NightWatch

For the Night of 2 June 2008

 

China:   Too good to omit.  Today China's Olympics organizers issued a list of unacceptable behaviors for foreigners attending the Beijing games, Reuters reported. The list, published on the organizers' official Web site, says actions such as protesting without permission and sleeping outdoors are prohibited.

 

It also says that purchasing Olympics tickets does not guarantee receipt of a Chinese visa. Anyone who plans "subversion" will be banned from entering China.  All foreigners must register with police upon arrival

 

Thailand:  Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda told his senior officers today that the military will not intervene in the country's political struggle; that there will be no coup; and that the military will not use force against the people, according to a spokeswoman for Anupong. The General’s statement is intended to reassure the public and investors that recent anti-government protests will not result in another military takeover. Coup rumors encouraged selling by investors that sent Bangkok stocks down 2.8 percent.  Stocks have dropped 7 percent since 25 May because of political unrest and coup rumors.

 

The message seems to be that political unrest, including public demonstrations, are not sufficient to provoke military intervention at this time. Disrespect for the King will.

 

Pakistan:  A suicide bomber detonated a vehicle outside the gates of the Danish Embassy in Islamabad today, killing at least eight people. The vehicle reportedly had a phony diplomatic license plate. Details are sketchy, but it was also reported that at least 24 people were also wounded in the attack. 

 

This attack is almost certainly in retaliation for publication of materials ridiculing Islam by the Danish press.

This attack is a crime, not a theological statement.

 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General (CJCSC) General Tariq Majid told the 27 Defense Chiefs participating in the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore yesterday that the cumulative effect of “certain events” has created the perception that the "global war on terror" is a war directed at Muslims, according to a release by the military’s Inter-Services Public Relations Office. General  Majid cited three developments to make his case.  They were, in his words, the "sledgehammer" approach of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan; cross-border missile strikes killing civilians in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA); and Western countries' micromanagement of Pakistan's counterterrorism policies.

 

Despite successful counterterrorism operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the goal of stabilizing security remains elusive, Majid added. He said Pakistan's security situation has become more complex and that obstacles to domestic and regional stability have multiplied.

 

He spoke at the seventh Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, a conference of senior defense leaders sponsored by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies. The Shangri-La Dialogue brings together top defense officials from 27 countries to discuss public policy on defense and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Participants included the defense chiefs from the US, Australia, the UK and India among others.

 

General Majid’s comments, reported in several Pakistani media outlets, included a mix of conciliatory and provocative assertions. Those repeated in this report are typical of the trend in statements by Pakistani political and military leaders that have several common themes. First is that the US does not know how to handle a counter-insurgency. Second, Pakistan’s cooperation has been abused by the US. Next that Pakistan rejects accusations that its policies are to blame for US troubles in Afghanistan. Finally, that US operations are making conditions in Pakistan worse.

 

Majid repeated the Coalition government’s thesis that socio-economic programs are key to eliminating the causes of insurgency. In fact, that assertion is not supported by a close study of insurgency. Successful counter-insurgencies all featured a reduction in violence that created an environment for socio-economic programs to flourish.

 

That is the current lesson in the Iraq operations. Socio-economic reconstruction will flourish only if the violence is reduced to levels manageable by the police, not troops.  The significance is that the Pakistanis are increasingly blaming the US for their inability to control the tribes, which is primarily a legacy of British colonial policies and post-colonial laws. They need a new idea.

 

Afghanistan: Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are fleeing southward toward the border with Pakistan after a U.S. Marines offensive in Helmand province, according to the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. He said there have been many reports of insurgents fleeing, possibly to sanctuaries in other countries, after several weeks of pressure in Helmand's Garmsir District. Security forces need to take on Taliban insurgents in places outside the reach of troops in Afghanistan, the NATO General added, or else the Taliban might grow in number.

 

NightWatch almost has completed its monthly assessments of combat for both April and May.  In the data sample drawn from unclassified reporting sources that NightWatch uses, April featured 199 violent incidents in 86 districts, making it the most lethal April in the six year conflict.  May featured 214 incidents of violence  in over 100 districts, also a new six-year total for May and the highest single monthly total. Despite official efforts to spotlight improvement, the spring offensive thus far is worse than last year’s spring offensive. The security situation has deteriorated again.

 

At no prior time has the Taliban managed to stage attacks in over 100 of the 398 districts. The previous highs were 86 in April 2008 and 83 in May 2007. Fighting has been heavy in Garmser District in Helmand Province but it has been significantly higher in Zormat District in Paktia Province; Andar District in Ghazni Province and Asadabad District in Konar, all across from the tribal areas of northern and central Pakistan. If Taliban fighters are heading to Pakistan, they are going back to base to rest and to get more ammunition and supplies.  

