Turkey has been combating terrorism for decades, but the conflict has entered a new stage due to the changing regional circumstances and the PKK's transformation.
The government and military command are fully committed to counterterror operations. According to a senior government official, the state has never engaged in such comprehensive security operations oust the PKK from the country. It would appear that significant progress has already been made. Since the PKK unilaterally ended a two-and-a-half-year cease-fire in July 2015, security forces were able to defeat the terrorists in residential areas and proceeded to cut the connection between their command center in Northern Iraq's Qandil Mountains and operatives in the countryside and towns. As the security forces move against the PKK, local communities have been reacting against the group. In Northern Iraq, Turkey has been waging an air campaign against terrorists to deal heavy blows to PKK machinery. According to the military, at least 140 terrorists have been killed in airstrikes over the past week. Since July 2015, they have confirmed nearly 6,000 kills.
Turkey's strong commitment to fighting terrorism has really hurt the PKK, which has lost foot soldiers as well as senior leaders in clashes. In response, the PKK stepped up its game.
Over the past week, there has been a notable increase in attempted and successful PKK attacks in Turkey. The group detonated a car bomb in a civilian part of Istanbul. There was another car bomb in Diyarbakır targeting a police bus carrying suspected PKK members. On Thursday, PKK militants used a stolen truck loaded with 15 tons of explosives to kill Kurdish villagers. The explosion left a 30-meter crater. Hours later, PKK terrorists attempted to infiltrate a military base in Hakkari and the resulting clash left eight soldiers and dozens of terrorists dead. Simply put, Turkey is actively fighting a terrorist organization inside its borders.
Against the backdrop of violent PKK attacks, the European Union demands Turkey narrow down its legal definition of terrorism and amend its counterterrorism laws. European leaders claim the country's tough counterterrorism laws are an impediment to freedom of expression. In return, they pledge to grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens by June 2016 instead of October 2016 as per the original readmission treaty. Ironically enough, the European Union wants Turkey to get soft on terrorism at a time when its member states are imposing curfews, making mass arrests on terrorism charges and fielding troops in combat gear in town centers.
For some reason, European leaders do not believe Turkey has the right to take the same steps as France, Germany and Britain to protect its citizens against terrorism.
To be clear, this is not just another double standard. Here is why: The European Union had not asked Turkey to narrow its definition of terrorism in formal negotiations. After Turkish and European leaders shook hands on the deal, the EU decided to change the rules of the game. When asked by the government what exactly the EU means by narrowing the definition of terrorism, European leaders could not come up with a straight answer. Nor do they care to explain how Turkey's legal practices differ from what Germany and France do to terrorists. In fact, Europe does not know what it wants from Turkey. They just think it might be a good idea to slow down the process just in case they come up with something.
The European Union does not really want to deny Turkish citizens visa-free travel. Such a decision would do more harm to Europe than Turkey. If they fail to deliver visa-free travel, the readmission treaty, including the refugee deal, will go up in flames. Even if visa-free travel for Turkish citizens does not excite European leaders, they are clearly willing to stomach it for the sake of getting rid of refugees.
According to a Turkish official who followed the talks in Strasbourg earlier this week, the EU's real problem has to do with the fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is calling the shots and refusing to let Brussels boss the government around in his own house. To be perfectly honest, Turkish leaders could not care less whether or not European leaders like this game. Brussels is running out of time. And, if visa-free travel and the readmission of refugees are off the table, Turkey will not be alone to bear the costs. Europe needs to think long and hard before doing something it will regret.