Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Turkish Elections and the Kurds

Updated Below

The possibility of an incursion by the Turkish military depends to some extent on the internal politics of Turkey. From this perspective, if you see incursion as a negative, there are several encouraging signs .

Firstly, there is the victory of the governing party, the AK party, in Kurdish regions against candidates of the Kurdish DTP party. In fact the early indications are that the ruling party won the majority (about 52%) of the Kurdish votes. Of course the candidates from AK are also of Kurdish origin, but then there have always been Kurdish politicians in all parties - and if you include those of mixed Kurdish-Turkish heritage they probably make up a significant proportion of the politicians. As opposed to these "mainstream" parties which are defined by their generic ideological and policy positions the DTP is identified as a Kurdish party mainly concerned with Kurdish cultural and political rights. In the 2002 elections the DTP failed to get into parliament because of a 10% threshold requirement for parties to get into parliament. Some argued at that time that their loss (they got about 5% of the vote) showed that the "Kurdish issue" was really more of a Southeastern issue - one of poverty and underdevelopment in the Southeast - than an ethnic issue. However, many felt that because of distortions due to the threshold no valid conclusions could be drawn. To get around the threshold requirement this time around the DTP members contested the election as independents. They won 23 seats but they lost in many places to AK. This has had two effects. One was the demonstration of an acceptance by the Kurdish electorate of the southeast that the AK, a national "mainstream" party, could represent their interests. The other was the recognition by the DTP that narrow "ethnic" issues would no longer be sufficient to guarantee them support in the southeast. This is evident from their post election statements in which the newly elected DTP parliamentarians promise to pursue a more accommodating approach and focus on issues of economics and development for the region rather than on cultural issues. This is a far cry from the last time a Kurdish party was in parliament when symbolic actions took precedence. The DTP is not giving up cultural issues just changing their focus. In the long term both of these outcomes bode well for the stability of the region. If we have the luxury of thinking in the long term.

In terms of the short term both these factors have considerably strengthened the non-interventionist forces within the AK. The increased strength of the AK in the southeast also means an increased sensitivity to the southeast where intervention would not be welcomed. Furthermore, a "reasonable" DTP would be able to provide support to the AK in these matters. Finally, the impressive showing by the AK in the elections, even if they did not increase their number of seats in parliament, gives them a much more powerful voice than they had before. Given this, barring a preemptive move by the interventionist forces within the military and their political supporters, the AK has a breathing space. Reports were that Condi has promised action on the PKK to the Turkish government if they would just give her some time. There is time now for those actions. Under different circumstances I would be feeling very optimistic right now. But after seeing the incompetence of the last six years I fear that we will let this opportunity pass. I hope I am wrong.


Turkish newspapers are playing up the column in the July 30th issue of the Washington Post by Robert Novak. He had this to report about the US response to Turkish requests for action against the PKK

The surprising answer was given in secret briefings on Capitol Hill last week by Eric S. Edelman, a former aide to Vice President Cheney who is now undersecretary of defense for policy. Edelman, a Foreign Service officer who once was U.S. ambassador to Turkey, revealed to lawmakers plans for a covert operation of U.S. Special Forces to help the Turks neutralize the PKK. They would behead the guerrilla organization by helping Turkey get rid of PKK leaders that they have targeted for years.
Given the neocon credentials of Edelman and the standard neocon approach to problems (what would Jack Bauer do?), the report seems credible. Whether, this approach can be successful depends on if there is substantial buy-in from the Kurdistan Regional Government (also known as the Talabani and Barzani clans). Even then I would rate the chances of operational success low. However, on a PR front, even a failed attempt can only help the perception of the US in Turkey.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Turkish elections

In response to Cernig's post

Just to add some context, the percentage of votes garnered by AK is the largest share of votes garnered by any party in [modern] Turkish electoral history. AK has run a very sophisticated campaign populating its lists with non-islamist women and mildly left-of-center politicians.

And you are right about the agreement between all parties and the military about the PKK. The memories of the 90's in fresh in many peoples minds when thousands died in the conflict between the PKK and the military. Most separatist movements tend to employ some degree of violence but the PKK was (and probably still is) a truly vicious organization.

