'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Iran-Syria Plan in Afghanistan 

There's been a lot of talk lately about what James Baker's Iraq Study Group is going to mean for Iraq policy. I think we can get a glimpse of things to come by taking a look at what's been going on with the US's other war.

Earlier this month, Pakistan cut a peace deal with the Taliban: Pakistan agreed to withdraw troops from the Afghanistan border and freed hundreds of prisoners in exchange for pro-Taliban tribal militias promising to stop attacking the Pakistani army and to reframe from entering Afghanistan. The peace deal was widely criticized in the US and British press. The CSM quoted an unnamed source who called the agreement "a total capitulation" by Islamabad. The Times described it as a "face-saving retreat for the Pakistani Army" and "one of the most obvious capitulations since it began its campaign to rout foreign fighters from [North Waziristan]" that has "in effect ceded the militants a sanctuary in the area." The Post quoted an "official at an international agency" as follows:

This could be a very dangerous development. [...] Until recently there has been relative stability in eastern Afghanistan, but now that could start to deteriorate.

In this context, last week, British Gen. David Richards, commander of NATO forces, met with President Musharraf, and the pre-meeting spin, particularly in the British press, played up the meeting as an attempt by NATO to rein in or otherwise chastise Pakistan. A Guardian piece titled "Musharraf faces new questions over Taliban" noted that the meeting followed "a string of accusations, some from within Nato, that Pakistan [had] failed to close down Taliban sanctuaries in the northern tribal belt, and that elements within its [intelligence] agency may be assisting the insurgency", and an article in the Sunday Times openly referred to the meeting as a "confrontation". Rumor had it that Richards was going present Musharraf with an address in Quetta where Mullah Omar could be found and demand his arrest.

But this showdown never came to pass. In fact the Australian press reported that the much-maligned Pakistan-Taliban peace deal might actually be a "blueprint for a possible [NATO] accord with the Taliban in Afghanistan":

[F]ar from criticising General Musharraf, it appears the Pakistani leader's deal with Taliban-supporting tribal militants in the North Waziristan district of the North West Frontier Province could form the basis of an accord aimed at ending the insurgency and bringing the Taliban into the Government in Kabul.

From General Musharraf down, senior Pakistani officials are insisting that NATO is now supporting Islamabad's bid to reach a peace accord with the Taliban. Reports in New Delhi quoted General Richards as supporting the agreement with the Taliban in North Waziristan, saying it could set an example of how best to deal with such problems

Dealing with questions about the previous frame, that NATO displeasure with Pakistan forced Richards to confront Musharraf, Richards in a briefing yesterday claimed that the British press simply had the story wrong:

[...]I was really angry about that report [in the Sunday Times] And I have to say, the journalist in question, and not many of you will know this, was really angry too, because they talked about me going to confront the Pakistanis, and nothing could be further from the truth. And I have actually had an apology from the Sunday Times journalist because she was so angry. [ ... ] And I did have to explain early on to the Pakistanis that I was not going in a confrontational mood or mode, because both having had long discussions with President Karzai before I went, and with my own political leaders in NATO, that we are in this together. Pakistan and Afghanistan, who do have differing interpretations over what is happening here in terms of the insurgency, are quite clear that they've got to solve it together as a team, and that is the essence of the Tripartite Commission. And that is the spirit with which I went to Pakistan. I was very-well received.

which is all fine and good, but not very credible. That Richards went to Pakistan to scold Musharraf may well be false, fine -- but the reports that there were voices within NATO accusing Pakistan of refusing to defend its border with Afghanistan are a matter of the public record; that is, I don't think the Sunday Times was manufacturing quotations.

This whole story seems a lot like what may be about to happen in Iraq. One of the most controversial policy option Baker and the boys are supposed to be considering is the so-called "Iran-Syria plan" in which the US would attempt to cut some sort of deal with Iran and Syria in order to stabilize Iraq. Looks like the plan is already being implemented ... in Afghanistan.

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