Night Watch

Afghanistan: With about half the ballots counted, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah leads the vote count in the presidential election. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that Abdullah had 44.4 percent and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani had 33.2 percent of the votes counted so far from the 5 April election.

If no candidate gains more than 50 percent, a second-round election between the two leading contenders is tentatively scheduled for 28 May.

Comment: A brilliant and extremely well-informed Reader provided the best explanation for the relatively low level of Taliban attacks on election day. His sources reported a surge in deal-making between candidates and the Taliban to keep attacks down.

The daily number of attacks remains low. The Taliban have not announced their annual spring offensive. If an offensive does not take place, that would suggest heavy deal making.

The parties are maneuvering to prepare for the post-NATO period which will include Taliban participation, directly or indirectly. After 13 years of fighting, it is striking how little the political landscape has changed.

Syria: For the record. The speaker of the parliament announced that presidential elections will be held on 3 June. President Bashar al-Asad already has said he will seek a third term in office.

Comment: No opponent of the Ba'athist government will credit an election outcome. Nevertheless, the determination to hold elections after three years of fighting speaks for itself that the opponents have failed.

Ukraine: On 21 April a mediator from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held his first meeting with the leader of pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk,

OSCE mediator Mark Etherington said he asked the pro-Russian self-proclaimed "people's mayor" of the town, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, whether he would comply with the 17 April Geneva agreement, but did not relay the response.

Ponomaryov later told a news conference, "We did not negotiate; we talked. We told them our position, what happened here, and they told us about their plans."

Authorities in Slovyansk imposed a curfew, Ponomaryov said, following the shooting incident on Sunday in which at least three people died. He also made a public appeal for Russian President Putin to send soldiers or send arms.

Night Watch

NightWatch is an internationally acclaimed nightly newsletter that tracks and assesses threats to US national security. It has an edgy, executive style unlike any other summary of its kind.

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