sold the government thousands of vehicles since the mid-1990s. The largest current program — the production of 2,720 tactical wheeled vehicles, including command-and-control vehicles; mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles; and troop and equipment carriers — is worth up to $2 billion. Separate deals with armored vehicle makers Otokar and BMC were signed in 2009. Otokar has delivered the command-and-control vehicles; other deliveries are continuing. BMC is the maker of bomb-resistant vehicles.
Peace would also nullify Turkey’s plans to buy a few U.S.-made UAVs. To bolster the Army’s intelligence-gathering capabilities in its fight against the PKK, Turkey asked in 2011 to buy a few MQ-1 Predator UAVs, made by U.S. company General Atomics.
The U.S. has been a staunch supporter of NATO ally Turkey’s fight against the Kurdish insurgency. But Washington now fully supports a possible Turkish-Kurdish peace plan. U.S. President Barack Obama has said that these efforts will lead to “real progress.”
“I applaud Erdogan’s efforts to seek a peaceful solution to a struggle that has caused so much pain and sorrow,” Obama told the Turkish daily Milliyet in Washington on Feb. 10. He said the U.S. will continue to support Turkey in its desire to begin a new chapter of peace and security.
In previous years, Ankara held secret talks with the PKK in Oslo and other European capitals, but these talks fell apart in 2011 amid renewed violence in southeast Turkey.