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NightWatch 20100103


For the Night of 3 January 2010

Sri Lanka: Retired Army General Fonseka has decided to challenge incumbent President Rajapaksa in presidential elections set for 26 January. Ironically, the Tamil voting bloc, 12% of the population and previously supportive of the now defeated Tamil Tigers, is likely to have a strong influence on the outcome and supports Fonseka.

The government that emerges after the election will be the first in 25 years to not be engaged in civil war with the Tamils.

India: For the record. India is developing a weapons system capable of neutralizing enemy satellites operating in low-earth orbit and polar orbit, Xinhua reported 3 January, citing a statement by V.K. Saraswat, head of India's Defense Research and Development Organization. Saraswat said India has not yet planned any tests with the technology, which he said is still in the development stage.

India is just beginning to develop the technology, but would be the fourth country to possess a weapon if it can master it. It is worth noting that Xinhua reported the brief and otherwise obscure -- outside of India --statement by Saraswat. The Chinese are paying close attention to every Indian military announcement.

Pakistan: Agence France-Presse reported on 3 January that Pakistani authorities faced a backlash in reaction to the suicide attack against a volleyball match that killed 101 people and injured 69. The attacker rammed a car bomb into a crowd of men, women and children watching the tournament in Shah Hasan Khan village, a pro-government area in the district of Lakki Marwat on 1 January.

Authorities rounded up dozens of suspects after the volleyball attack and opened an investigation into poor medical care, while doctors in the northwest region tried to treat casualties on hospital floors without enough medicine. Police said it was the third most deadly attack in the past three years.

Afghanistan: Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (the Afghan Taliban) announced that it has no links with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP aka Pakistan Taliban), adding that it is fighting only against the United States.

"Al-Qaeda and us have nothing in common except Jihad against the US troops," a private TV channel reported Qari Zia-ur-Rahman, commander of Afghan Taliban in Kunar province of Afghanistan as saying.

He said a large number of doctors and engineers have joined them, who will struggle to eliminate misunderstandings about Taliban's armed struggle.

Qari Zia said all the commanders have been directed not to kidnap or harm foreigners, who arrive in Afghanistan for the welfare of Afghan public and a booklet has also been distributed in all parts of the country for this purpose. The Taliban commander made it clear they had no link with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

This is the second time in the past several months that the Afghan Taliban have made these claims, which seem at least partly accurate. Any links to the Pakistan Taliban are not enough to prompt Pakistani security operations to arrest and evict any senior Afghan Taliban leaders.

National politics. Parliament approved the appointment of just 7 of President Karzai's cabinet of 24 ministers, including Defense and Interior. The seven are enough to run essential ministries to fight the Taliban but the rest of the government relies on the professional bureaucracy to maintain services. Parliament is in recess for the next 45 days.

It's not clear whether the vote was anti-Karzai, anti-cronyism, anti-corruption or more likely in favor of a different distribution of the spoils system that operates in Kabul. Some analysts, especially the UN advisors, see the vote as a setback for democracy, according to the BBC. An alternative interpretation is that this is precisely the result to which democracy leads in Afghanistan in the absence of extraordinary leadership.

Arguably, the late Ahmad Shah Mahsud had the stature, experience, wisdom and mujahedin credentials to create a broad national coalition, had he survived. Until a leader with his stature emerges again, Kabul will have no effective government. This is one rare instance in which the man is greater than the phenomena and only the man will suffice to bring peace.

Hamas-Saudi Arabia-Egypt: Hamas Political Bureau chief Khalid Mish'al said on 3 January that the movement is in the final stages of achieving reconciliation with Fatah. Mish'al made these remarks following a meeting with Saudi officials in Riyadh. The purpose of the meeting was to reduce the disagreements between Hamas and Fatah.

In his visit to Riyad, Mish'al told reporters at the foreign ministry, "We have come a long way toward reconciliation and have reached the final stages." He also said, "We all agree that the signing will take place in Cairo. However, the problem is not the location, but completing the reconciliation document in a way that fulfills the requirements of all sides."

"We are still hoping for a distinguished Saudi role along with Egypt and the Arab countries in order to ensure the success of Palestinian reconciliation and unify the Palestinians. We also seek an Arab role in confronting the intransigent Israeli Government."

The process of reconciliation has been long and tortuous, characterized by multiple false alarms. Mish'al's statement is promising but vague.

Somalia: Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said on 3 January that the government is planning a major offensive against al Shabaab militants in Mogadishu, and aims to push the rebel movement out of the capital by the end of the month.

There is less here than meets the eye on a quick read. The Prime Minister is only addressing the challenge of recapturing the capital. Even that challenge will require cooperation by government-friendly Somali clans plus outside help from the African Union forces or others.

End of NightWatch for 3 January.

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