Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan: The Promise of Elections Will Not Bring Peace

There is little reason to hope that anything will come of the UN-approved peace plan for Syria announced last Friday. Just look at how poorly peace talks on Yemen have gone; and with Yemen you don't have nearly the number of large-state actors with their fingers in the mix as is the case with Syria. In Yemen, like in Syria, a significant problem is how to contain the efflorescence of Salafi jihadists who are supported by Saudi Arabia. Kareem Fahim and Saleed al-Batati report in "Yemen Peace Talks End With No End to Conflict" that
In recent days, anti-Houthi fighters have mounted a broad offensive across several northern provinces, and captured new territory, including a provincial capital. [What about the ceasefire?] The anti-Houthi forces are backed by a Saudi-led military coalition that has been conducting an aerial campaign against the rebels since March. Human rights groups say that bombing by the coalition is responsible for the majority of civilian deaths during the war. 
The Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrikes in Sana and other areas on Saturday and Sunday. And the Houthis, who have been making increasingly bold military incursions across the border into Saudi Arabia, have fired ballistic missiles at the Saudi-backed forces in the past few days, according to Yemeni military officials.
It appears that the Houthis are flying the white flag, but to no avail:
Nasser Bagazgooz, who was part of the Houthi delegation, asserted that his side had made “big” concessions, including agreeing to withdraw Houthi forces from cities and from government institutions, and to hand over weapons.

The Houthis had asked for the formation of a new government “from across the political spectrum,” and elections within a year, he added.
The Houthis are basically mirroring the UN-outlined peace process for Syria. But the Saudis don't seem to find this acceptable, which should tell us how smoothly things will go in January.

Interestingly, elections are also on the mind of a nascent opposition movement within the quisling Afghan government. But first a few words on the dire military predicament in Afghanistan from this morning's "Situation Report" by Foreign Policy's Paul McLeary:
Taliban keeps pushing. NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan may have ended last December, but the deaths of six U.S. soldiers near Bagram airbase on Monday, and the rushed deployments of U.S. and British forces to Helmand province to hold back a resurgent Taliban, tell a very different story. 
The loss of six soldiers in one strike is the largest battlefield loss for the U.S. in Afghanistan in well over a year, and more than doubles American combat fatalities there in 2015, which stood at four before Monday.
Renewed Taliban offensives across the country call into question the effectiveness of the Afghan army, which continues to struggle despite years of training and billions spent on equipping the force. And now, American commandos are back in the fight in the southern province of Helmand to backstop Afghan forces, who are in danger of losing control of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah and the key town of Sangin, FP’s Paul McLeary reports.
British troops have also been sent to Helmand, though London insists they are only acting in an advisory role. It’s worth remembering that Sangin resonates deeply with the British public, “as more than 100 of their 456 fatalities in Afghanistan since the start of the war in 2001 took place in the district,” the AP notes.
Mujib Mashal reported in yesterday's paper, "Afghan Government Faces New Set of Rivals," that allies of former president Hamid Karzai are demanding that the Ghani-Abdullah government honor pledges to hold elections within nine months. There is a hardcore segment of this opposition who want a loya jirga convened immediately and a caretaker government put in place:
It was unlikely that the members of the opposition council would have much popular support, because many of them had controversial pasts, Mr. Safi said. [Wadir Safi, a lecturer of political science at Kabul University.] But the government’s abysmal record has given many of them hope that they can exercise some power anyway, he added.
“The problem is also that the government hasn’t delivered at all — the two men came together in an illegal agreement, they have talked a lot and delivered nothing, and they are trying to extend that,” Mr. Safi said.
Mr. Ghani’s government came to power through a power-sharing agreement brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry after an election stalemate last year threatened to throw the country into a civil war. The agreement’s two-year deadline expires next September, and it calls for a thorough overhaul of the election process, the holding of parliamentary and district elections, and a national assembly of elders to amend the Constitution and formalize Mr. Abdullah’s position as a prime minister.
But 15 months after coming to power, the government has struggled with even the most basic steps needed for holding the elections, including an agreement on the makeup of the commission to oversee the vote. A harsh winter, and a Taliban offensive that is expected to intensify in the spring, makes their task of holding the elections as scheduled even more difficult.
In all three battle zones -- Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan -- elections will not bring peace. In not one of the three countries does the U.S. and its Saudi ally want truly free and fair elections. The U.S. doesn't have free and fair elections in the homeland, and neither do the Saudis. So the wars will continue.

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