India-Pakistan: India's Minister of External Affairs denounced recent remarks about Kashmir by Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif.
Sharif described Kashmir as Pakistan's "jugular vein" and called for its status to be determined by the UN and the Kashmiri people. He made the remarks on 30 April, Martyrs' Day, which is supposed to honor soldiers who died in Pakistan's wars with India. Sharif paid tribute to Kashmiris who died in their so-called freedom struggle.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid today said Sharif talked about Kashmir in "a manner which is unwholesome and unacceptable". He said the "tone and tenor of the speeches" that have been made are "completely and totally unacceptable" to India.
"I think that these are matters that, frankly, it is not for me to advise them on but are best left to bilateral discussions between civilian authorities. This is not the realm of the armed forces to be discussing publicly," he said.
"We acknowledge that and we associate ourselves with the commonly held position: the common position in our country that Kashmir is an integral part of our country, it is part of the idea of India, and there can be no remotest way in which we will accept any attempt to qualify that or to put a question mark on that. That should be categorically clear."
Khurshid said the Pakistan armed forces should focus on combating terrorism.
Comment: Martyrs' Day was the first time in his five months as army chief that Sharif spoke publicly about Kashmir. It also was the first time that he used the term "jugular vein" to describe Kashmir, though the term is not unique to him.
Sharif is emerging as very different from his suave, Westernized predecessor, General Kayani. He seems closer in style to General Zia ul Haq. He engineered the third period of martial law in Pakistan and was responsible for the "Islamicization" of the Pakistan government. Sharif has been provocative in his remarks about civilian government, Pakistani media and about Kashmir.
Sharif's emerging bellicosity is coinciding with the looming electoral victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalists. The results of the elections will be announced on 16 May. Some BJP politicians already have talked about adopting a more assertive policy towards Pakistan when the BJP returns to office. Many India analysts predict the incumbent Congress Party will experience its worst electoral defeat since independence.
The Indian Constitution describes the state of Jammu and Kashmir as integral to India. Its status is not negotiable for India and Pakistani leaders know this. General Sharif is invoking patriotism to rebuild public support for the Pakistan Army and himself.
Syria: The Homs agreement. On Sunday, Syrian rebel fighters reached an agreement with government forces permitting the rebels to withdraw from Homs, the self-proclaimed capital of the anti-Asad revolution.
"An agreement was reached between representatives of the rebels and the chiefs of security, in the presence of the Iranian ambassador, for the pullout of fighters from the Old City to the northern countryside of Homs," said Abul Hareth al-Khalidi, a rebel negotiator.
Under the agreement, an estimated 2,250 fighters will leave the Old City section of Homs with their personal weapons and one rocket-propelled grenade launcher per busload. Civilian supporters and the wounded may also depart. Fighters will withdraw to a rebel-controlled area in the north of Homs province. The Red Crescent will transport the wounded.
"The guarantors of the agreement will be the representatives of the United Nations and the Iranian negotiators who will be present on the buses." according to the text of the agreement.
"Implementation will begin after those being held by the Islamic Front are released, and after permission is given to allow relief to enter the (Shiite, pro-regime) towns of Nubol and Zahraa in Aleppo province," according to the text. This condition refers to the release of an unknown number of Iranian and Lebanese Hizballah prisoners held by the Islamic Front.
Comment: Government and allied forces drove opposition fighters from most of Homs earlier this year. The remaining fighters held out in the oldest section of the city, but were surrounded and besieged. The loss is, thus, primarily symbolic. It is nonetheless significant.
The references to the Iranians and Lebanese prisoners and the Iranian negotiators attest to the importance of those countries in this conflict. The linkage of this agreement to two towns in the Aleppo region, near Turkey, shows the government's position affords it leverage beyond local battlefields.
News sources also reported government progress in clearing a town southeast of Damascus. "More than half of the town is under army control," an official told the press. "The army has reached the town hall building. All the orchards and roads leading to the town are now in the army's hands, as is the south, the west and the southeast."
Comment: Government progress has been steady in clearing the regions from Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea coast. Along the Turkish border, anti-government resistance remains determined.
The Damascus government has provided no recent update on the fighting in far northwestern Syria, where a jihadist fighting group, affiliated with al Qaida in Iraq, still holds the Christian town of Raqqa. The group known as ISIL destroyed an ancient Assyrian monument in the town because the jihadists said it was a polytheistic symbol. They also killed two men who resisted and then hung them from crosses in the town square. Jihadists have held this town since mid-March.
