Pakistan-US: Update. Relations appear to be mending after last November's killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers. US Central Command Commander General Mattis is scheduled to visit Islamabad for talks with Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff General Kayani next week.
Prior to the Mattis visit, the National Assembly plans to debate a new policy for border cooperation with the Americans. Pakistan is expected to permit NATO supply lines to open and permit truck convoys to drive to Afghanistan, possibly after the US makes a formal apology for the deaths of the 24 soldiers.
Comment: The leadership in both countries seems to want to paper over differences. The US announcement about cutting combat operations in 2013 will likely reinforce Pakistan's strategy to prepare now for the post-US environment in Afghanistan. In fact, Pakistani intelligence almost certainly has observed the decline in reporting on Afghanistan in mainstream international media and NATO tactics to minimize casualties.
Pakistan may be expected to undertake low cost security operations along the border of Afghanistan that facilitate a NATO withdrawal as early as possible. Pakistani generals and intelligence officers have never considered the Afghan Taliban to be a security threat to Pakistan, actually with justification. The Taliban's Quetta/Karachi Shura, Hekmatyar and the Haqqanis and their adherents that operate from Pakistan have remained focused on destabilizing Afghanistan since 2001. They will reinforce and reconnect old ties to the Afghan Taliban, while facilitating the NATO drawdown.
Pakistan's willingness to deliberate with General Mattis signifies the intent to put military relations back on track, as Pakistan defines it, and possibly steer the strategic dialogue towards longer term issues of concern to Pakistan, by which Pakistani generals mean India.
Saudi Arabia: A group of Saudi women is suing the Traffic Administration at the Administrative Court in Riyadh for refusing to issue them with driver's licenses. They have argued that there is no law in the Kingdom that prevents them from driving.
Comment: The attorneys for the women are, in effect, blowing up the Saudi government officials with their own bombs. Evidently in the interest of appearing fair, they wrote the licensing laws and regulations so that they give equal rights to men and women, never imagining that Saudi women's groups would take the laws seriously. The women also cited UN conventions that the Kingdom has signed which afford women equal rights with men.
Thus far, all Saudi government offices, including the Ministry of the Interior, have denied drivers' licenses to the women. Having exhausted administrative remedies, they are now bringing their case to the courts.
Syria-Iran: Update. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Abdollahian arrived in Damascus on 7 February. According to a news service report, Abdollahian will meet with Syrian officials to exchange views on important regional and international developments.
Syria-Russia: Update. President Bashar al-Asad is ready for dialogue with all political forces in the country, and he will announce the date of a referendum on the Syrian Constitution soon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 7 February.
Comment: No news outlet has speculated whether the Iranians and Russians will meet together with the Syrians. More likely, the Iranians want to know what al-Asad told the Russians.
Lebanon: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday, 7 February, admitted that Iran provided his group with financial and material aid, but said Hezbollah did not take direction from Tehran. Nasrallah said, "Yes, we received moral, and political and material support in all possible forms from the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1982."
Comment: Much of that aid came overland via Syria. The Syrian internal instability crisis has prompted Hezbollah to put distance between itself and Syria and to prepare for a reduction, if not a disruption, of aid from Iran. It also has stimulated Hamas to join Fatah in a Palestinian national unity government.
As noted previously, instability in Syria is causing disruptive ripple effects in all Iranian proxies in Arab countries. All are banking their fires, mending fences and preparing for disruption. In the short run, the Hamas and Hezbollah threats against Israel appear reduced, overtaken by short term survival concerns.
Greece: Greek workers walked off the job on Tuesday to protest a new austerity measures demanded by the country's foreign creditors in exchange for a second bailout of $170 billion. Without the new bailout fund, the Greek government will default in March.
No to public sector layoffs!", "No to cutting the minimum wage!" the protest banners read. The strikers' slogan was, "That's enough; we can't take any more." Only minimal manning showed up in schools, ministries, hospitals and banks. Commuters using buses and metros faced major delays in Athens.
The general strike, the second this year, formed the backdrop to continuing and tense talks between government officials and representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund about the terms of the new loan program.
Comment: The Greek workers are not yet taking matters into their own hands in a serious fashion. Greeks know they must lower their standard of living, apparently, but are pushing back to find out how much. A key indicator of unrest would be the outbreak of civil disorder targeted against the Greek government, instead of commuters and consumers.
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