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NightWatch 20100316


For the Night of 16 March 2010

North Korea-US: The US released its annual human rights report on North Korea today. As yet the North has not reacted, but it will. Timing of the release might have been given a bit more thought. The Norwegians use a phrase: "conflict sensitivity."

India-Afghanistan: Despite terrorist attacks targeting Indians in Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary Rao said India will not cut back its activities in Afghanistan, the Press Trust of India reported on 16 March.

Ms. Rao said New Delhi is taking all necessary security measures to safeguard Indian lives in Afghanistan. She charged that the 26 February attack was by "those who do not wish any other future for Afghanistan except one that suits their sinister ambitions."

Note: Last Friday, Prime Ministers Putin and Singh echoed each other in restating their countries' commitment to Afghanistan, just like the old days. Today's statement ends rumors that India was reconsidering its involvement because of security considerations. The strong message - precisely because of security considerations - is that Pakistan cannot dominate the deliberations about a future power-sharing arrangement in Kabul.

Sri Lanka: Court martial proceedings against former Army Chief, General (retired) Sarath Fonseka, for alleged involvement in politics while in uniform, began in Colombo on the 16th. Fonseka appeared before the court martial with his lawyers, headed by Rienzi Arsakularathne, the President's counsel.

Representatives of the Attorney-General's Department appeared for the prosecution and the next date of hearing has been fixed two days ahead of the 8 April general election. There were reports of protests by the General's supporters in various parts of the island nation.

Last week President Rajapaksa directed current Army Chief General Jagath Jayasurya to name a three-member panel of two-star Generals to try Fonseka on two different sets of charges. He is charged with engaging in politics while he was still the commander of the Army and making military purchases in violation of set procedures.

Comment: The court martial allegations represent a significant scaling back of the accusations against the General. He was arrested on 8 February for attempting to destabilize the government and was accused of treason by Rajapaksa's brother, but only after it was clear that Fonseka failed to unseat Rajapaksa in the presidential election.

This court martial is the first against a former Army Chief in Sri Lanka and General (retired) Sarath Fonseka is the country's first four-star General. He was conferred the rank by Mr. Rajapaksa after the security forces defeated the Tamil Tigers in May last year.

He has challenged his arrest in the Supreme Court, which has fixed a hearing for 26 April. The court martial and the Supreme Court hearing ensure he is excluded as a rallying point for anti-government opposition in the 8 April elections. Rajapaksa and his Sinhalese backers do not want a war hero on the loose. This is a study in democracy.

Afghanistan: A district chief told the Afghan Islamic Press on 16 March that the situation in Musa Qala District, Helmand Province, has been made worse by British forces. He said the British are not fighting the Taliban in the region, or helping the police fight the Taliban in any way. The British have not built mosques or schools or provided any other services to the people, he added.

Note: A Norwegian study group encountered a similar attitude in Badghis Province in northern Afghanistan in 2006. One local Afghan elder told the Norwegian NGO researchers, "If necessary, we are ready to have our own local Taliban to get support." Griping springs up as a cottage industry as soon as an adjacent district or valley appears to be prospering.

Security. Security officials predict the number of assaults in Afghanistan is likely to escalate with the coming of spring, Pajhwok news agency reported today. Mohammad Naim Baloch, deputy chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said in the last nine months 7,000 assaults occurred across the country, the most since 2001.

Baloch also said 15 provinces in the north, east and west were under a serious security threat from insurgents and 10 districts have fallen into Taliban hands. Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Munir Mangal said the NDS is facing a shortage of intelligence operatives, and the situation is deteriorating in provinces bordering Iran and Pakistan.

Comment: To put the comments in perspective, spring is always the time when the Taliban increase their attacks. There are at least four separate methods for counting "assaults" among US and allied military contingents and contractors and the UN. Baloch did not clarify which one he was using,

In some methods, bombings of all kinds are counted separately from Taliban initiated direct or indirect fire attacks, drive by shootings, assassinations and "complex" attacks, just to mention a few of the many categories of violence. The number breaks out to about 26 "assaults" per day in 400 districts. It is a lot of violence and it has been increasing faster year on year since 2006.

The number of provinces in the north, west and east under stress is about correct. Adding in the 12 or 13 core provinces of the Pashtun heartland, 28 or so of the 34 provinces are under stress and have been these past two years. Still on close examination the districts under Taliban control invariably are Pashtun populated districts outside the Pashtun heartland.

The 15 provinces, depending on which Baloch includes, contain at least 200 districts. That only ten districts are in Taliban hands is nearly miraculous considering the Pashtun dispersion in the west, east and north and the extent of effort the Taliban have put on expansion beginning in 2007 - that's not even one district per province.

Baloch's message evidently is intended to remind the US that the trouble is not confined to the south and that no one should expect quick fixes. Most observers know both of those points.

Open source fighting data for January show the Taliban wintered. Partial fighting data for February is dominated by the US push. Good months for a push into Taliban country and good months for Pakistan to round up Afghan Taliban leaders with minimal impact on Taliban operations in Afghanistan.

Iran-Iraq: For the record. Early today Iran congratulated Iraqis over the election. International supervision confirmed the soundness of the Iraqi elections. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast extended Iran's congratulations, stating that Tehran hopes to see the formation of the new government as soon as possible and added that the whole region will benefit from security in Iraq.

Iraq: Later today, the electoral commission reported results from 18 provinces representing 79% of the vote. They showed that former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqiya list has a narrow lead of about 9,000 votes over Prime Minister al Maliki's State of Law Party. All previous leaks and reports showed al Maliki had the lead.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's political bloc said an election official was manipulating vote counts and it called for a recount, The Associated Press reported. The complaint was sent to the electoral commission and U.N. advisers, said a candidate on al-Maliki's slate

The Iranian congratulations might have been pre-mature.

Ukraine: Update. The Stability and Reform parliamentary coalition was officially formed with the publication of the bloc's members on 16 March in Holos Ukrainy, the official newspaper of the Ukrainian parliament.

Included were all 172 members of President Yanukovych's Party of Regions faction, the 27 members of the Communist Party and the 20 members of the Lytyyn bloc, Kyiv Post reported. The coalition also includes 16 individual deputies -- four independents, six members of the Yulia Timoshenko bloc and six from the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense faction. The Stability and Reform coalition promises to distinguish itself by pro-Russian policies on defense and security.

The first business of the new Coalition today was to announce it will pass a law against joining military alliances, such as NATO. In a statement of purpose published Tuesday in the parliament's official newspaper, the Coalition supporting President Viktor Yanukovych said new legislation will "enshrine Ukraine's nonaligned status in law."

Somalia: Piracy update. Somali pirates on Tuesday freed a chemical tanker with 28 North Korean sailors on board after receiving $3.5 million in ransom, a maritime official said. The Virgin Islands-owned, Singapore-operated MV Theresa VIII was hijacked on 16 November some 180 nautical miles northwest of the Seychelles.

"It was freed today. The crew is safe," said Andrew Mwangura, the head of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme. Mwangura also is the official who said a $3.5 million ransom was paid to free the tanker.

EU Naval Forces Somalia reported the ship seen heading out to sea without requesting assistance. It had been bound for Mombasa. The crew will return without the captain who died in a gun fight resisting the seizure last November.

Note: The North Koreans managed to avoid winter on the Peninsula.

End of NightWatch for 16 March.

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