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NightWatch 20100301


For the Night of 1 March 2010

India-Saudi Arabia: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has just completed a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia during which India and Saudi Arabia signed an extradition treaty and several pacts to raise their cooperation to a strategic partnership. Areas of agreement include security, economic, energy and defense, The Hindu reported 1 March.

This is the first time in 30 years that an Indian Prime Minister has visited Saudi Arabia. Aside from its novelty, it is significant for several reasons. Under Prime Minister Singh, Indian foreign policy has been much more innovative than is customary. India has reached out to Israel for security purposes, but not Saudi Arabia. The failure to improve ties to the Saudis always has been an oversight in light of India's more than a hundred million Muslims.

Still the legacy of the past lies heavy, meaning that Singh's visit is a manifestation of Indian concern about Pakistan. That concern moves in two directions. One is encouragement of Saudi state-to-state and economic relations to encourage Pakistan to continue to root out militants and terrorists.

The other direction is to establish procedures so that Islamic terrorists who stage attacks in India can no longer seek refuge in Saudi Arabia as self-proclaimed jihadists. They are subject to extradition to India, even if they are Pakistanis.

The announcement provided no details about the energy agreement, but India needs oil and the Saudis can supply it. That makes India a competitor with Pakistan, except that India can pay and Pakistan is essentially a beggar.

Pakistan: The News published a lengthy and perceptive editorial about a strategic shift in Pakistani national security policy. According to this analysis, the recent and continuing arrests of Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan means that the Army and the Intelligence establishment has decided to abandon the Quetta Shura, as losers that threaten Pakistan. That is tonight's tentative good news.

Excerpts from the analysis follow.

"In a major policy shift, the powerful Pakistani establishment seems to have decided to abandon the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan by agreeing to launch a massive crackdown against their command-and-control structure, which has already led to the arrest of 9 of the 18 key members of the Mullah Omar-led Quetta Shura in different parts of Pakistan, and that too within a short span of two months."

"According to well-informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, the decision-makers in the powerful Pakistani establishment seem to have concluded in view of the ever-growing nexus between the Pakistani and the Afghan Taliban that they are now one and the same and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) can no longer be treated as two separate Jihadi entities. Therefore, the establishment is believed to have revised its previous strategic assessment of the two Taliban groups, which have a common mentor (Mullah Muhammad Omar), and decided to proceed against the Afghan Taliban as well, considering them a greater threat for Pakistan now than in the past."

Comment: The editorial continues at length, but the excerpt contains the key assessments. The editorial's explanation of the causality above is not credible. Far more believable is the discussion of Saudi pressure on Islamabad to crack down for the sake of Pakistani stability and to stop extremism.

The Pakistani writer plays down the impact of US pressure. He ascribes the policy change to shuttle diplomacy by Saudi Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz, the King's half-brother and chief of the General Intelligence Presidency. Pakistani dependence on Saudi crude at concessional prices gives Saudi Arabia a powerful basis for getting Pakistani leaders to pay attention to Saudi requirements.

The loss of safe haven in Pakistan would mean the Taliban movement in Afghanistan has no chance of long term sustainment at recent levels for two reasons. First, if the Pakistanis continue their roundup, the movement becomes leaderless. Bands devolve into banditry as the larger architecture flops.

Secondly, much money, ammunition and other supplies reach Afghanistan via the facilitators paid by the Quetta Shura. With disruption of the supply links to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that run through Pakistan - mainly Karachi, Omar and his acolytes have no capability to support a nation-wide Pashtun-based insurgency. If they must flee to Afghanistan or the border marches, they cannot keep up the pace of the past two years of fighting, assuming Pakistani authorities keep up the pressure and complete the roundup.

Without Pakistan as a safe haven and with the Shura members in custody, several things will happen. The Afghan Taliban will devolve into banditry within a year, though they will not disappear. The prospects for negotiated power sharing improve immeasurably. Pakistan becomes the honest broker among the warring parties and holds the high cards … or high value targets.

Pakistan-US-China: The abandonment of extremists apparently includes Uighurs who sought refuge in Pakistan. Pakistani intelligence and Taliban officials said Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, the al-Qaida-linked leader of a group called the Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP), was killed by a US remotely piloted vehicle attack in North Waziristan, Dawn News reported 1 March. Al-Turkistani in the past called for attacks on China for its mistreatment of Muslims.

Training and protection of Uighurs in Pakistan have been perennial sources of friction in the security relationship with China, which is indispensable for Pakistan's nuclear deterrent as well as it navy and air force capabilities. In allowing a Uighur leader to be killed - and probably providing some assistance, Pakistani leaders apparently want to show that the policy change favors both of Pakistan's primary supporters - the US and China.

Russia-France: Update. In a meeting in Paris today, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said Russia is negotiating to buy four Mistral helicopter-carrying warships, DPA reported. Sarkozy said France could sell the warships to Russia without military equipment. Medvedev said France's selling of the Mistral to Russia "is a symbol of trust between our two countries."

It also increases the potential threat to all pro-NATO countries and NATO members that border Russia and have a sea coast.

Medvedev, playing to the French chorus, also said Russia might support stronger sanctions against Iran.

Somalia Anti-Pirate Patrol: A Danish destroyer, HDMS Absalon, sank a pirate mothership in the Indian Ocean off the Somali coast after allowing the crew to leave, a NATO spokes person said Monday. The mothership was fired on and sank after its crew members were transferred to a smaller boat in tow, which was allowed to return to the mainland.

Piracy is off to a slow start this year. An Australian source reported 17 acts of attempted and successful ship seizures this year through 1 March. Six ships and 140 seafarers plus a British couple are in pirate custody at this time, awaiting ransom payments. Ransom demands have increased to $7 million, but it is not clear that payments have gone above $4 million, about the same as last year.

Niger: Update. Today, the junta announced formation of a 20-member provisional government to guide the country to future elections, Reuters reported. Mahamadou Danda will continue as prime minister, and junta chief Major Salou Djibo appointed five military officers to the government, including General Mamadou Ousseini as Defense Minister.

The new military ruler said millions of people are threatened by famine in Niger, Reuters reported. Addressing the nation on state television, Major Djibo said all means were urgently being deployed to tackle the famine, which "threatens the existence of millions of Nigeriens in virtually all regions."

Easing of famine will be the first test of the sincerity of the new caretakers, who claim to have seized power to take better care of the people, among other justifications.

End of NightWatch for 2 March.

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