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NightWatch 20091112

NightWatch

For the Night of 12 November 2009

South Korea-North Korea: Update. Japanese state broadcaster NHK reported South Korean and North Korean officials met in Singapore on 10 and 11 November to discuss prospects for an inter-Korean summit. South Korean government sources said the meeting made not progress because the two sides could not agree on a venue for the summit. The first two summits (2000 and 2007) were held in Pyongyang. South Korea wants to host the next one in Seoul. The North Koreans refused.

The significance of this update is that the discussions about another summit have continued for a month off and on. Both sides seem to want to meet. The issues are, as almost always, the location and the price the South must pay to talk with Kim Chong-il.

Cambodia-Thailand: Thailand and Cambodia have expelled a top diplomat from the other country amid an escalating row over Thai former Prime Minister Thaksin's role as an economic advisor to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Cambodia ordered the first secretary of the Thai Embassy to leave Phnom Penh. Thailand responded in kind.

Cambodia's foreign affairs ministry spokesman, Koy Kuong, said Phnom Penh expelled the Thai diplomat first and Thailand "responded by asking our first secretary to leave their country within the next 48 hours". "The Thai diplomat has executed work in contradiction to his position," he told Agence France-Presse, but gave no further details

In a speech in Cambodia, Thaksin accused Thailand's leaders of "false patriotism." Expect a limited clash of military forces along the border, probably near the Preah Vihear Temple. It will seem unrelated to the political dispute, but that will be central to it. The Thai will think they need to teach Hun Sen another lesson. The last military clash in the area was in April 2009.

Sri Lanka: The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Sarath Fonseka, who masterminded the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), resigned on Thursday, effective 1 December. "I gave my retirement papers," General Fonseka told the media at a Buddhist temple at Keliniya on the outskirts of Colombo in the evening. "I have been serving my country in the past and I will serve the country in future as well." Asked whether he would join politics, the General said: "I can't comment as I am still in uniform. I will decide my future once my retirement comes into effect at the end of this month."

Sources in the Presidential Secretariat said President Rajapaksa would accept the resignation.

Sri Lankan news services attributed the timing of the resignation to a dispute between the General and the President over who is responsible for the victory over the Tamils. The timing also is significant because the President is scheduled to announce dates for general elections and a possible presidential election at a convention of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party on Sunday.

Elections are expected early in 2010.

Fonseka is expected to run against Rajapaksa as an opposition candidate for the presidency, according to news analysts.

Afghanistan: For the record. Aaj News Television in Karachi on 9 November broadcast a video message by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the anti-Afghan government group Hezb-e Islami, in which he asserted that Osama bin Ladin is alive.

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In the video, Hekmatyar said Al-Qa'ida's flawed strategy led to the end of the Taliban government. He said he was not in favor of killing 10 Muslims for the sake of killing one person of the enemy. If the United States announced withdrawal from Afghanistan, we would consider giving safe passage to it

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The rest of Hekmatyar's claims in the video, such having a nationwide network and not receiving any assistance from Pakistan, are false. But liars sometimes tell the truth, just as truthful people sometimes lie. Reported as received.


Hekmatyar is a ruthless pragmatic political killer, always willing to jump to the side he thinks is winning. He was prime minister when the Taliban took power in Kabul, now he fights on their side.

Nevertheless, he says in the video that he is not a Taliban, not al Qaida and not an ally of the Haqqani anti-government forces. Those denials suggest the video is a form of outreach to the Karzai government or the US that he could be persuaded to switch sides. The bait is his purported knowledge about the status of bin Laden.

Afghanistan-Russia: The Taliban has stepped up sabotage and terrorist activities in Afghanistan's northern provinces since the launch of new supply routes for NATO forces in the country through Russia and Central Asian countries, a high-ranking but unidentified source in the Russian military-political circles told Interfax-AVN on Thursday.

"The leadership of the Taliban movement has decided that it needs to consolidate its positions in Afghanistan's northern provinces. The aim is to inflict as much damage as possible on the so-called 'northern route' for supplying the antiterrorist coalition," the source told the news service.