 

Syria: President Asad invited inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to Syria to investigate allegations that Syria has a covert nuclear program and to examine the site of the Israeli attack last year. The inspectors are scheduled to arrive on 22 June.  More on this later.

 

Lebanon: Lebanese soldiers shot and killed a man wearing an explosives belt May 31 as he left a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon. According to an army spokesman, the 28-year-old man was carrying 4.5 pounds of TNT and 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) of pieces of metal intended as shrapnel when he left the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon and approached an army checkpoint just outside the camp. The failed suicide bombing came just a few hours after a soldier was killed when a bomb exploded at a guard post at a military base in Abdeh near the northern city of Tripoli. A second explosive device found nearby was defused

 

President Michel Suleiman said  yesterday that Syria has shown readiness to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon. Speaking during a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Suleiman vowed to work on establishing "the best of relations" with Syria in line with what he said in his inaugural address to Parliament on May 25.  He also denounced Israel, again, for meddling in Lebanese affairs and called on Israel to return a border region to which Lebanon has the superior claim, the Shebaa Farms and Kufar Shuba Hills, according to the Daily Star.

 

Comment:  It is an understatement to describe Lebanese politics as complex, but they are not inscrutable. What occurred in May is an adjustment to the underlying power-sharing arrangement on which the central government depends.

 

In instability analysis, power sharing is a relatively stable, but fragile condition in which the interests in the arrangement are in balance. However, one or other group in such an arrangement always seeks to break out and dominate the government when it assesses it has the strength to do so. Violence is always the signal that some entity judges it has the strength to break out of the power sharing arrangement. That is what happened in early May.

 

At the risk of oversimplification, the dominant groups in Lebanon are the Maronite Christians, a variety of Sunni factions loyal to Syria and the Shiite Hezbollah. Only Hezbollah in southern Lebanon has internal cohesion. Neither the Sunnis nor the Christian groups are unified. Allegiances switch frequently. Some Christian and Sunni factions are pro-Western. They dominate the power sharing arrangement in Beirut.  They are opposed by pro-Syrian Christian and Sunni groups as well as the Shiite group, Hezbollah, which is pro-Iran and sometimes pro-Syria.

 

In the first week of May, the pro-Western interests in the central government of Prime Minister Sinyorah attempted to take control of a Hezbollah telecommunications network that was not under central government control and thus not subject to eavesdropping. Hezbollah’s command and control and public communications network has been an irritant to the government and its western backers since 2006.

 

The western interests underestimated Hezbollah’s strength. Not only did they fail to take control of the Hezbollah network, they lost west Beirut to Hezbollah militia fighters and had to make political concessions that to Hezbollah that Sinyorah had resisted for two years.  Hezbollah dictated the terms for a ceasefire and withdrawal from west Beirut which included veto power over legislation.

 

The government with outside urging attempted to breakout of the power sharing arrangement and failed, which strengthened Hezbollah’s position in the power sharing arrangement. This resulted in a strategic shift, with Hezbollah gaining much more authority in the power sharing arrangement than it had before. This is the opposite of what the government and its western backers sought.

 

The recent bombings suggest that pro-Syrian interests, especially the Palestinian groups in Lebanon, are not comfortable with Hezbollah’s new authority in the arrangement and seek to hobble Hezbollah. They appear to have the support of the new Maronite President, Michel Suleiman, and the former head of the Lebanese Army. Based on his public statements, Israel will not find a friend in the new President, but then this is Lebanon, where no political alliances are permanent, except for Hezbollah.

 

Hezbollah, in short, is the big political winner – the power broker in the government; pro-Western interests suffered a major setback. Syrian interests see the need to act to restrain Hezbollah and see the election of President Suleiman as providing opportunities to rebuild Syrian influence at the expense of the West and Israel.  Expect more bombings.

 

That is what the phenomenology indicates. The experts may have a different view.

 

Chile:  The government announced it will release $1 billion in emergency funds to help mitigate the economic impact of high global oil prices, President Michelle Bachelet told reporters June 2. Bachelet said $250 million will go to state oil company ENAP to help address the issue of Chilean dependence on imported fuel. The move comes one day ahead of a planned 48-hour strike by Chilean truck drivers.

 

Rising fuel costs have joined food costs as driving factors in political instability and stop-gap government measures to contain it.