For the night of 5 August 2012
Philippines: Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on 3 August that the Philippines plans to enhance its maritime security capabilities by acquiring two naval missile frigates and several aircraft from Italy.
Comment: The Chinese have started an arms race in Southeast Asia. No single country is strong enough to stand up to China, but collectively, with US Naval back-up, the Chinese are no match for the Southeast Asians and have not been for millennia. China's reach to claim all of the South China Sea exceeds its grasp. That will become more apparent over time.
India: The Indian Space Research Organization this weekend announced that India planned to send a spacecraft to Mars in 2013. The estimated price of the mission was announced at $80 million.
The announcement generated significant backlash that the Indian educated elite were out of touch with the 30% of Indians who earned less than $.50 a day, India's latest poverty level.
Comment: India and China are in a sort-of space race. China has the lead because it recently placed a female astronaut in space. What is less well known is that Indian scientists working at NASA have been important contributors to the current NASA mission to Mars. While the Chinese are going to the Moon; the Indians are heading for Mars.
The Indian leaders are experiencing the age old argument about how best to allocate limited resources. Every space-faring nation encounters the same argument. The Indians decided that $80 million spent on scientific innovation was a better investment for India's future - and probably easier-- than trying to spread that $80 million among 300 million poor.
Pakistan: A Pakistani military court convicted five military officers, including Brigadier Ali Khan, for maintaining links to a banned organization. The Brigadier is the most senior of the five and received a sentence of five years in prison. The others received sentences of 18 months to three years.
The army did not name the banned organization, but officials have in the past identified it as Hizb ut-Tahrir - a British-based Islamist group that is banned in Pakistan.
Brigadier Khan was arrested following the killing of Osama bin Laden in May last year. He initially was charged with conspiring to overthrow the civilian government of Pakistan.
Khan has been highly critical of the Pakistan Army command over its relationship with the US, according to press analysts. In his statement to the court, he said he was being victimized for speaking out against officers whom he said had let bin Laden live in Pakistan for five years - and then allowed US forces to kill him.
During the court-martial proceedings witnesses - mostly army officers - told the court Brigadier Khan wanted to bring about an "Islamic revolution". They said he was working with Hizb ut-Tahrir to establish a caliphate in Pakistan.
The group does not advocate violence but has been accused of links to militants.
Comment: Khan's major mistake was in being too open in his advocacy of a caliphate in Pakistan and in being too critical of the chain of command.
The significance of this item is the rank of Khan and the obvious breakdown in the Army's notoriously rigid chain of command, especially for flag rank officers. Pakistani Brigadiers never criticize their seniors because it jeopardizes their post-Army job prospects.
It is well established by Pakistani media outlets that enlisted and field grade officer ranks of the Pakistan Army are staunchly pro-Islamist, anti-American, and anti-the civilian government.
The conviction of a flag-rank officer for the same tendencies is extraordinary and certainly intended as an object lesson. It confirms that Islamist field grade officers from the last decade, during the Musharraf era, are now reaching flag ranks and they are not like the foreign trained officers of earlier eras. That suggests that in one or two promotion cycles, the flag ranks in Pakistan will contain an expanding cohort of Islamist flag officers.
Afghanistan: The Afghan parliament voted 4 August to dismiss the Interior and Defense Ministers because of their inability to apply force to stop ongoing cross-border shelling from Pakistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on 5 August that he accepted parliament's decision to dismiss Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismullah Mohammadi.
Comment: The charges against the two men are primarily about incompetence in border defense, but the consequences of the dismissals primarily will degrade the management of the counter-uprising fight.
Nothing is ever as it seems on the surface. This looks like a pro-Taliban vote by the parliament that boxed Karzai, catching him and the Allies by surprise.
Saudi Arabia-Iran: For the record. King Abdallah has invited President Ahmadi-Nejad to attend a summit later this month in Saudi Arabia. There are no additional details.
Syria: For the record. Ahmad Talas, head of the contracts department at the Syrian Interior Ministry, has defected, the Daraa military council said on 3 August, Al Arabiya reported. Talas is believed to have information about weapon contracts. The Syrian Military Academy's Defense College head Muhammad Husayn al-Hajj has also defected, the military council said.
Comment: The defections seem to signify a shrinking of the government's base, meaning that Sunnis are leaving and only the Alawites, Christians and other minorities will remain. Every defection, however, always carries a personal story, so it is difficult to draw larger conclusons from individual defections.
Syria-Iran: An armed opposition group abducted 48 Iranian pilgrims from a bus in Damascus on 4 August. The incident has received international media coverage as a sign of government weakness.
The kidnappers insisted the pilgrims were Iranian Revolutionary Guards on a reconnaissance mission and had permits for carrying arms, though none were produced.
In fact, a man who described himself as the deputy commander of the Free Syrian Army said the kidnapping was by a rogue group, acting without authority.
Comment: This kidnapping was amateurish and did harm to the opposition. Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu and his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani, spoke separately with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on 5 August and agreed to help secure the release of the 48 Iranian pilgrims who were kidnapped in Damascus.
Russia-Syria: For the record. On Friday, various news services, citing anonymous Russian officials, reported that Moscow is sending three large landing ships carrying up to 120 marines each to Russia's naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus. Later in the day, Russian officials denied the ships would call at Tartus.
Syria and Russia have agreed on Russian energy resources to be supplied to Syria in the near future, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil said on 3 August. Syria will export crude oil to Russia in return for gasoline and diesel, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil said. Syria is currently producing about 200,000 barrels per day of crude oil.
Comment: Russian actions indicate the Moscow leadership does not consider the situation hopeless.
Egypt-Sinai-Israel: Islamist gunmen killed 16 Egyptian policemen, wounded seven others and seized two Egyptian security vehicles in the assault on a Sinai police station near the border with Israel on Sunday. Israeli aircraft destroyed the vehicles, where the gunmen used to try to storm the fortified border.
Egyptian state television and Israeli military officials said an Islamist militant group was responsible for the assault. An Egyptian security source said the Rafah border crossing with Gaza had been closed "indefinitely" after the attack.
Comment: This was the first security emergency for Egyptian President Mursi. The Israelis handled it far better than the Egyptians. Since the overthrow of Mubarak, Arab terrorists in Sinai have become increasingly uncontrolled. This was their boldest operation and most overtly political.
End of NightWatch for 5 August.
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