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NightWatch 20111012

NightWatch

For the night of 12 October 2011

Vietnam-India: Indian Prime Minister Singh and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang signed an agreement in New Delhi on 12 October promoting oil exploration in the South China Sea. The agreement between Indian and Vietnamese state-owned oil companies includes new investment, exploration and supply of oil and natural gas to both countries.

The leaders signed a total of six agreements after comprehensive talks, including pacts on an extradition treaty, deepened trade, a biennial security dialogue and strategic ties between the countries. The leaders cited common security challenges like terrorism, piracy and natural disasters that both nations face as maritime neighbors and stressed the importance of ensuring the safety and security of vital sea lanes of communication.

Comment: The only common security challenge not mentioned is handling China. There is a bit of irony in that the President of Vietnam was in India signing documents concerning the South China Sea, et al., while the General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party was in Beijing signing a code of conduct for dispute resolution in the South China Sea, among other things.

The Vietnamese are working all interested powers against each other so that they will neutralize each other and permit Vietnam to do what it intended all along. China is not likely to be pleased with Vietnam's agreement with India. India has no special expertise in offshore oil exploration without US or western European collaboration. The New Delhi agreement appears singularly crafted to snub China. It certainly violates the spirit of consultation extolled in Beijing.

India-Jammu and Kashmir State: Update. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said in New Delhi on 12 October that the tough, long-standing laws that generate much of the unrest in his state could be withdrawn because of the decline in violence. The widely detested Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), enacted in 1990, gives security forces sweeping powers on detention, shooting of alleged militants and destruction of property suspected of being hideouts.

Comment: In the past five years, the separatist militancy has been reduced from a violent insurgency comparable to regions of Iraq in 2003 to a local police problem. Kashmir was so quiet this summer that 700,000 tourists visited the scenic region around Srinagar.

Before the onset of the Pakistan-based insurgency in 1989, tourism was the largest single source of income in the State. The Special Powers Act and the high visibility of security personnel were deterrents to tourism as security conditions improved and have been relaxed somewhat in the past four years.

Overwhelming police and paramilitary police presence backed by commandos, not by the Indian Army, succeeded in reducing the militant threat to a police problem, in about 15 years. The counter-insurgency in Kashmir always has been treated as a law and order problem, even at its height in the 1990s. The Army's primary role always has been border defense against Pakistan.

Omar Abdullah has been lobbying for the withdrawal or relaxation of the Special Powers Act since 2009 when he was named Chief Minister. His tenure has been beset with scandals and today's announcement is tainted because it appears calculated to divert attention from another recent scandal. Nevertheless, it also attests to Indian success in Kashmir as one of the two successful counter-insurgencies in the past two decades. The other was Sri Lanka's fight against the Tamil Tigers.

Pakistan also deserves credit for reducing its support for the Kashmir militants who operate from bases in Pakistani Kashmir. The decline began under Musharraf, but has continued under Prime Minister Gilani, as administered by Chief of Army Staff and Musharraf's hand-picked successor, General Kayani.

Pakistan: The governor of Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on 12 October vowed to crush Pakistani Taliban militants in the province, after surviving an assassination attempt. A barrage of rockets was aimed at Governor Masood Kausar as he was scheduled to address a gathering of tribal elders in Orakzai tribal agency on the 11th.

Comment: Taking the Governor at his word, the Pakistani Taliban overreached in attempting this attack because of the backlash the provincial governor is capable of generating. In Pakistan's federal system, the provincial governor can request Pakistan Army troop support and authorize Army operations in support of civil authority. Army operations in support of a provincial governor receive more support and higher priority than any other internal security operations. There will be an investigation and a crackdown. That might actually be good news for NATO operations in Afghanistan, collaterally.

Pakistan-US: For the record. US Defense Secretary Panetta said on 11 October that the United States is waging "war" in Pakistan against militants. Speaking to an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, the former CIA director described a "complicated relationship" between Washington and Islamabad due to the fact that the United States is "fighting a war" in Pakistan. He said the two countries disagree over the relations they maintain with some of the militant groups in Pakistan.

Comment: No US official publicly has ever made such a statement. Use of the phase "waging war" suggests a level of US military activity inside Pakistan and a disregard for Pakistani sovereignty that have not previously been disclosed. Panetta's statement will generate a firestorm in Pakistan. Pakistan, and perhaps others, will demand a clarification. Pakistan might recall its ambassador.

Iran-Hezbollah: For the record. The Lebanese Shiite Muslim political party Hezbollah will no longer receive annual financial backing from Iran, according to a report in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Qabas on 12 October. The newspaper's "well-informed Gulf sources" said Iran provides about $350 million to Hezbollah annually for salaries, for the families of "martyrs," for schools and other projects.

Comment: This is the only recent report in the public media of the amount of Iranian financial support for Hezbollah. The newspaper reported the reasons for the reduction are Iran's difficult financial position owing to sanctions and the increased burden of supporting Syria.

This report is based on a single source. If corroborated, it would be credible evidence that the four UN resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran are having an impact. It also would help make the case for more sanctions, based on Iran's use of terrorism as an extension of state policy, provided the new US case makes it to court. Former Secretary Chertoff and a blogger for Wired have raised doubts about the case.

Syria: An explosion occurred near the state security headquarters in the Damascus suburb of Douma on 12 October, followed by heavy deployment of Syrian security forces and the imposition of a curfew, the Syrian Center for Human Rights reported.

Comment: This is potentially a turning point in the Syrian uprising because bombings have not occurred since it began. The human system that enables a bomb to be planted without detection and to detonate is quite extensive, even in countries more permissive than Syria.

For the record: Syria is not in a civil war, despite the fanciful reporting of media outlets and some commentaries. Not yet and maybe not ever.

Greece: For the record. Greek tax inspectors will go on strike 19 October to protest the planned wage and pension cuts, Reuters reported. Greek Finance Ministry officials called for a two-week stoppage from 17 October, while tax offices will remain closed from 17 October to 20 October and customs officials will be asked to stay home from 18 October to 23 October.

Comment: The civil service is undermining the government. No one will be collecting taxes or customs for at least a week. This behavior makes it impossible for Greece to ever meet its financial obligations.

End of NightWatch for 12 October.

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