For the night of 17 February 2014
India-Afghanistan: Indian Minister of External Affairs Slaman Khurshid said on 15 February that India will provide helicopters to Afghanistan.
"We are giving them helicopters and we will be supplying them very soon," Khurshid told reporters accompanying him on a day-long visit to the Afghan city of Kandahar, where he inaugurated an agricultural university built with Indian aid. "We also have been giving them some logistical support and we hopefully will be able to upgrade and refurbish their transport aircraft."
Khurshid did not specify the number or type of helicopters to be provided to Afghanistan. Nor did he elaborate on transport aircraft contracts.
Comment: In combat operations since the Soviet intervention in 1979, attack helicopters have been critical to the survival of both Soviet and US/NATO forces in Afghanistan. In other words, limited pacification of one of the most primitive places on earth has required extensive use of one of the most sophisticated and complex weapons systems ever developed in support of ground forces.
NightWatch has contended for more than a dozen years that without fixed wing and helicopter support, the US and NATO combat force presence in Afghanistan always has been unsustainable.
Indian forces have ten kinds of helicopters, some of which Indian enterprises manufacture. Most of these, however, do not appear to be available for provision to Afghanistan.
India has reached an agreement with the US to purchase Apache attack helicopters that will replace its 20 Mi-35 Soviet-built attack helicopters. These appear to be the most likely candidates for early transfer to Afghanistan because they will become available soon and a core of Afghan pilots and technicians knows how to fly and maintain MI-35s. They are highly effective weapons systems, if well supported and maintained. The Indians will help.
The larger importance of the Indian announcement is that the government in New Delhi is not willing to surrender Afghanistan to the Taliban or to Pakistani intelligence without a fight. It appears committed to support an anti-Taliban government in Kabul and to the policy of supporting a two-front war threat to Pakistan.
There is symmetry in the Indian and Pakistani proxy fights. Pakistan supports the Kashmiri militants who tie down hundreds of thousands of Indian security forces. Indian support for the government in Kabul will force Pakistan to tie down significant resources to support the Pashtun Taliban whom Pakistani intelligence has protected in Quetta and Karachi for 13 years.
South Asia returns to an updated version of its old normality, but life for Afghans will have changed forever. The most immediate impact of US and NATO military intervention and person-to-person relations is a massive infusion of modernization at the most basic levels of daily living. The introduction of modern weapons, cell phones, digital televisions, satellite phones, computers, the internet and exposure to more modern ways of living, hygiene and learning will change Afghan expectations forever. Tribal politics will be a lagging indicator of progress, however.
When the Taliban ruled in Kabul, they entered a strategic agreement by which Afghanistan would afford Pakistan access to Afghan airbases and installations in the event of a war with India. For the first time in its history, Pakistan would have strategic depth in a fight with India.
The US overthrow of the Taliban abrogated that agreement and disrupted a decade of Pakistani intelligence investment in the Taliban. India is taking action to ensure that Afghanistan will not again make such an agreement with Pakistan.
Pakistan: Comment: During the past few weeks of exploratory talks between the government in Islamabad and the spokesmen for the Pakistani Taliban, attacks and clashes have increased; new atrocities have been reported and there has been no progress towards peace.
There are two clear lessons. The spokesmen for the Pakistani Taliban have no negotiating authority for anyone. Secondly, the idea of the Pakistani Taliban as a unified opposition is a fiction. The Wazirs do not command the Mohmands or any other anti-government groups. The Wazirs also are not united among themselves.
The irony is that the onset of peace talks has coincided with more and more vicious attacks than when peace talks were not taking place. That is an observation about correlation, not necessarily causation.
Iran-Pakistan: Iran's interior minister warned Iran might send forces into Pakistan if it does not act to free five Iranian border guards seized 10 days ago. The men are thought to have been taken into Pakistan after being captured in Iran's Sistan Baluchistan region in southeastern Iran.
Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli demanded that Islamabad treat the case "strongly and seriously" and "take the necessary measures" to secure their release.
The Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl claimed it was behind their capture. The group has posted what it said were photographs of the guards, bound and being held in an unknown location.
A video broadcast by al-Arabiya TV on Friday purportedly showed one of the men, Sgt Jamshyd Danaifard, saying they were "safe and sound". He added that Jaish al-Adl wanted the Iranian authorities to exchange 300 Sunni prisoners in Iran and in Syria for the guards.
Comment: Iran is acting as the dominant power in the border region between South and West Asia. Sunni militant groups have failed to make a significant impact on Iranian security in Iran's southeast. Rather those efforts have backfired by inviting greater Iranian intervention in Pakistan's southwestern border region
Iran already controls the western border regions of Afghanistan, west of the city of Herat. Road, rail and telecommunications infrastructure tie Herat to Mashhad, in northeastern Iran. Iran also patrols the border crossing area at Zaranj, south of Herat, which effectively gives Iran coverage of all of Afghanistan's western border.
The point is that Iran's strategy to expand its regional dominance extends both eastward as well as westward, from the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Sunni pinpricks in Sistan Baluchistan, some of which have been supported by US intelligence in the past, have served to justify more Iranian encroachment.
Syria: The leader of the Western and Gulf Arab-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been sacked and replaced by a more experienced field commander.
Colonel Abd al-Ilah al-Bashir will succeed Brigadier General Salim Idriss as chief-of-staff of the FSA's Supreme Military Council.
A spokesman said the decision was taken due to the "ineffectiveness" of the command and the need to "restructure."
Comment: Along with the collapse of talks in Geneva, the removal of Idriss signifies the failure of US policy at almost every level, or at least all initiatives reported in open sources. No parties profess to trust the US. The vote to remove Idriss signifies the rejection of US influence.
The indicators point towards a strategic shift in which Russia and Iran now stand against Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies as the principle antagonists. The US might be working covertly to support Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis have the lead. That pretty much means their side will fail. The Russians and Iranians have more experience and success in fighting proxy wars.
For now, the US is on the sidelines in the Middle East. The US administration has alienated all its historic allies; lost influence in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria; and has made dubious promises to Jordan which now is in danger of becoming a front line state, like Lebanon.
End of NightWatch for 17 February.
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