Night Watch

India-Pakistan: Indian and Pakistani troops clashed near the Line of Control in the northwestern border region of India's Jammu and Kashmir state on 6 January, leaving one Pakistani soldier dead and another wounded, according to a Pakistani military spokesman. According to the statement, Indian troops crossed into Pakistani territory and raided the Sawan Patra military post.

The Indian side of the story is that Pakistan Army artillery and other units began firing across the line of control to provide cover fire and support for an infiltration across the Line of Control into India's Jammu and Kashmir State by Pakistani-based Kashmiri militants in violation of the ceasefire agreement.

Comment: The Pakistan Army fired the first shots to support militant infiltration during the winter. India retaliated and Pakistan cried foul. India retaliated, apparently with some precision because the Pakistanis identified the military post that was attacked.

Pakistani intelligence - the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate - is responsible for arranging infiltration missions into Indian Kashmir and for artillery support. ISID never seems to change. The Kashmir internal security problem is a law and order problem. The Pakistani government-backed insurgency in Indian Kashmir failed. The cost to India was enormous but some people in Pakistan still have not gotten the word.

Pakistan: A new Pakistan Army doctrinal handbook identifies, for the first time, that a priority Pakistan Army mission is suppression of internal threats to the government of Pakistan. In the so-called "green book" the internal threat has higher priority than the Indian threat, for the first time in Pakistan's history.

Comment: The Kashmir incident this weekend conveys that the new Pakistan Army concentration on internal threats does not signify reduced vigilance opposite and/or meddling in Indian Kashmir. On the other hand, this doctrinal shift represents the first time Pakistan Army planners have recognized that tribal uprisings in support of a fundamentalist Islamic theology pose a real and present danger to the constitutional order in Pakistan. As a result they now are a priority target for the Army.

Both Pakistani and Indian defense commentators have praised the strategic shift, assuming its authenticity of course. That is the key point. The Pakistan Army historically has resented and despised operations in support of civil authority unless the state were in peril. Thus it is not yet clear just what the new doctrine signifies.

For example one interpretation might be that the Pakistan Army considers the threat from Afghanistan to be more urgent than the threat from India. That might imply that the Pakistan Army would facilitate the departure of NATO forces so that Pakistan can reassert and protect its interests in Afghanistan.

Syria: President Bashar al Assad in a speech in Damascus on 6 January was defiant of the international coalition arrayed against him. He vowed to fight on and presented an updated version of last year's peace and political reform initiatives that called for a national reconciliation conference as well as a new government and constitution. He conditioned his reforms on actions by other countries to stop providing arms and financial support to the Syrian rebels.

Comment: Before Christmas, the Syrian opposition appeared to be on a roll and the Asad regime looked weak. Since then, government forces have rolled back the opposition in at least two regions and regained some composure. The fight looks like a stalemate again. That judgment should be unsettling in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Washington, after two years.

Special comment: What remains perplexing to NightWatch is the reason why Western and Arab governments deliberately would destabilize an otherwise stable state, knowing that this would result in the massacre of tens of thousands of people. Blocking the Iranians in Syria might be a worthwhile objective, assuming it is feasible, but the human costs and lack of success to date make the Syrian uprising look like a strategic blunder on 6 January 2013.

As the Syrian uprising enters its third year, the US, the West and the Arabs have nothing to show for their investment except the some 60,000 dead, according to the latest UN figure. If there is a point in this, it is very hard to discern.

Israel-Syria: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to build 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) of fortified fence along the Golan Heights in response to concerns over the Syrian regime's instability and chemical weapons capabilities. Netanyahu added that as Syrian forces withdraw from the Israel-Syria border, jihadist forces have moved into the area.

Comment: The Israelis have proven beyond dispute that well-designed and well-made fences work. They stop cross border infiltration and attacks except by indirect fire weapons with high trajectories.

Egypt: Egypt's president added fellow Islamists to a reshuffled government on Sunday and the new finance minister pledged to finish talks on an IMF loan to stave off a currency crisis that risks provoking more popular unrest.

A senior IMF official is due in Cairo on Monday to meet Egyptian leaders over the $4.8 billion loan deal, which was postponed last month to give Egypt more time to tackle political tensions before introducing unpopular austerity measures.

The new finance minister Al-Mursi Al-Sayed Hegazy is an expert on Islamic finance and is seen as sympathetic to the aims and thinking of President Mohamed Mursi, elected in June, and to his Muslim Brotherhood.

Comment: Mursi has appointed Islamists to hold the many of the most important posts in his cabinet, although they represent less than a quarter of the cabinet ministers.

Islamic finance actually is a new field of academic study - since World War II -- because the Quran's comments on economics are sparse. The few Islamic scholars who have tried to use the Quran to guide formulation of a Muslim theory of economics have described a semi-socialist system with lots of entitlements for the poor and widows and lots of capitalist investment to pay for the entitlements. At the risk of oversimplification, the literature indicates that Muslim finance is socialism. Hmm….

Regardless of the Mursi government's preference for strict Islamic observances in public and private life, it is very open to capitalist investments and free money from the US for the Egyptian Army -- some $2 billion in 2013.

Central African Republic: Update. Rebels captured two towns near Bambari during the night of 4 January, despite negotiations to end the fighting.

End of NightWatch for 6 January.

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