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NightWatch 20110829


For the Night of 29 August 2011

Japan: Update. Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda was elected president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in a second round runoff election. Noda received 215 votes, defeating Trade Minister Banuri Kaeida who received 177 votes. Both houses of the Diet are scheduled to elect the prime minister on 30 August. Noda is expected to become Japan's 62nd prime minister.

Comment: Noda's first public comment after his election as party president is that he will continue the party policies. That pretty much guarantees he will not be in office long.

Afghanistan: On 28 August, Mullah Omar delivered to the Afghan media a 3,000 word - in English translation -- greeting for the Eid al Fitr observance, at the end of Ramadan. In it he praised the course of the conflict; said the offensive was achieving better results than last year and said his side is winning. He denounced limited foreign troop withdrawals and made the usual call for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces. He denounced permanent bases.

Concerning negotiations, Omar wrote "every legitimate option can be considered" but related that statement to the purpose of establishing an independent Islamic regime.

The only contacts with the Afghan government that he mentions concern exchanges of prisoners which he says "can't be called as a comprehensive negotiation." Omar wrote that his agenda "has been elucidated time and again." He called on the Afghans working for the Kabul Administration to join "the Mujahedin."

A member of the Afghan Government High Peace Council, Mohammed Esmael Qasemyar, said he thinks that Mullah Omar's message signifies the Taliban has softened its stance and has not rejected peace talks with the Afghan government. The Taliban set some conditions and said it accepted a legitimate solution to the crisis in Afghanistan, Qasemyar said, adding that he thinks the message can be assessed positively.

Comment: Omar seems open to a comprehensive negotiation, but the terms are those he has made known in the past - primarily, the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops. Moreover, what Mullah Omar considers "legitimate" almost always is a fundamentalist interpretation and application of Sharia.

There might be a nuance to Omar's message that did not translate into English, but the tone and content are triumphal, as befits an Eid greeting. Omar promises "to solve the issue of Afghanistan," as he calls it, provided he gets his way.

Libya: The pending appointment of Albarrani Shkal as the head of security in Tripoli was protested by about 500 demonstrators in Misrata's Martyr's Square on 29 August. According to media reports, Libyan National Transitional Council official Mahmoud Jibril is prepared to appoint Shkal, a former army general, to the position.

The protesters said the "blood of the martyrs" would be betrayed by the appointment. The president of Misrata's council reportedly said "Shkal is with Qadhafi." He also said that if the appointment was confirmed, rebel soldiers from Misrata that are in Tripoli would refuse to follow orders from the National Transitional Council.

Comment: Shkal defected to the rebels in May, according to the head of the National Transitional Council, and supplied valuable intelligence. Before then he is reported to have served in Khamis Qadhafi's brigade, which attacked Misrata.

The protest is the first manifestation reported in international media of the large divide between the Benghazi-based rebels and the rebels in the west, including the groups that captured Tripoli. Some news accounts relate that the Misrata and western mountain rebels feel they have not received adequate recognition for their roles in capturing Tripoli and are refusing to follow orders of the National Transitional Council.

It is not clear how serious this is yet, but it parallels attitudes in every successful overthrow. The winning side always is suspicious of defections during the final stage of the fight, usually for good reasons.

The National Transitional Council faces a dilemma because most of the people who have the talent and training for restoring the state are returned Libyan expatriates or worked in the Qadhafi regime, whether they defected or not. National reconciliation in the aftermath of the collapse of an authoritarian state requires some conventions that do not reward opportunists but also do not punish genuine reformers who worked for the Libyan government. Tribes that remained on the sidelines pose yet another set of challenges.

In the interests of restoring security quickly and competently and in reconciliation, the Council's decisions might backfire by widening fractures and weakening its legitimacy. The Council's international recognition appears greater than internal Libyan acceptance. It is not the government of all the Libyans at this point. The power vaccuum is potentially dangerous.

Algeria-Libya: The Algerian Foreign Affairs Ministry said members of Qadhafi's family entered Algeria early on 29 August. Qadhafi's wife, Safia; his daughter, Aisha; his sons, Hannibal and Mohamed and their children are now in Algeria. The location of Qadhafi and his other sons has not been reported, though rebels insist that Khamis is dead and was buried in Zlitan, in the west.

The Information Minister in the transition government described Algeria's acceptance of  the Qadhafis as "an act of aggression." Mohammed Schammam said Libya will pursue them through legal means.

Comment: The army-backed Bouteflika government in Algiers consistently has supported the Qadhafi government through the Libyan fighting. Bouteflika also supported Tunisia's Ben Ali, Egypt's Mubarak and Yemen's Saleh. Relations with the new Libyan government will be strained.

End of NightWatch for 29 August.

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