North Korea: A North Korean official clarified that the North's moratorium on long range missile launches did not apply to peaceful space launches for scientific research.
Comment: The spokesman feigned surprise that anyone would suspect the North of cheating.
Pakistan: Thousands of Islamists from right-wing, religious and banned organizations demonstrated in Islamabad on the 27th. They called on the Pakistani government not to reopen the Afghan border to NATO and US supplies. Hafiz Saeed, the head of the banned charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa which is a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group addressed the crowd, in defiance of a government ban that prevented him from speaking at a similar rally last month.
Comment: The Pakistanis never explain how banned groups and prominent Islamist leaders invariably surface with impunity at any rally that criticizes the US or Pakistani policy that supports US interests. Rallies always have wealthy and powerful backers because it is expensive to print banners and posters professionally and to bus protestors from outside Islamabad. Most of the groups demonstrating are based in the northwest.
The capability to organize and execute a large demonstration requires various kinds of government support, including permits and extra security in Islamabad. The timing of the demonstration relative to the Pakistani Taliban threat to kill members of parliament who approve a resumption of aid strengthens the palpability of the Pakistani Taliban threat.
Afghanistan: Afghan authorities arrested 18 people, reportedly Afghan National Army soldiers, after interrupting a plan for a suspected mass suicide attack, intelligence officials said. The officials said 11 suicide jackets were seized in the Defense Ministry. The Afghan Defense Ministry said the reports are rumors.
Meanwhile Italian authorities announced they arrested ten suicide bombers on Sunday. The Italian announcement stated the disruption of Taliban plans was the product of Italian intelligence services' work.
Comment: Authorities in Kabul judge that the raids disrupted Taliban plans to start this year's spring offensive this week with a blitz of suicide bombings in Kabul. The key claim in the statement from US authorities is that the Afghans made the arrests. The statement made no claim that the Afghans did the actual intelligence work.
The Italians statement was clearer about who did the heavy intelligence work. No one doubts the ability of Afghans to make arrests, but their ability to perform actionable intelligence work remains an open question and is critical in making decisions about transferring security responsibilities.
Syria: Syrian opposition leaders in exile oppose UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's plan for ending the fighting in Syria because it does not include negotiations about the modalities of changing government. Instead it talks about whether such change should happen, a Syrian National Council (SNC) spokeswoman said on 27 March. A peaceful transition requires regime change, which begins with the removal of the head of the state, the spokeswoman said.
Comment: The opposition leaders in exile wants the UN to deliver by political persuasion what the opposition fighters have failed to achieve inside Syria. This is a non-starter and makes those leaders apppear to be the obstacles to a ceasefire.
The Russians, Syrians and Chinese support Annan's plan, apparently because it places an equal burden on both sides to stop the shooting. There is no ceasefire, but Asad seems more willing to stop shooting than the opposition leaders.
Recent government operations around the country have weakened the opposition's negotiating leverage.
Egypt: Western governments have been encouraging Egypt's elected government to consider offering immunity from prosecution to the military generals in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces who are running the country, according to a statement by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Comment: Accountability of the army and its leaders remains a divisive issue in Egyptian politics. The Brotherhood wants justice for years of oppression and persecution. The army wants a pass. This will not end well for the army.
Mali-Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): The West African regional bloc ECOWAS on Tuesday suspended Mali from its members in reaction to the military coup last week. ECOWAS announced it was sending a delegation to Mali within 24 hours in a bid to restore democracy. The announcement was made by Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the commission head of ECOWAS.
Comments: African states have been slow to react to the Mali coup, apparently in deference to the US which continues to call it a "mutiny", instead of coup. A coup would require a termination of all US aid to Mali. A mutiny only requires suspension of military and security assistance.
The ECOWAS announcement indicates that African states and the US are talking with the young officers who led the coup to persuade them to restore elected government. Thus far the army coup group has really botched things, including security conditions in northern Mali. Nevertheless, outside pressure finally has begun to build and this coup may yet devolve into a mutiny.
End of NightWatch for 27 March.
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