Ukraine: Near Slovyansk. Kyiv regime operations against checkpoints around Slovyansk began on Friday. By Sunday, the Ukraine army cut a main road to Slovyansk, but made no move to enter the city center. News reporters saw seven Ukrainian armored vehicles setting up a checkpoint blocking the route to the regional capital Donetsk.
"The town is completely surrounded," a rebel spokeswoman said.
Comment: Regime leaders apparently have decided to capture Slovyansk before moving south against Donetsk. They have captured checkpoints from at least two other nearby towns, but likewise, have not moved into the city center. This is the first progress they have made and held.
Some accounts are overdramatizing what are small unit meeting engagements. The pro-Russian locals have shown no capability to stop armored personnel carriers or tanks. If Russia is supplying these local militias, it is derelict in not providing rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and launchers.
A second point is that the identity of the "soldiers" is not clear. Ukrainian soldiers generally seem risk averse to casualties and back off from determined resistance. They also seem to be reluctant to fight other Ukrainians. Unit reliability remains an issue. On the other hand, ultra-nationalist militiamen have no compunctions about killing anyone who opposes them.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) update. On Saturday, pro-Russia activists in Slovyansk released the seven observers from the OSCE along with five of their Ukrainian assistants.
"We are deeply relieved that the members of the kidnapped OSCE team have landed unharmed here in Germany, in Berlin," Ursula von der Leyen, Germany's defense minister, said in Berlin. "I would like to express my deep gratitude and my respect for the infinitely good cooperation we saw."
Comment: Open sources have reported no information about how the release was arranged, such as whether Russia's good offices played a role.
Donetsk. Pro-Russian demonstrators, armed with bats, metal sticks and some with Kalashnikov rifles, marched from the Donetsk regional state administration building to another district of the city and seized the building of the military prosecutor's office. There were no guards in the building.
They raised the flag of the Donetsk people's republic and burned the national flag together with the constitution of Ukraine that was taken from the building. The city head of Donetsk, Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, voluntarily stepped down and handed the keys to the executive committee building to federalization supporters, according to a spokesman for the press service of the Donetsk people's republic.
"The power passes into the hands of the people, and that is why the keys (to the executive committee building) have been handed over. Civilians came and invited the mayor to step down, so the man did it. Everything went peacefully," the press service spokesman said.
Deputy head of the Donbass (Donetsk basin) people's militia Serhiy Tsyplakov told RIA Novosti over the telephone that "control is now being taken of all of Donetsk and all the administrative buildings." "Everyone is switching to our side now, and only the military and Right Sector militants can still stage provocations and massacres."
Odessa. On Friday supporters of the Kyiv regime and pro-Russia demonstrators clashed near the central trade union building, which was set alight. Officials said 31 pro-Russia people in the building died of smoke inhalation from the fire. Another 11 people died from the clashes.
On Sunday, activists broke into a police station in Odessa and released 67 comrades. The Kyiv regime fired the police chief after denouncing his dereliction of duty.
Comment: Apparently when the acting president in Kyiv said his regime was "helpless" to recover the east, he was dissembling because the next day army operations began. The results suggest, however, that he was telling the truth, perhaps unwittingly, because the Ukraine army soldiers do not appear motivated to move against civilians.
What the Kyiv authorities have succeeded in achieving is greater instability and confusion in the east and south. Some local reporters have said the weekend actions are causing fence-sitters to decide.
The Odessa deaths are a reminder of the events leading to Yanukovych's overthrow. The pivotal point in the collapse of the Yanukovych government occurred on 21 February when more than 80 people died in clashes with the riot police in Kiev. Most of the members of Yanukovych's faction in parliament deserted him because of that brutality.
The Odessa clash and fire were the first incidents that resulted in significant casualties since Crimea seceded. Premier Yatsenyuk visited Odessa on Sunday and blamed Russian special forces for the casualties. Kyiv moved fast to try to contain the damage before a backlash against it begins.
Russian reaction. Dmitry Peskov, President Putin's spokesman, said Russia's government had received thousands of calls since Friday from people in southeastern Ukraine. The callers described the situation as "horrendous" and pleaded for Russia's involvement. "Most of the people literally demand active help from Russia," he said.
Comment: Russian leaders are acting with caution, compared to the Crimea situation.Crimean secession was essentially decided long before Kyiv-based authorities could try to stop it. Another Odessa-type incident could be the deciding factor in a "responsibility-to-protect" military intervention.
End of NightWatch
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