Turkey's PKK Talks Signals Progress: Doors Open for a Pull-out of Rebels

04/04/2013 03:12 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2013

Defying pessimism, Turkey's fragile, defining "peace process", involving the PKK's imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) with the aim of disarmament and political reform, has suddenly changed gears, and stands ready for acceleration.

In the matter of a couple of days the AKP government has killed three birds with one stone:

It has made public a "wise men" commission to explain the "farewell to arms" talks to the entire country; it has laid out a proposal to shape a parliamentary commission to oversee the process; and, most importantly, in all secrecy it sent a new Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) delegation to the island of İmralı to iron out complications in order to give a go-ahead for the withdrawal of all Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) units from Turkey.

In this picture, the setting up of the external "wise men" commission (consisting of experts, scholars, lawyers, businessmen, artists, singers and pundits, totaling 63 people) - is the least interesting aspect -- despite the media hype. One can claim that simply because of the media hype the commission already has a head start in PR in favor of a peaceful settlement.

But, it is only window dressing for the whole scene, a tiny part of the choreography.

The AKP proposal -- most likely to be approved by the Grand Assembly -- to format an "internal" parliamentary, cross-party commission (expected to consist of 17 deputies, with an AKP majority within), is a much more daring, timely and clever step.

It was the other key point of Abdullah Öcalan, who had demanded that something like a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" be built along with the "wise men" delegation.

This very step will have two big consequences.

First, it is apparently aimed at de-blocking all the obstacles that have stood between the government and Öcalan, in order to raise the weight and credibility of the latter to resolutely trigger the pull-out process as soon as possible.

During the meeting on the island, Öcalan sent his messages through the BDP delegation to the partly "hesitant" PKK command in the Kandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan that it should begin by the rebels leaving Turkish soil unarmed. It is vital that his words are abided by the upper PKK structures.

The message was coordinated with his real-time counterpart, Hakan Fidan, head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Fidan said that the rebels should bury their weapons in Turkey and leave. Both parties' interests will converge should things go awry.

Before and after the BDP visit to the island, Prime Minister Recep Teyyip Erdoğan -- the key decision maker in the process -- gathered in the past days a close team of ministers and advisors.

At this stage, the complications seem spread out. But, caution is required.

If all goes well with the directives of Öcalan, the pull-out will begin in 10-15 days, starting from the Tokat and Dersim provinces of inner Anatolia. It will have been completed once a total of 2500-3000 rebels move into Iraq by the end of the summer.

MİT is given the mission to oversee the technicalities of the pull-out, by placing teams of observers in various corridors into Iraq. Once there, PKK militants will be under the responsibility of Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's forces. Withdrawal will have to take some time.

The second consequence will play out in national politics: The set-up of the internal cross-party commission raises the debate to a new level. That the extreme-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will never take part in it is already a given.

But, ironically, the demands for two commissions in the process -- internal and external -- were last year extended by the Republican People's Party (CHP) to the AKP. This means that the AKP can claim that it has now been met, pushing CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu further into a corner.

Cleverness in the AKP's move is such that they are bypassing once more the main opposition, in order to expose it to the public as an unwilling participant in peace talks.

The CHP seems to have taken the bait by declaring on Thursday that it will not take part in an internal commission, arguing that it is against Parliament's bylaws, etc.

It has once more shown its inability to read into how important this commission is for Öcalan to exert control of the entire process. Its myopia is the longer it proceeds with success, the more wretched the CHP will be by not playing ball.

President Abdullah Gül wisely noted the other day that the CHP must be "included" in the process -- but it is the CHP that leads its chairman, and not vice versa.

Yet, it is crucial that Erdoğan makes contact with his adversary and reattempts to include the CHP in the process.

But he knows that he has the upper hand -- so it's no wonder if he ignores it.