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NightWatch 20111024


For the night of 23 October 2011

Afghanistan: In an interview with Pakistan's GEO TV broadcast on the 22d, President Karzai said, "If fighting starts between Pakistan and the US, we are beside Pakistan. If Pakistan is attacked and if the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan's help, Afghanistan will be there with you." He also said that Kabul would not allow any nation, including the US, to dictate its policies.

Comment: Karzai appears to have been playing to his Pakistani audience as well as countering the impression of being a US lackey in the aftermath of the US Secretary of State's visit. A more complete broadcast of Karzai's statement included mention of India. He also said Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in the event India attacked Pakistan.

This was a cheap shot at the US and India and a grand gesture to Pakistan that has received high praise from Pakistani media commentators. Karzai's inclusion of India is perplexing because India is an important benefactor of the Kabul government.

India has strong and enduring ties to the tribes of the Northern Alliance that overthrew the Pashtun-based Taliban. Pakistan has longstanding ties to the Pashtuns of southern Afghanistan.

Karzai's cheap shots actually might nurture an improvement in Pakistani cooperation that other efforts failed to achieve. Karzai seems to sense that the end game has begun, which seems to underpin his interpretation of the significance of the high-powered US delegation to Pakistan. He is mending fences with Pakistan in order to find a way to survive in his neighborhood.

Special comment: A comparison of US media reports about the activities of the US Secretary of State's delegation in Pakistan and Pakistani news outlet reports shows a mismatch.

In the US media, the US delegation appears to have taken the Pakistani government to the "woodshed" over the Haqqani syndicate. The difficulty with that narrative is that the Pakistanis did not exhibit any signs of effrontery, as they have in the past. They did not invite the Americans to leave, which would have been appropriate between sovereign powers. Chief of Army Staff General Kayani made no public statement about alleged US demands for more Pakistani military pressure on the Haqqanis.

Pakistani media reported no stress in relations with the US during the visit. Thus it is unclear how tense are US-Pakistani relations. It is clear that the US visit involved much public posturing, an indicator of a cover story. Pakistani treatment of the US delegation's visit is not consistent with high tension in the relationship.

Tunisia: International media reported that the votes are being counted in Tunisia's first elections since the overthrow of the Ben Ali government. Voters were to elect the 217 members of the assembly that will draft a new constitution and which also will appoint an interim government and set elections for a new president and parliament. More than 11,000 candidates ran on 1,519 lists. About half of the lists were put together by more than 100 parties, and the rest were constituted by independents.

National election committee chief Kamal Jendoubi said on 23 October that the turnout was estimated to be at least 70 percent of the registered voters. Many voters told the press that they were voting for the first time because these were the first free elections in their experience. The final results are expected no sooner than 24 October or later because of the size of the turnout.

Opinion polls and early informal district counts show Ennahda, an Islamist party, winning a plurality of between 20 and 30 percent of the vote, more than any other party. Most forecasts are that Ennahda will not have enough seats for a majority in the assembly, forcing it to seek a coalition which might dilute the Islamists' influence.

Comment: The number of candidates, lists and parties indicates a simplistic and literal understanding of democracy consistent with a lack of political insight about how elective government works. The instigators of the Arab uprising in Tunisia provided no advice that 11,000 candidates or even 1,519 party lists might be unworkable numbers for voters. Thus far, the direction or even a consensus about the extent of change awaits the final vote count.

Ennahda describes itself as a moderate, tolerant Islamic party, but is affiliated with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. According to Tunisian press, the party leader's wife and female children were completely covered when they voted. Other Tunisians denounced him as a terrorist.

This is the first election resulting from the so-called Arab Spring. The informal returns indicate a strong, abusive secular government will be replaced by a coalition led by an Islamist party that favors Sharia and looks to the Muslim Brotherhood for guidance. The results of this election strongly will influence whether Egypt's military rulers even allow elections any time soon.

What is clear is that the election outcome most likely will be a plurality government that does not reflect the will of the majority of the Tunisian voters. Some might see the outcome as a change from the Ben Ali era, but without much difference as to their ability to influence the outcome. More to follow.

Kenya: Reuters reported that fighter jets struck two al Shabaab bases near Kismayo on 23 October. Al Shabaab claimed there were no casualties.

Kenyan and Somali government forces are within 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) of Afmadow, where al Shabaab has reinforced defenses, Somali General Yusuf Hussen Dhumal said. Kenya has said it has not faced any resistance so far, but expects a large ground battle in Afmadow.

A Kenyan military spokesman, Major Emmanuel Chirchir, said that "one of the partners," possibly the United States or France, had been behind airstrikes in the past few days, killing a number of Shabaab militants. The French Navy has also shelled rebel positions from the sea, the Kenyan military said in a statement.

Comment: US spokesmen have denied that any US aircraft participated in the strikes, but the denials did not mention whether the US helped the Kenyans attack more effectively. The Kenyan ground and air forces have operated at a level of effectiveness that exceeds their organic capabilities.

Following the death of the French paraplegic woman who was taken hostage by al Shabaab, French military or naval cooperation can be taken for granted.

Argentina: For the record. On 23 October Cristina Fernandez de Kircher won a landslide victory as President of Argentina for the next four years. Argentine analysts assessed that her victory primarily was the result of a booming economy. Cristina Fernandez has proven to be her own President, not just the surrogate of her late husband.

End of NightWatch for 23 October.

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