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NightWatch 20110505

NightWatch

For the Night of 5 May 2011

Burma (Myanmar)-China: Update. General Min Aung Hlaing is to make his first official visit to China and his first foreign visit since the establishment of an elected government under President Thein Sein. Burmese analysts describe China as Burma's closest ally, no doubt rankling the Indian government. The Burmese General intends to discuss border security issues with the Chinese, according to press releases. Railroads, pipelines and Chinese access to Burmese ports almost certainly will be on the agenda.

Pakistan-US: In an official statement on 5 May, the Pakistan Army announced that US military personnel in Pakistan will be cut to the "minimum essential" levels. It also warned that if the United States conducts another raid similar to the one that led to Usama bin Laden's death, the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies will review their ties with Washington.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said that any attempts by any country to mimic the US raid on Pakistani soil that resulted in the death of Usama bin Laden will "result in a terrible catastrophe." Bashir said Pakistan has the capacity to protect itself and that the US helicopters managed to evade Pakistani radars (sic.). Bashir specifically mentioned remarks from Indian military officials discussing mounting such a raid, calling them a concerning attempt to subvert the agenda of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Military deliberations. Pakistani military officials discussed the US raid in Abbottabad and its implications for US-Pakistani military-to-military relations during the Corps Commanders' Conference, chaired by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani, the Inter-Services Press Relations department said on 5 May.

The conference admitted shortcomings in developing intelligence on Usama bin Laden's presence in the country but emphasized that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate's achievements against al Qaida and others were unmatched; approximately 100 senior al Qaeda leaders or operators have been captured or killed by the ISI, with or without CIA support. The CIA developed intelligence on bin Laden based on initial information from the ISI, but it did not share additional information on the case, the statement said. An investigation of the circumstances that led to this situation has been ordered.

Comment: By far the most damaging and disconcerting ripple effect of the Abbottabad raid for the Pakistani security elite is its exposure of basic Pakistani military vulnerabilities to the Indians, as well as to the rest of the world. A few points need stress.

Pakistan fundamentally is and has always been a military state. Civilian elected government is a thin veneer that wears away quickly. The pillar of the state is the Pakistan Army, but it has been humiliated and bested by 79 or so - the number seems to keep changing - US Navy SEALs.

The tone and substance of the comments above indicate Pakistan considers this a traitorous act, a betrayal by an ally, in the face of the Indian enemy. For Pakistan Army corps commanders the US raid exposes a potentially existential, strategic weakness. Instead of being grateful, they are angry and vindictive.

That anger explains the ultimatum language in the Army and Foreign Secretary's statements. Some of the bluster is for public consumption, but the core is genuine. This is a watershed development that will not be forgiven or forgotten. China will be the beneficiary of Pakistani military anger at the US, over the mid term.

The irony of the corps commanders' outrage is that this is not the first time they and their leaders have come up short, but it is the most sensational. These guardians of Pakistan's patrimony failed to match Indian war preparations in 2002, twice, after Pakistani-based terrorists attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001.

General Kayani's primary mission was to restore respect for the Pakistan armed forces, after the years of politicization and decline under Musharraf's leadership of the armed forces and the country. The US raid showed Kayani has succeeded in rebuilding public admiration for the forces, but that it might not be merited. Pakistan's defense forces pose no challenge to a world class attacker, which India is rapidly becoming, far surpassing Pakistan.

It seems important to note that bin Laden in Abbottabad posed no direct threat to Pakistan. That is obvious from the length of time he resided there. The exposure of strategic vulnerabilities to India is a far more pressing worry for Pakistani leaders.

Internal security. Pakistani security forces will launch a massive search operation in Quetta and tribal areas of North Waziristan to capture Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar or al Qaida senior leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to top government sources in Islamabad, The News reported on 5 May. According to the sources, Islamabad wants to make sure neither Mullah Omar nor al-Zawahiri are hiding in Pakistan and if they are, to capture them before the United States can embarrass Pakistan again.

Comment: The most important psychological effect of the bin Laden raid on a variety of anti-government leaders resident in Pakistan is the heightened sense of vulnerability. If Pakistan lives up to today's pledge, then the combined pressure of the US and Pakistan will have "poisoned the host," meaning the anti-government leaders will have no safe place to hide.

The announcement above is not an epiphany but damage control. It is bad news for Mullah Omar, Hekmatyar and Haqqani, if Pakistan lives up to its promise. The one suspicious omission in the announcement is mention of Karachi, major portions of which are under Sharia and populated by Pashtuns. Two years ago, Mullah Omar and his shura were reported to have moved to Karachi from Quetta. Mention of Karachi would have made the announcement seem more sincere.

Pakistan-US: The United States does not possess "definitive evidence" that Pakistan was aware of Usama bin Laden's presence, but Islamabad must do more to show its commitment to defeating al Qaida, US Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy said 5 May.

