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NightWatch 20120123


For the night of 23 January 2012

Pakistan: Update. Following a weekend meeting with Chief of Army Staff General Kayani, Prime Minister Gilani was upbeat, assertive and confident in public statement about US relations and minimized the rift between the government and the Pakistan Army. One reason for Gilani's self-assurance apparently is the release of the findings of the Pakistan Army concerning the 26 November killing of 24 soldiers on the border by friendly NATO fire.

In its report, the Pakistan Army rejected the NATO investigation report on the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers on 25/26 November last year. Instead, the Pakistan Army accused the US and ISAF forces of violating all mutually agreed procedures for border operations, for failing to communicate details of near border operations and for a complicated but not unified military command structure that contributed to the Pakistani deaths. Pakistan's investigation report said the US report was factually flawed.

Comment: The public accounts of the Army report in Pakistani press suggest it is a mix of facts and face-saving findings. The findings implicitly accuse the US of betraying agreed procedures repeatedly and blame the failure on the lack of a unified command. By way of proof, it cited the presence of US Army General Allen, ISAF Commander, with two staff members at Pakistan Army General Headquarters coordinating similar operations but not that in question only a few hours before the Pakistani soldiers were killed.

Several of the Pakistan Army findings match US critiques of the NATO/ISAF command structure. Those findings in particular provide leverage to the Pakistanis in negotiating the terms of future cooperation. The Pakistanis want US surveillance technology as well as an end to cross-border incidents that embarrass Pakistani forces and leaders. This has been an open-ended grievance for more than ten years.

Yemen: President Saleh has transferred power to a national unity government and flown to the US for medical treatment. Nevertheless the instability continues, often because Saleh's family and supporters continue to dominate the civil and military bureaucracies and because Saleh has immunity from prosecution.

Most recently, military personnel calling for the ouster of Yemen's Air Force commander, who is the president's half-brother, staged a sit-in in Sanaa on 23 January. This is the latest in a series of mutinies by armed forces units. Air force mutinies have been reported in four air bases.

Egypt: For the record: At the end of a tense opening session of parliament, members selected Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, the secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, as its new speaker.

Libya: Loyalist supporters of the late Muammar Qadhafi, estimated to number about 150 fighters, took control of the city of Bani Walid, some 110 miles south of Tripoli according to a former member of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC).

Comment: The ability of a relatively small number of armed men to take control of a town exposes the weakness of the new government. Four months after declaring victory, the new regime has not consolidated a base of support.

European Union-Iran: The European Union imposed an oil embargo against Iran and froze the assets of its central bank, part of sanctions to pressure Iranian officials into resuming nuclear talks.

The measures, approved in Brussels by the EU's 27 foreign ministers, include an immediate embargo on new contracts for crude oil and petroleum products.

A senior member of Iran's parliament said the Islamic Republic would close the entry point to the Persian Gulf if new sanctions block its oil exports, reiterating a threat made by officials a month ago.

"If any disruption happens regarding the sale of Iranian oil, the Strait of Hormuz will definitely be closed," Mohammad Kossari, deputy head of parliament's foreign affairs and national security committee, said to Iranian media.

Comment: The oil embargo is likely to hurt European states, such as Greece, more than Iran. The freeze on bank assets, however, imposes a potentially serious penalty on Iran plus limits its ability establish work-around arrangements for receiving payments for oil exports.

End of NightWatch for 23 January.

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