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NightWatch 20110920

NightWatch

For the night of 20 September 2011

Afghanistan: The government's High Peace Council chairman, former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated by a suicide bombter on 20 September in front of his Kabul residence. According to a security official, another council member also was wounded in the blast, which occurred in the high-security neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan. Rabbani was responsible for leading negotiations with the Taliban on behalf of the Afghan government.

Comment: Possibly one of the least appropriate appointments President Karzai ever made was naming Rabbani, a Tajik affiliated with the Northern Alliance, to lead peace talks with the Pashtuns. Rabbani was the president in 1996 whom the Taliban forced to flee from Kabul. Thus, Rabbani's appointment conveyed a lack of sincerity to the Taliban. As a result, there are no peace talks and never have been. That is precisely what Mullah Omar said in his greeting for Eid ul Fitr on 30 August.

Nevertheless, the Taliban also have never been seriously interested in peace talks and consider US interest to be a sign of weakness and defeatism. Talks are not part of their strategy… waiting out the enemy is. They know the end game for NATO has begun; any talks are ornaments to embellish the Taliban's self-image as defeating NATO.

The significance of this assassination is that it is the fourth attack this summer that demonstrates NATO cannot protect the capital. It bears repeating: when the government coalition is under attack in the capital, it is losing. Not even the Syrian government faces that condition.

Iran-Yemen-Saudi Arabia: The Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi warned Saudi Arabia on 20 September of the consequences of what he described as an invasion of Yemen and a collaboration in the violence against protesters.

Boroujerdi's remarks were in reaction to reports of Saudi armored vehicles in Yemen that the opposition claimed were being used against protesters, Iran's FARS news agency reported. He said Saudis will suffer the damages of these measures. He said the deployment of Saudi forces to Yemen is the second time Saudi Arabia has invaded a Muslim country. Yemen is considered an independent state at the United Nations, and foreign interference in Yemeni affairs will lead to defamation and hatred in the region, Boroujerdi said.

Comment: Saudi armored movements into Yemen remain unconfirmed, but the Iranian reaction to the report is important for several reasons. It shows Iran clearly is sympathetic to the Yemeni opposition, beyond support to tribes who are Shiites. That is not news, but the Iranians confirmed it in today's statement.

The Iranian reaction gave a single source news report credibility that it would otherwise not have received. The Iranian statement also suggested closer contact with the opposition than most news services have reported.

Feedback: A brilliant and well-informed Reader made a reasonable case for Saudi intervention in Yemen to control instability on the southern border and to prevent the expansion of Iranian influence. The argument is essentially similar to Saudi Arabia's justification for intervening in Bahrain.

The logistics of such an operation which would involve inserting a stabilization force without a secure base when the opposed parties are still shooting appear to exceed the capabilities of the Saudis or the Gulf states collectively. Deployment of a Saudi security force along the Yemen border or even to establish a buffer zone inside Yemen's borders is a capability that Saudi forces and leaders already have demonstrated in Yemen.

On the other hand, news services reported the opposing forces negotiated a ceasefire in Sanaa on 20 September, ending three days of almost conventional military clashes. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states probably would be willing to send forces to preserve a ceasefire.

Libya: The African Union (AU) recognized the National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya's legitimate government in a statement on 20 September. The AU also stated that it was ready to back NTC efforts to build a comprehensive government.

Comment: The African Union has been one of the most steadfast backers of the Qadhafi regime because of Qadhafi's pretense to be a leader of sub-Saharan African states, backed by Libyan aid donations. The AU's change of policy in the past week removes the last pillar of legitimacy for Qadhafi and his cohorts who now become international rogues and troublemakers.

Italy: The Wall Street Journal reported that Standard and Poors cut Italy's sovereign-debt rating to A. The Journal reported the move was unexpected and described it as a blow to Rome, which is trying to avoid getting caught in the Eurozone debt crisis.

Comment: Too late; the contagion has spread. Italian bonds are one step away from junk.

End of NightWatch for 20 September.

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