For example, Pakistan could help exploit materials collected during the raid on bin Laden's compound, Flournoy said. She said there was an opportunity to make further gains against al Qaida. Previously scheduled meetings at the Pentagon with a Pakistani delegation still occurred on 2 and 3 May, Flournoy said. In those sessions, Flournoy said she made clear that the U.S. Congress would be increasingly skeptical about continuing to give Pakistan billions of dollars in aid.

Special Comment: No news services have recalled that the events involving bin Laden's sanctuary in Pakistan all occurred during Musharraf's tenure, the Chief of Army Staff and later President-General.  His military background was well-rounded, but he prides himself as the former commander of the Pakistan Army Special Services Group, the special forces.

Musharraf has a history of clever ruses and dangerous initiatives. He brought Pakistan to the brink of war with India in 1999 over Kargil, trying to steal a march on India during the winter.

Later that year he overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, when the chief executive attempted to replace Musharraf as Chief of the Army Staff for the Kargil fiasco. He also was deeply and continuously involved in supporting the Taliban regime of Mullah Omar, reportedly, in exchange for an agreement that Afghanistan would serve as Pakistan's strategic rear in a potential fight with India.

As a matter speculation, Musharraf is clever enough to have not informed ISI Directorate of any black bag deals he arranged with bin Laden and the Taliban, who obtained safe haven in Pakistan when the US attacked in 2001. There are several intelligence and security bureaux, including the military intelligence branch in the Army and Pakistan's premier domestic intelligence agency, the Intelligence Bureau, which is subordinate to the Chief Executive. In any of these, Musharraf could have created special arrangements for supporting terrorists, without necessarily involving ISI Directorate.

Consequently, active ISI Directorate officers genuinely might not know about arrangements for providing hospitality and protection to bin Laden, Mullah Omar and others because the responsibility for tracking them inside Pakistan would fall to the Intelligence Bureau. During the time bin Laden was in Pakistan and during Musharraf's tenure, the Intelligence Bureau had seven directors. All must be brought in for questioning.

In Abbottabad, the first people who should be investigated are the local police. In most countries, the local police station maintains a register of  the names, number and gender of every resident in every house in the jurisdiction. Every person who speaks a foreign tongue, every foreigner in particular, would be checked every day and his or her location noted and dated in the police station. In Indonesia, for example, this was done by hand on a chalk board, even in the most remote jungle districts of the Celebes.

Four points are clear. Pakistan is much more concerned about India than about internal terrorism or the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan has many alternatives to the ISI Directorate for managing clandestine arrangements with terrorists. The Intelligence Bureau must be investigated. The timing of all known clandestine arrangements falls within Musharraf's tenure.

Syria: Residents of Daraa on 5 May refuted government claims that the Syrian Army had withdrawn its units from Darraa. One resident said the Army still controlled Daraa and that all communications had been cut off. Witnesses told the U.S.-based Reform Party of Syria that thousands of security forces remained on the city's outskirts, snipers were on the rooftops and scores of tanks were in the city.

In a separate action, hundreds of Syrian soldiers entered the Damascus suburb of Saqba overnight on 5 May, broke into houses and made arrests, a resident said. Note: This is the third Damascus suburb that security forces have suppressed.

Palestinian Authority: Senior Gaza-based Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh urged militant groups to abide by the ceasefire with Israel in order to give the new unity government with rival Palestinian faction Fatah a chance to succeed, Reuters reported. He said Hamas has always sought to avoid a new war (sic). He also urged security forces under Fatah's control in the West Bank to stop arresting Hamas sympathizers because such moves do not help unity efforts.

Comment: Haniyeh also said he would resign and bring the government of the Gaza Strip under the Fatah-led coalition. This means that Hamas is serious about cooperating this year in a united front to achieve recognition of Palestinian statehood. Hamas refuses to recognize or accept the existence of Israel, regardless of the ceasefire.

Tunisia: Tunisians protested in Sfax, Kairouan, Sousse, central Tunis and other towns on 5 May, demanding the government's resignation, Reuters reported. The protests came after a former interior minister, Farhat Rajhi, was shown in a video saying a coup would occur if Ennahda took power from the July democratic elections.

Those loyal to ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who are based in and around Ben Ali's hometown of Sousse, will not give up power and will orchestrate a coup if they lose elections, Rajhi said. Some protesters said the government was using the threat of a coup to derail efforts toward democracy

Comment: Ennahda is an Islamist party that was banned by Ben Ali. It intends to participate in the July elections for the first time in 23 years and has a good chance of winning enough votes to form a government, according to local analysts. Ennadha has support in the interior and the south, which are conservative Muslim regions. The "people of the coast" are Ben Ali loyalists.

The threat of a coup tends to prove that the Ben Ali political machine still governs Tunisia and will not permit a free and fair election. If Ennadha appears likely to win, a military coup is almost unavoidable.

The election campaign period looks to be the test whether there might be a revolution in Tunisia. There has not been one yet, clearly.

End of NightWatch for 5 May.

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