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NightWatch 20150303

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NightWatch

For the night of 3 March 2015

India-Pakistan: On 3 March, senior officials from India and Pakistan agreed to work together and to resolve all issues and disputes through dialogue. The agreement was reached during a meeting between Indian External Affairs Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. The discussions focused on bilateral relations and matters pertaining to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Indian External Affairs Secretary S. Jaishankar said the talks were held in a constructive and positive atmosphere. He said both the countries agreed to find common ground and decided to narrow their differences. He said Pakistan will be the next chairman of SAARC and India wants to work together with it to achieve the true potential of SAARC.

The Indian Foreign Secretary said both Pakistan and India have agreed that ensuring peace and tranquility on the border is vital. They discussed ways and means to resume the dialogue process between the two countries to move forward for resolution of all outstanding issues.

The visit of Indian external Affairs Secretary is part of his trip to SAARC member countries.

Comment: The language of agreement and cooperation is boilerplate that does not signify. It is the language of professional diplomats who are not empowered to make commitments.

On the other hand, the announcement is important because it indicates that Indian Prime Minister Modi apparently has not abandoned his initiatives to nudge SAARC into actually doing something to promote regional development through cooperation. Pakistan undermined Modi's initiative at the SAARC summit last November.

Afghanistan: On 3 March, a suicide bombing attack in Sangin District of Helmand Province killed 15 people and injured ten others. The dead included nine Afghan National Army soldiers. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

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Comment: The timing of this attack indicates it is the Taliban reply to the Afghan National Army's large clearing operation in Sangin District. Operation "Zolfeqar" began last month to regain control of the District which the Taliban took over last September. Sangin continues to be one of the most fought over and bloodiest districts in Afghanistan.

Peace talks. Taliban spokesman Zabihollah Mojahed denied a press report that claimed that the Taliban have started talks with the Afghan government.

The Turkish Anadolu Agency said in a report on 1 March that a senior Taliban official in Qatar confided that Mullah Mohammad Omar personally is ready to hold talks with Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and the talks will start in Kabul next week.

The Afghan government has not commented on the report or on the Taliban's refusal.

Comment: There have been many fabricated or premature reports about talks. This time the report appears to have some substance because reliable sources have reported that preliminary talks about the delegations and the agenda have been held in Qatar.  This is the only report that talks might start next week.

The emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Afghanistan provides a powerful incentive for Omar to seal his leadership in some fashion before he faces a serious challenge.

Ukraine: The Ukrainian armed forces leadership said the army is completing the withdrawal of 100-mm weapons from the line of contact in eastern Ukraine. The rebel leadership claimed it had completed the withdrawal of its heavy weapons on 3 March. Outside observers have been unable to confirm either claim.

The Ukrainian defense ministry reported 22 ceasefire violations in the past 24 hours in which three Ukrainian servicemen were killed and nine wounded. "An intensification of the enemy's military operations was observed on the evening of 2 March. They shot at Pisky with mortar bombs and with an anti-aircraft system at Avdiivka."

Ukrainian Internal Affairs Ministry adviser Zoryan Shiryak said that "Russian terrorists" opened mortar fire on the positions of the Azov regiment in Shyrokyne, near Mariupol late on 3 March.

"Our soldiers opened fire in response. There are currently no casualties among Ukrainian warriors. The standoff continues. The enemy continues the redeployment and significant reinforcement of forces in the southern direction. …" Shiryak claimed that separatists repeatedly attacked Ukrainian positions in Lebedyns'ke and Shyrokyne with large-caliber machine guns, automatic grenade launchers, mortars, snipers, and sabotage and reconnaissance groups."

Comment: Overall there is little change in the situation, but both sides are probing. Ukrainian forces appear to be more aggressive north of Donetsk. Rebel forces are more aggressive east of Mariupol.

Special Administrative Announcement

A NightWatch Special Administrative Announcement last June informed Readers that changes were on the horizon for NightWatch. To better serve you, we conducted a survey of Readers' preferences. We received an overwhelming and positive response. Long-time Readers will note that NightWatch has incorporated the preferences and changes Readers said they wanted most. Included in these changes is the conversion of NightWatch to a paid subscription, which will begin 16 March 2015.

To our valued Readers, we are extending the enrollment date for current subscribers to 31 March 2015 during which time you will continue to receive NightWatch free of charge. In addition to a complimentary two week sign-up period, you will also receive a 40% discount on the monthly cost of $3.49 if you sign up for an annual subscription at a cost of $24.99.

As the period for subscription nears, we shall publish directions about how to sign up and make payment, starting 16 March. NightWatch has been a free service for eight years. We hope through subscriptions we can continue to provide this service for years to come.

End of NightWatch for 3 March.

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