While a few bloggers have commented on the Cons' plan to appoint an -I-r-a-q- Afghanistan study group (cue breathless media fawning: "with a special bipartisan guest appearance by John Liebermanley!"), the talk so far has mostly assumed that Harper's primary motivation is to eliminate Afghanistan as an election issue this fall. But from what I can tell, the move is aimed primarily at the possibility that the current Parliament might continue.
As I've discussed before, the main question on Afghanistan in the current Parliament always figured to be when the issue would be put up for a vote. And there's little reason to think the result of a vote this fall - which the opposition could raise of its own motion at any time - would be anything but a firm opposition vote against an extension.
As a result, the Cons have been desperately trying to avoid any action this fall, trying to push the vote to somewhere between early 2008 and whenever they'll be sure of the result they want. And having obviously failed to convince the public that their entitlement to set the timing for a vote should stand on its own merits, they're now looking to buy themselves a few months with a cherry-picked "bipartisan" study group.
Now, I'm not sure that Canadian voters would ultimately buy the excuse that the Cons should be able to delay the vote any more this way than through their previous edicts. But the appointment offers at least one new fig leaf for a clearly-frightened Harper to hide behind - at least until the opposition responds with a clear statement that it doesn't see the group as a legitimate means of delaying an Afghanistan vote this fall.