For the night of 19 November 2013
Pakistan: Update. Pakistan on Tuesday set up a special court to try former president Pervez Musharraf for high treason, an official statement said. The announcement came hours after the Supreme Court forwarded the names of five judges suitable to sit on the special court, following a government request on Monday.
Comment: The Chief Justice and the Prime Minister both have major complaints about their treatment when Musharraf governed. The four outstanding criminal charges against him attest to his cavalier attitude towards civilian laws.
The Chief Justice is determined to use his office to establish the rule of law in Pakistan, including over the Pakistan Army, and the independence of the judiciary. The Prime Minister appears to be out for punishment, if not justice, for Musharraf's overthrow of Sharif in 1999.
This is a serious matter that could lead to military unrest once again because it will tarnish the senior staff of the Pakistan Army as it existed in 2007. That explains why the government has decided to bring the first treason charge against a former Chief of Army Staff for constitutional crimes while the incumbent, General Kayani, remains in office - until 28 November.
Kayani's six-year tenure has been characterized by attention to soldierly duties and open military support for elected civilian government. He has held the post of army chief long enough to fill the senior positions with men he judges are of like mind and whom he thinks he can trust to respect the constitution.
One the other hand, a treason charge against a former army chief potentially is destabilizing because Musharraf also has cronies in the officer corps. That explains why Sharif has not yet named Kayani's successor. This trial, if it proceeds, could be the greatest test of Pakistan's democracy and judiciary ever.
Syria: Syrian Arab Army units with assistance from Hizballah fighters captured the town of Qarah, which is a stopping point on the main highway from Damascus to the Syrian coast. The army launched its offensive on Friday, carrying out a series of air strikes and helicopter attacks. Thousands of Syrians fled into Lebanon.
Rebel group Jabat al-Nusra (the al-Nusrah Front) said that it and other groups had withdrawn from the area, after sustaining serious losses.
Qarah is located 100 kms (60 miles) north of Damascus on the main highway to the coast. It is 175 kms from Latakia in northwestern Syria, the heartland of regime supporters.
The Syrian government now controls the road linking the coast to the capital via Homs. This means that the pro-government forces have broken the back of the opposition fight in the west because the opposition supply line from Lebanon has been severed.
A blog reported from a "reliable source" that about 6,000 government forces and 2,500 Hizballah fighters supported by tanks, artillery and air strikes defeated about 3,000 opposition fighters
Rebels responded by shelling Damascus with mortar rounds that have hit the city almost every day during the past two weeks, leaving dozens dead or wounded. Nevertheless, on Tuesday, state TV reported that troops were "in full control of Qarah after wiping out all terrorist units in it".
Comment: This is a significant setback for the opposition whose fighters had held Qarah for over a year. It served as an opposition arms smuggling distribution point from Lebanon.
The rebellion in the west central region along al Qalamoun Mountains that run along the Lebanon border appears to have fragmented, if not collapsed. An al-Nusrah Front spokesman promised a counterattack, but the main battle appears to have ended in a government victory. The government now should have a relatively secure line of communication to the coastal ports of Tartus and Latakia.
Provided the government can maintain security on the highway, this development should facilitate the transport for destruction of chemical weapons agents from sites near Damascus.
Lebanon: At least 26 people have been killed and more than 140 injured in a double suicide bombing outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut. The Iranian cultural attaché, Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari, is among the dead, according to Iran's Fars news agency.
A Sunni jihadist group, which calls itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said it was behind the attack. Their goal is to force Lebanese Hizballah forces to withdraw from Syria, they said.
Comment: The last major attack in Lebanon occurred on 23 August. More than 40 people were killed and 400 injured in two blasts outside mosques in Tripoli.
In Lebanon strategic and parochial issues are intertwined so that the ultimate purposes of deadly actions are often obscure. None of the Sunni violence against Shiites in Lebanon has made any difference in the Syrian fighting. Expect Hizballah to retaliate.
Venezuela: Venezuela's National Assembly has given final approval to special powers for President Nicolas Maduro. Under the measures Maduro will be able to govern without consulting Congress for 12 months.
After signing the bill, he promised to keep prices down and conduct a "ground-shaking" anti-corruption offensive. The president says the aim of the new powers is to tackle the economic crisis.
Comment: The late President Chavez was voted similar powers during a period of internal political instability. Maduro's main problem is that because of his ineptitude the Venezuelan economy is collapsing. He and his advisors stand no chance of fixing the economy by fiat. There will be riots again in Caracas.
End of NightWatch for 19 November.
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