North Korea: Former US basketball star Dennis Rodman and three members of the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition basketball team arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday.
The purpose of the visit is to shoot footage for a new TV show to air in early April, according to the trip organizers. The Americans hope to engage in a little "basketball diplomacy" by running a basketball camp for children and playing pickup games with locals -- and by competing against North Korea's top athletes in a game.
Rodman said he hopes leader Kim Jong Un will attend. Kim is known to have been an avid basketball fan during his youth in Switzerland.
Comment: A US State Department spokesperson said the trip was not coordinated with the US government. A visit such as this is an important hard currency earning event for North Korea.
Based on first-hand experience, NightWatch assures Readers that if the North Koreans grant you a visa you will be safer in Pyongyang than in any almost any city in the world.
Pakistan: For the record. The Supreme Court heard testimony from provincial authorities on Tuesday concerning the security situation in Quetta, Baluchistan Province.
Additional Advocate General of Baluchistan Azam Khattak told the Court that the provincial government had increased the number of police personnel and was checking vehicles. It also promised to install scanners to check for explosives, to guard against car bombings.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry said this was not enough. "You have to take long-term measures…you should go to the root cause of such incidents. The steps taken are temporary," Chaudhry said. "This report has not given us any satisfaction," and ordered the arrest of all those responsible for recent attacks.
Comment: On its own authority, the Court took notice of the break down in security in Quetta after a 16 February bombing killed 90 people. Since 1 January more than 200 Hazaras have been killed by bomb attacks in Quetta.
National authorities have done little to nothing to protect minorities most of whom live west of the Indus River. Pakistan is experiencing a general decline in internal security. .
The Army and politics. Chief of Army Staff General Kayani told the press that the Army fully supported a seamless transition to a new government resulting from general elections this spring. He noted this will be the first time an elected government has completed a full, five-year term of office in Pakistan's history, in accord with the constitution. Kayani said the Army respects the constitution and the electoral process. Elections will be held on or before 7 May 2013.
Pakistan-Iran: Pakistani President Zardari began a two-day official visit to Iran on 27 February, the president's spokesman said. During the visit, the president will hold talks with the Iranian leadership on a host of bilateral issues and the regional situation.
Important progress also is expected to be made on the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project during. Dawn News reported that Iran is expected to lend Pakistan $500 million for expediting the gas pipeline project. Along with supplying gas to Pakistan, Iran would also establish an oil refinery in Baluchistan's port city of Gwadar.
Comment: Pakistan's relations with Iran are marked by suspicion because of diversity of cult and competing strategic interests connected with Afghanistan. Iran is Shia and hostile to the Baluchis and the Pashtun. Pakistan is Sunni and a strong backer of the Pashtuns and Baluchis.
The politics and economics of energy, of which Pakistan is chronically short, have greater urgency and, thus, take short term precedence over disagreements.
Of note, a Chinese management company recently took over administration of the port of Gwadar from the Singapore Port Authority. Gwadar is a recently expanded port in western Pakistan, built with Chinese assistance, which will be linked by rail eventually to western China.
This visit also is a manifestation of a growing movement to prepare for the departure of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan after more than ten years. Pakistan's ambassador to the US said today that Pakistan has begun "bracing itself for the consequences of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The US departure will create a regional vacuum that will affect every South Asian and Central Asian state, plus Iran, China and Russia. The pace of regional consultations and high level meetings may be expected to gather significant momentum during 2013.
Syria: The 64-member general assembly of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) on 2 March will vote by secret ballot for the prime minister of a new opposition government that will administer rebel-held territory, an opposition member said.
Comment: This is mostly political theater. The weight of open source reporting indicates that most of the areas under opposition control are small and fragmented, and already administered by jihadist groups that do not cooperate with each other or respond to the so-called SNC.
Western powers are attempting to project an image of greater cohesion in the opposition than exists. The so-called opposition political leadership still has little impact on the ground situation.
Israel: A rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel early 26 February, Al Arabiya reported. There was damage to a road, but no injuries, a police spokeswoman said. The incident marks the first rocket fired into Israel from Gaza since fighting ended in November 2012.
Comment: Hamas, among other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip, oppose the visit by the US President to Israel. This rocket firing might be the first round in an effort to discredit the visit.
Hamas also warned of the danger of visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which the US President plans, describing it as a political disaster at which the Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims must not remain silent.
In a statement issued on the 26th, Hamas said, "Media outlets reported that President Obama intends to visit the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, something that portends an imminent danger that has been unprecedented to Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem."
The movement also "warns of the danger of the attempt to drag the United States behind the Zionist desire to entrench its hegemony over Jerusalem and to threaten the Islamic and Christian holy places in Palestine."
Comment: The Hamas statement accused Israel of manipulating the US in order to legitimate Israeli control of one of the most revered mosques in Islam.
Egypt: President Mursi has begun the national dialogue he promised to initiate after enactment of the new electoral law, as a means of defusing political tension. The second session of the 30-member national dialogue was not attended by the president "due to other engagements."
Muslim Brotherhood-funded Misr 25 TV and state-run Channel 1 broadcast the session, which mainly addressed guarantees of the "fairness" and "transparency" of elections.
The opposition National Salvation Front has announced it will boycott the elections, which begin in late April, because they are not transparent.
Comment: One person, one vote elections in a country whose population is predominantly under-educated fundamentalist Muslims means the Brotherhood or even stricter Islamist groups will control the government every time.
Mali: Update. French forces are involved in very violent fighting in the mountains of northeastern Mali, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today. He also said it is too early to discuss a quick pullout of French forces.
Another suicide bombing attack occurred in Kidal in the northeast, killing seven people including the bomber and wounding 11 others.
End of NightWatch ###
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