Syrian "Talks" Are Little More than Political Cover for the West

Posted: Oct 18, 2013 12:01 AM

Pakistan: At least eight people including a provincial law minister were killed following a suicide bomb blast in north-west Pakistan on Wednesday during their celebration of Eid al Adha.

According to local police officials, at least 30 others also were injured following the suicide attack which took place near the town of Dera Ismail Khan. Senior police officer Mohammad Jan said the minister of law for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Israullah Gandapur, was meeting with people at his house to celebrate the Muslim Eid holiday when the attack took place.

Comment: Minister Gandapur was a local tribal chief, a member of the provincial parliament representing Dera Ismail Khan and the law minister for in the cabinet of Khyber Pakutunkhwa Province in northwestern Pakistan. Mr. Gandapur was a member of the PTI party which governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and which backs talks with the Pakistani Taliban

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The last sensational attack in Dera Ismail Khan occurred on 29 July when a force of 125 anti-government fighters from three different militant groups executed a complex operation to break into the central prison at Dera Ismail Khan. With inside help plus mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, they succeeded and freed more than 250 prisoners. The escapees included about 50 militant leaders who were described as "hard-core."

The significance of the latest attack is that is that it represents a violent rejection of offers of peace talks by at least some anti-government groups. The Pakistani Taliban leadership said it is open to talks, but also said it will not disarm. It and other anti-government militants do not recognize the Pakistani constitution, will not stop fighting and will not talk to the government until Pakistan Army operations against them halt, prisoners are released and US drone attacks stop.

The attack also suggests that the leaders of the Pakistani Taliban do not speak for all the anti-government groups and do not control them. Pakistani experts judge that three groups of fighters worked together to execute the 29 July attack. None of them owe allegiance to the Pakistani Taliban.

One or more of them, including one called the Punjabi Taliban, are as likely to be responsible for this attack as the Pakistani Taliban. If the attack was done by the Punjabi Taliban, they will take credit for it, as they did for the July attack.

Iran: For the record. According to Iranian press, delegates from Iran and the six nation group called the P5 + 1, who met in Geneva to negotiate over Iran's nuclear program, issued a joint statement after the conclusion of the second day of talks in which they announced they have agreed to hold the next round of talks on 7 and 8 November.

Comment: Press accounts indicate Iran has offered a three stage plan that includes snap inspections of nuclear facilities and an agreement to limit uranium enrichment in return for an easing of sanctions. If accepted, it would mean that the six nations agree to allow Iran to enrich uranium. Moreover, snap inspections of declared facilities is a deceptively easy concession to make. Iran already has been found to have built at least one facility that was not declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency until after it was discovered.

This deal is similar to President Ruhani's diplomatic style when he was the top Iranian nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005 - offer small compromises by Iran in return for major concessions by the West and others.

Syria: The US State Department Tuesday called on the Syrian National Council to "drop its refusal to join planned peace talks for the Syrian conflict, saying its participation is essential." The State spokesperson said, "There have been many ups and downs in this process. And that's not unexpected given how challenging the situation is on the ground. But we continue to press for the opposition to have a representative body at the Geneva conference."

Meanwhile on 16 October, nearly 70 rebel groups in southern Syria announced that the opposition National Coalition had "failed" and said they would no longer recognize the Western-backed group. The Free Syrian Army's (FSA) political and media coordinator said, however, the statement was not a rejection of his group or its commander, General Salim Idris. The rebels' demands must not be overlooked, the official added.

Comment: The National Coalition includes the National Council and other opposition political groups. Opposition politicians outside Syria are disconnected from the actual fighting. This is the second group of rebel fighting groups operating inside Syria to break from the National Coaltion in the past two weeks, according to press reports. It is unclear what the FSA's comment signifies.

There is no single opposition in Syria, but many oppositions that are not cooperating, much less unified. The most vicious rebel-initiated actions this week have been between Free Syrian Army groups and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) groups and between ISIS and Kurdish militias for control of towns on the Turkish border. ISIS usually defeats the Free Syrian Army, but has been unable to defeat the Kurds.

Press interviews indicate the leaders of the rebel fighters who are in Syria are too fragmented to agree on a set of demands other than the overthrow of the Baathist government and installation of Islamic law. For example, fighting groups do not agree about respecting the boundaries of present Syria rather than merging it with Sunni Iraq. No single group of politicians could be empowered to speak for the rebel fighters with the expectation that they would honor any agreements the politicians made.

The government has agreed to attend the talks. The talks and the chemical weapons investigations offer an "exit ramp" for Western nations who are overextended politically in Syria.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced that its inspectors have verified 11 Syrian chemical weapons sites to date and destroyed key equipment in 6 of them.

Comment: At this rate they should be able to verify the 20 sites they intend to visit by the 1 November deadline for verification under the US-Russian agreement, security conditions permitting. They need to include ballistic missile complexes in their itineraries.

End of NightWatch


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