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NightWatch 20100415

NightWatch

For the Night of 15 April 2010

South Korea: On 15 April, South Korea with US assistance raised the stern of the patrol ship Cheonan and placed it on a salvage barge to enable a detailed examination of the damaged area. JoongAng Ilbo on 16 April published comments by a range of South Korean naval experts and officers. The impressions of all who inspected the damage is that the hole blew inwards, indicating an external source, either a mine or a torpedo.

Comment: The government appears to have relaxed restrictions about commenting to the press about the cause of the explosion. The nature of the comments seems to be part of a program to prepare the domestic and international audiences to expect the investigation to at least imply that some North Korean entity sank the South Korean ship.

Thailand:  No clashes or confrontations were reported on 15 April.

Pakistan: Update. Today the Senate, parliament's upper house, unanimously approved the constitutional reform package that restores parliamentary government. The vote was 90 in favor and none against.

The only demurrer was by one party which voted against renaming Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). Those who opposed the renaming of NWFP as "Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa" during a clause-by-clause reading of the bill voted in favor of the document in line with the commitment made by all political parties for its passage before it was submitted to parliament, according to the Daily Times.

The bill will now go to President Zardari to sign into law.

Afghanistan: Special comment: Today the Washington Post published a post mortem on the five-year presence of US forces in the Korangel Valley of Konar Province in eastern Afghanistan. US forces completed their withdrawal from that valley this week.

The article contains several important themes for Afghanistan watchers that were not developed by the author. The most salient is that the elder with whom US commanders always spoke proved not to be a village power broker who could benefit the US force presence or the extension of central government. In those contexts, he worked essentially as a buffer for the men who actually "controlled" the Valley and its people. The lack of progress in building a road for three years was not just obduracy by hostile villagers.

To his great credit, the US officer identified in the article had the good sense to come to that realization and pressed to make contact with the real authority.

The Post article is an important example of what seems to be a more widespread experience. Talking with the elders might not be relevant at all to creating stable security conditions. That adds to a growing body of knowledge that the traditional village power structure no longer exists in many regions, mainly as one consequence of 30 years of war.

Dr. Tom Johnson at the Naval Post Graduate School, among others, makes the case persuasively that the old local power structure has broken down. A factor in the breakdown was the movement of large numbers of Afghans to Pakistan. They abandoned village lands and stayed in Pakistan until repatriation programs began after the overthrow of the Taliban. Since 2002, the UN High Commission for Refugees reported in its 2010 update that more than 5 million displaced Afghans have been repatriated.

Changes in land or resource ownership apparently have created a class of economic, military and local political power holders who are not the elders or other traditional power wielders in many areas, especially the south. Sometimes they are warlords, prominent local officials and drug chieftains. Sometimes they are lumber barons or other local "entrepreneurs," such as Haji Matin in the Post article.

Their grievances against US and NATO forces and against any government in Kabul might not be well reported because the men might not be known. In Korangel Valley, only the last US commander seems to have understood the local power structure, after five years. The timber baron was viscerally hostile because US troops killed his family members and the government wanted to take over his trade by banning private lumbering, according to the Post article.

Thus a three year project to build a road in Korangel Valley never received village support. The Post article indicates that such an obviously attractive "hearts and minds" project apparently did not serve the interests of the timber baron. Smugglers, who illegally cut timber and sell it in Pakistan, for example, would benefit more from isolation and difficulty of access for government agents than they would from improved access by national authorities.

In Konduz Province, occasional reports from Afghan news services attribute some firefights to intra-Taliban struggles over control of jewel mines or other natural resources. The frequent reporting about poppy growing and drug lords has significance not just because of Taliban financing and criminal behavior. An underlying story is that land ownership patterns and the local power structure have changed.

Such changes would help explain why programs to empower the elders or others that seem obviously beneficial to village life might fail, as they regularly do in Pakistan's tribal agencies. There are other powerful local influences at work that are opaque to outsiders and not volunteered.

The micro-economics of the Afghanistan struggle are probably its least well understood, but among its most important, drivers. They are a daunting intelligence challenge.

Kyrgyzstan: Update. Ousted President Bakiyev left Kyrgyzstan for Kazakhstan, AKIpress reported 15 April. A military plane arrived at the Jalal-Abad airport at about 7:00 p.m. local time, and Bakiyev was seen boarding the plane before it departed. Bakiyev earlier told a rally that Kazakh President Nazarbayev personally invited him to Kazakhstan.

The departure of ousted Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan on 15 April was the result of a joint effort by U.S. President Obama, Russian President Medvedev and Kazakh President Nazarbayev and mediation by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), according to a statement released by the OSCE. The United Nations and European Union also played a role in reaching the agreement, according to the statement, and the OSCE said it is ready to provide further assistance to Kyrgyzstan to help resolve its political crisis.

The interim government issued arrest warrants for Bakiyev's brothers who remain in Kyrgyzstan. Interim Minister Shykmamotov told the press an operation has begun in southern Kyrgyzstan to carry out the arrests. None of Bakiyev's relatives will be allowed to leave and those who committed crimes will be brought to justice, according to the Minister.

Former Kyrgyz Defense Minister Kalyyev already has been arrested, caught while attempting to leave the country, The Associated Press reported. Kalyyev is accused of ordering soldiers to fire on a crowd of protesters in Bishkek on 7 April.

As for Bakiyev, interim government leader Otunbayeva said Bakiyev will be tried before an international court or a court in Kyrgyzstan as part of the agreement that set up Bakiyev's flight to Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. Otunbayeva said any crimes Bakiyev may have committed in violation of Kyrgyz or international law will be investigated, and that a request will be made for Bakiyev's extradition after the investigation.

Comment: The OSCE statement indicated that the security situation was not yet settled and conveyed concern that it might deteriorate, despite Bakiyev's departure.

Syria: Syrian authorities denied reports that Damascus transferred Scud ballistic missiles to the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group, Israel Radio reported 15 April. Syrian officials accused Israel of fabricating the report to divert attention from its own arsenals.

Comment: A Scud system has a very large footprint that makes it difficult and sometimes dangerous to conceal, maintain and operate without lots of training and practice and a large supporting infrastructure in Lebanon or Syria. Scuds in Lebanon would be easy targets for the Israeli Air Force.

They would not be strategic game changers for Hezbollah, anymore than they were for Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. Their presence in Lebanon would be a "red line" that would give the Israelis a justification for retaliation strikes against Syria as well as Hezbollah.

Madagascar: The political crisis has droned for over a year and now the army, whose intervention in March 2009 aggravated political tension by installing Andry Rajoelina as president, issued an ultimatum to Rajoelina on 12 April directing him to settle the crisis by the end of April.

Rajoelina has promised to dissolve his government and create an interim body to share power with former President Marc Ravalomanana, Reuters reported 15 April. Elections will be organized in about three months, according to Rajoelina. A meeting between the two men is scheduled in South Africa on 24 April to work out details.

The new "road map" towards a lasting political solution reportedly was conveyed to Rajoelina by the French Secretary for Cooperation during a visit two weeks ago, according to Afrik.com. If that is accurate, it suggests that the business community complained to France that it has had enough of the political stalemate.

End of NightWatch for 15 April.

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