Night Watch

Pakistan: Update. Pakistan on Tuesday set up a special court to try former president Pervez Musharraf for high treason, an official statement said. The announcement came hours after the Supreme Court forwarded the names of five judges suitable to sit on the special court, following a government request on Monday.

Comment: The Chief Justice and the Prime Minister both have major complaints about their treatment when Musharraf governed. The four outstanding criminal charges against him attest to his cavalier attitude towards civilian laws.

The Chief Justice is determined to use his office to establish the rule of law in Pakistan, including over the Pakistan Army, and the independence of the judiciary. The Prime Minister appears to be out for punishment, if not justice, for Musharraf's overthrow of Sharif in 1999.

This is a serious matter that could lead to military unrest once again because it will tarnish the senior staff of the Pakistan Army as it existed in 2007. That explains why the government has decided to bring the first treason charge against a former Chief of Army Staff for constitutional crimes while the incumbent, General Kayani, remains in office - until 28 November.

Kayani's six-year tenure has been characterized by attention to soldierly duties and open military support for elected civilian government. He has held the post of army chief long enough to fill the senior positions with men he judges are of like mind and whom he thinks he can trust to respect the constitution.

One the other hand, a treason charge against a former army chief potentially is destabilizing because Musharraf also has cronies in the officer corps. That explains why Sharif has not yet named Kayani's successor. This trial, if it proceeds, could be the greatest test of Pakistan's democracy and judiciary ever.

Syria: Syrian Arab Army units with assistance from Hizballah fighters captured the town of Qarah, which is a stopping point on the main highway from Damascus to the Syrian coast. The army launched its offensive on Friday, carrying out a series of air strikes and helicopter attacks. Thousands of Syrians fled into Lebanon.

Rebel group Jabat al-Nusra (the al-Nusrah Front) said that it and other groups had withdrawn from the area, after sustaining serious losses.

Qarah is located 100 kms (60 miles) north of Damascus on the main highway to the coast. It is 175 kms from Latakia in northwestern Syria, the heartland of regime supporters.

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.