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NightWatch 20130517

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NightWatch

For the night of 17 May 2013

Pakistan: Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported that 17 newly-elected independent members of the National Assembly have joined the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. This gives it at least 140 seats, enough to form a PML-N government.

The leaders of the party complained to the caretaker government on Friday about its having made important appointments on the orders of President Zardari. The party criticized the caretaker government and described as 'illegal' its appointment of 'notorious' persons to offices such as chairperson of the National Electric Power Regularity Authority (NEPRA) and transfer of some federal secretaries.

"The caretaker prime minister should not make appointments at the behest of President Asif Zardari. He is listening to President Zardari but not us," PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif said.

Comment: The caretaker government's sole duties are to arrange and oversee the elections. Zardari got caught taking care of cronies before the new government takes charge on 28 May. When Nawaz Sharif becomes prime minister, Zardari's influence on government will almost vanish.

Afghanistan: Update. Two bombs hidden in a motorcycle and a car were remotely detonated inside an elite gated community linked to the family of President Karzai on Friday evening, killing at least nine people and wounding more than 70 near the southern city of Kandahar, an official said.

The blasts happened inside Aino Mina, a housing complex on the northern outskirts of the city that was developed in part by Mahmood Karzai, the president's younger brother. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

In a residential part of eastern Kabul on Thursday, a suicide car bomber attacked a US convoy. The explosion killed 15 people, including nine Afghan bystanders and six Americans. That attack was claimed by another militant movement, Hizb-e-Islami, whose leader is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister of Afghanistan.

Comment: The two attacks confirm once again that anti-government groups can attack almost any target they choose. They invariably have insider assistance.

Afghanistan-India: For the record. President Karzai will visit India for three days starting 20 May, in furtherance of the strategic partnership agreement. Karzai hopes to strengthen military ties, including training and arms supplies, according to Afghan Ambassador to India Shaida Abdali.

Comment: India's paramilitary Border Roads Organization has implemented infrastructure projects in eastern Afghanistan for years. India trains Afghans at Indian training facilities and has provided non-lethal military equipment. Karzai is looking for weapons this time and probably assurances of Indian support should Pakistan resume direct support to the Afghan Taliban.

Iraq: Bombs exploded in Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad and in surrounding towns on Friday, killing at least 76 people.

Two staggered explosions were used in the deadliest attack which targeted Muslims as they were leaving the main Sunni mosque in Baqubah, 35 miles north-east of Baghdad. The second explosion targeted people who gathered to help the wounded, leaving 41 dead and 56 wounded, according to police and hospital officials.

A roadside bomb exploded later on Friday during a Sunni funeral procession in Madain, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, killing eight mourners and wounding 11, police said. .

Another blast struck a cafe in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, killing two people and wounding nine, according to police and hospital officials.

In Baghdad, a bomb exploded near a shopping center during the evening rush hour in the mainly Sunni neighborhood of Amariyah, killing 21 people and wounding 32. That was followed by another bomb in a commercial district in Dora, another Sunni neighborhood, which killed four people and wounded 22, according to officials.

Comment: The series of bombings against Sunni targets on Friday apparently were in retaliation for two days of bombings earlier in the week against Shiite targets. Authorities reported 130 people died in attacks since Wednesday.

The momentum towards sectarian war in Iraq might have been stopped by political reforms that provided for more equitable power sharing with the Sunni political parties. The al Maliki government, instead, treated Sunni political protestors as terrorists and Baathists.

Now the time for compromise appears to have passed. One ripple effect of the fighting in Syria is that Sunni groups in Iraq have become emboldened to fight the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

Former prime minister Allawi warned this week that the bombings will continue until al Maliki resigns and new elections are held. But neither is likely.

Syria-Russia: Update. This week, the New York Times reported that Russia is delivering not only the S-300 advanced air defense missile systems to Syria, but also Yakhont "ship killer" missiles, which would make it a lot more painful for any foreign navies trying to intervene in Syria or provide supplies to the rebels by sea

In 2007, the two countries signed a contract for 72 Yakhont missiles which are supersonic and have a range of about 200 miles. Some missiles were delivered in 2011 but the Russians have not said how many remain to be provided. They are among the most deadly anti-ship missiles in the world.

Comment: Details about the S-300 system delivery remain undisclosed, including whether Russians will install and operate it. A member of the Russian parliament confirmed the Russians consider the Yakhont delivery a part of a longstanding weapons contract. The effect of these deliveries is to deter a UN resolution approving creation of a no-fly zone in Syria, as occurred in Libya which evolved into a NATO air combat campaign with limited ground intervention.

Russia: Russian navy ships from the Pacific Fleet entered the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in decades this week. The task group includes the destroyer Admiral Panteleyev, two amphibious warfare ships Peresvet and Admiral Nevelskoi, as well as a tanker and a tugboat.

"The task force has successfully passed through the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean. It is the first time in decades that Pacific Fleet warships have entered this region," the Pacific Fleet spokesman, Captain First Rank Roman Martov told RIA Novosti. Their next port of call is Limassol, Cyprus.

According to the Russian Today, the ships departed Vladivostok on 19 March to join Russia's Mediterranean task force, which currently consists of vessels from Northern, Baltic, and the Black Sea Fleets. The ships include a large anti-submarine ship, a frigate and a Ropucha-II Class landing ship.

Russian Navy Commander Admiral Viktor Chirkov on Sunday announced plans for the Mediterranean task force and said that it may "possibly" be enlarged to include nuclear submarines. "Overall, already from this year, we plan to have five or six warships and support vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, which will be replaced on a rotating basis from each of the fleets. Depending on the scope of assignments and their complexity, the number of warships in the task force may be increased," Chirkov said.

Comment: This week senior Russian officials have made clear that they will not allow NATO to repeat in Syria what occurred in Libya - the expansion of a no-fly zone to an air-supported ground intervention. One analyst judged that President Putin felt deceived by NATO and will not let that happen again. That explains the naval reinforcement and the supply of advanced weapons to the Syrian government forces.

While NATO and the Arab monarchs have dithered, the Russians made their decision to stand by Syria long before March.

End of NightWatch for 17 May.

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