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NightWatch 20110114


For the Night of 14 January 2011

India-Jammu and Kashmir State: The Home Secretary Gopal Pillai announced that the government plans to reduce security forces in the state this year. Speaking at the "Way forward in Kashmir" symposium on the 14th, Pillai said security forces strength will be reduced by one-fourth and bunkers will be lifted from Srinagar. The government will make a final decision in April on proposals for easing security restrictions in the state.

Comment: Mid-winter is not a good time to gauge security conditions in Kashmir. Still, the government in New Delhi has been persistent in experimenting with less security. The improved security conditions have taken two decades to achieve and have required a force ration of usually 400 soldiers and paramilitary policemen for every Kashmiri terrorist. The 400:1 ratio has reduced the terrorist threat to a police problem and kept it there despite occasional spikes in operations from Kashmiri terrorists operating from Pakistan.

The role of the Pakistani government is not nearly as clear as it was under Musharraf who modulated the Kashmir terrorist threat to India to suit his policy needs. No news services report that Pakistani support for the Kashmiri terrorists has stopped or that the more than a dozen training camps in Pakistani Kashmir have closed down. However, the lack of sensational attacks in Kashmir since November indicates the Gilani government in Islamabad has imposed restraints. Meanwhile, the large Indian Army forces that guard the border and the Line of Control remain vigilant against infiltration. That is tonight's good news.

Lebanon: Update. Reuters reported on 14 January that the release of a draft indictment for the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005 is imminent. The prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is expected to send the indictment to tribunal pretrial judge Daniel Fransen within the next few days. After the indictment goes to Fransen, it could take six to 10 weeks for a decision on whether to confirm the indictment and issue arrest warrants.

Comment: Asia Times Online has posted several very detailed and plausible accounts of events leading up to the Hezbollah and friends withdrawal from the Hariri government. They reinforce the assessment that the struggle is about the future direction of Lebanon.

One lesson from old hands is a reminder that every political allegiance is temporary. The key challenge is to avoid another civil war while arranging support to lead a new government. Avoiding a civil war is not the same, however, as avoiding violence, including political assassinations.

Tunisia: Tunisia has experienced a military coup d'etat led by Army General Rachid Ammar who is the power behind a civilian leadership council led by the Speaker of the Parliament. It has not experienced a revolution or popular overthrow of the government. That might yet come, but the Army's monopoly of guns makes it highly unlikely. It also sidesteps the underlying grievances that drove the unrest during the past month.

In the past 24 hours, Tunisians saw their President offer conciliation, including banning use of live ammunition; order the government sacked; declare an emergency and then leave the country.

The Army left the streets of Tunis but came back, took over the airport, took over security duties from the police, surround the Interior Ministry which controls the police, and implement the state of emergency, including removal of the posters of former President Ben Ali. Security forces were reported to have arrested Ben Ali's son-in-law and other family members.

Prime Minister Ghannouchi announced he was acting as President but would hand over power to the six-person leadership council, chaired by the Speaker of Parliament and including the Minister of Defense. The announcement of these develops ended with the statement that further changes will be read out by Commander of the Land Forces, General Rachid Ammar.

Comment: Ammar supposedly resigned rather than order troops to fire on demonstrators earlier this week, but obviously is a member of the leadership council. Ammar is in control. The style of this overthrow is almost identical to that in Bangladesh in 2007, in which a civilian figurehead fronted for the Chief of the Army Staff, who used the Army to restore civil order and eliminate corruption in government.

The following emergency conditions are now in effect:

"First, any gathering of more than three people is prohibited in the public places and streets in the whole of Tunisia.

Second, curfew will be imposed on individuals and cars from 1800 to 0600.

Third, it is possible for the security services and the national army to use weapons against any suspect person who does not obey orders to stop, try to run away and who leave no chance to force him to stop.

These measures will be in force from now on until contrary measures are being taken."

Late reports. Demonstrations in Tunisia continued against Prime Minister and interim President Mohamed Ghannouchi for assuming the presidency. Helicopters were deployed over areas west of the capital that are experiencing unrest, the news agency said.

Comment: The new civilian leadership has promised to honor the constitution and to implement the promised reforms. It looks as if Ben Ali made promises he had no intention of keeping or had a melt down of some kind. In any event, the Army takeover on the 14th will pause the action and should be sufficient to restore order, provided the Army or the police do not join the protestors.

The role of the Army thus far is to stabilize security so that the civilians can arrange new elections in six months. That is what occurred in Bangladesh, but in Bangladesh General Moeen's crackdown was much sterner and led to extensive criminal investigations of civilians for corruption.

The calls for the resignation of the Ghannouchi presidency are a significant indicator that a popular uprising was not the agent of government change. It was the trigger for a breakdown in the unity of the government that forced the President to leave. That is a praetorian coup.

The protestors understand what happened which is why they are calling for Ghannouchi -- who was prime minister under the prior regime - to resign. The political struggle does not seem finished. The caretaker or interim government has no more resources for solving fundamental economic problems 24 hours ago than it has today. The present civilian figureheads are not likely to last.

The Army will be the primary agent of stability for now but it might have to step from behind the scenes before the situation is stabilized. Even then, none of this week's drama solves the economic problems. It just postpones dealing with them, while the political order adjusts itself. Coups always do that.

The crisis might end soon, but has not ended yet.

Ripple Effects

Jordan: About 8,000 protesters marched throughout Jordan on 14 January protesting commodity prices, unemployment and poverty. In addition to Amman, there were demonstrations in Maan, Karak, Slat, Irbid and Dhiban.

In Karak, at al Omari mosque, 300 to 400 protested, chanting slogans against Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai. Similar numbers marched in the other towns and cities. A group of leftist and Baathist parties reportedly organized the demonstrations; the Muslim Brotherhood said it was not involved.

Three days ago, after riots began in Algeria and Tunisia over high prices, unemployment and falling living standards, Jordan announced a $225 million package of cuts in the prices of some types of fuel and of staple products including sugar and rice.

Libya: The government abolished taxes and customs duties on food products.

Morocco: The government offered compensation to importers of soft milling wheat to keep supplies stable after a surge in grain prices.

Senegal: President Abdoulaye Wade expressed concern about the high cost of basic commodities, citing a statement by the Cabinet. Wade instructed Prime Minister Souleymane Ndiaye Ndene and the ministers of finance and commerce to submit proposals for lowering prices.

Comment: Many countries on the southern and eastern Mediterranean coast have a large class of unemployed and under-employed youth; high prices for food and essentials; authoritarian governments considered corrupt and few resources for fixing the problems. Some like Tunisia were considered stable and good places to do business.

Egypt is overdue for another paroxysm of popular protest. The last riots were over bread prices in 2007 and 2008.

End of NightWatch for 14 January.

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