While any incursion by the Turks into Northern Iraq is problematic this one could be particularly bad because I get the feeling that the Turkish military will not be content with only focusing on the PKK. They have already asked for rules of engagement from the government with the clear implication that they would not be upset if the Kurdish Regional Government was to be a possible target. I am afraid if they go in it will not simply be in hot pursuit of the PKK. I am not sure what Petraeus will do under those circumstances. He has not been particularly fond of the Turks in the past.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Pakistan SC decision

Reacting to the Pakistani Supreme Courts dismissal of the charges against the Chief Justice, Cernig notes that
The Pakistani Supreme Court has dealt a major blow to Musharaff's credibility, which he has been forced to swallow because he has insufficient political capital left to chance ignoring it.
and says that
The short version of what comes next - Musharaff is toast. Assailed by both sides, from pro-democracy critics and from once-supportive Islamists, his days are numbered.
I disagree with Cernig on this as I have previously on things Musharraf (though this time with less conviction than before) but I think the Supreme Court decision is the best of the many bad possibilities facing Musharraf. He and Pakistan are facing a major war, something he has avoided for the last five years, and he needed to clear the decks. The Chief Justice affair has been a running sore since March 9, and had to be concluded. He has tried various ways to somehow conclude the affair including the bloody attack by the MQM thugs on May 12. Nothing had worked for him and there were not many realistic options left. This decision by the Supreme Court has to have come as a relief. Cernig could be right about his being toast but I think it is much more likely that his future will depend on the success or failure of his campaign against the jihadis. Of course if the US tries another of their useless predator attacks or even worse follows the neocon position of "targeted raids," the chances of his survival go down considerably. Which does not contradict my earlier position, because if the US intervenes militarily the fight against the jihadis will most likely be lost.

Video compilation

Via Andrew Sullivan here is an interesting video compilation.

And here is another.

Targeted attacks

Eric Martin at American Footprints links to a Kevin Drum comment on a Washington Post editorial recommending "targeted strikes" in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
I would view with great skepticism any claims that US intelligence has enough information to allow for "targeted strikes." The US did not have independent assets on the ground before 9/11. I remember a quote from a US intelligence operative about why they didn't have any agents within (or even remotely close to) Al Qaeda - something on the order of who wants to spend years sleeping on the ground eating crappy food with no women around. Which, among other things, said a whole lot about the professionalism of the current crop of intelligence professionals. The lack of inside information, even at the lowest level, contributed to the debacle at Tora Bora and has bedeviled all efforts at getting at Bin Laden and Zawahiri. As might be expected the situation has not improved since 9/11. While I am sure the US has excellent technical capabilities planning "targetted" strikes requires good human intelligence. The times when the US has used its predators to attack places where supposedly Zawahiri had a lunch date has only resulted in "collateral damage." The actions while killing many possibly innocent people also humiliated the Pakistanis, who had to rush in to unconvincingly claim "credit," and strengthened the jihadis by giving them a propaganda coup and highlighting the impotence of the Musharraf government vis-a-vis the US.

Blake Hounshell is right on the mark when he refers to the mandate that Musharraf has to go after the jihadis. There is a large segment of the Pakistan populace which is sick and tired of the jihadis and their antics. The Chief Justice issue has been a major diversion for Musharraf. The western press is calling the resolution of this issue with the decision of the Supreme Court against Musharraf a blow to Musharraf. I think Musharraf is probably breathing a sigh of relief as this is the least bad of the many bad options that Musharraf was facing. It is also a wake up call to him and his allies that their time is not unlimited. I think Musharraf is better positioned now to go after the jihadis than he has ever been and for the US to stick an oar in at this stage would be, as Hounshell points out, a propaganda bonanza for Al Qaeda. I would go even further. The Pakistanis are cooperating with the US because it is in their interest to cooperate. If we make it not in their interest to cooperate we will encourage them to look for alternative courses of action. None of which, I think, will be in the long term interest of the US. I am not as pessimistic as Eric is about possible US actions. We still have reasonably knowledgeable people in the government dealing with Pakistan and hopefully they will not do anything stupid.