"To achieve the stated goal, sabotage and terrorist activities are being stepped up in Afghanistan's northern provinces bordering on Central Asian states," he said. "The leaders of Taleban and other extremist groups, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Group, hope that, in the long run, this process will help create a springboard in north Afghanistan for actions against Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian states," the source said.

NightWatch's open source-based data base on clashes shows that clashes have more than doubled during the past year in the Afghan provinces through which the northern route runs. However, the Taliban threat is persistent, but not consistent. The number and nature of attacks last month in Konduz Province, for example, do not indicate a large, capable Taliban fighting force in the province, such as operate in the eastern provinces near Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia continues to enforce a buffer zone six miles across its border into Yemen using airstrikes and artillery to push back Yemeni rebels, Reuters reported 12 November, citing an unnamed Saudi government adviser. Saudi authorities will interrogate any Yemenis crossing into Saudi Arabia to ensure that no militants are among them, after which the people will be placed in camps, the adviser said.

A brilliant and exceptionally well-informed Reader noted in feedback that the border is complex and has never been settled. Saudi claims extend deep into northern Yemen, which explains a six mile buffer zone.

Yemen has not objected to and appears in agreement with the Saudi action to control the al Huthi, at least until the uprising is suppressed.

Saudi Arabia-Algeria: Algeria has condemned strongly the attacks carried out by Al-Huthi rebels of Yemen against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Algerian government reiterated its absolute solidarity with the Kingdom in the exercise of its legitimate right to defend its territories and citizens.

According to a statement released on Thursday by the Foreign Ministry, Algeria said it is following with concern the latest developments in the border areas between the Republic of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and the security disturbances which took place inside Saudi territory as a result of the incursion of Yemeni Al-Huthi rebels who clashed with the Saudi armed forces.

Algeria is the third Islamic state this week to support Saudi Arabia publicly in this fashion. The message behind the message is that the Sunni Arab states concur in the Saudi assessment that the al Huthi are proxies for Iran, whose meddling in Sunni affairs must be stopped. The anti-Iran alliance supporting the Saudi King gradually is showing Iran its extent and its mettle.

Yemen-US: For the record. The two governments announced today they had agreed to military cooperation to stop terrorism and fight insurgency, of which Yemen has both.

The announcement signifies the US has taken the side of the Sunni Arabs against Iran, at least that is how Arabs and Persians will interpret it.

Russia-Iran: For the record. Military-technical cooperation between Russia and Iran is developing smoothly, is of a diversified and multi-faceted character, Mikhail Dmitriyev, the director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, told ITAR-TASS today.


"Russia has been faithfully carrying out its obligations on contracts signed with Iran. All deals are being carried out according to plan, and if there are any delays in the implementation they are mainly of technical nature," he said, without specifying which contracts he was referring to.

Dmitriyev was commenting on Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi's statement calling on Russia not to yield to "Zionist pressure" in the issue of S-300 air-defense systems supply to Iran.

This is the Russian reply to the Iranian whining during the past week.

Honduras: La Tribuna posted an update on the status of the national elections set for 29 November. Some 4.6 million registered voters will elect a new president of the republic and his three vice presidents, 128 deputies and their respective stand-ins, 298 mayors and deputy mayors with their municipal corporations, and 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament (Parlacen).

"For the eighth consecutive time since 1981 -- when democracy was restored after several military regimes -- the Honduran people will choose, through universal, mandatory, egalitarian, free, direct, and secret vote, the new government, deputies, and mayors who will lead the destiny of the country during the 2010-2014 term."

The election campaign which began 31 August must be going well. That would explain the increased shrillness of Zelaya's complaints and allegations. Yesterday he accused the US of betraying him, when he said US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly "came to tell me that we should try to work out a deal, but I told him that I no longer talk to coupists."

In a speech broadcast by Radio Globo Zelaya he said that he told Kelly, "You have all grown softer, your government has weakened its position. The world's greatest power has backed down in dealing with dictators from the third poorest economy in Latin America. I have not grown softer." Zelaya has resorted to biting the hand that fed him, probably not a good strategy for restoring US support.

Special note on Afghanistan: After a year's break, NightWatch is preparing a Special Report on the fighting in Afghanistan in October. The volume of clashes reported in open sources has doubled compared to October 2008.

But a curious phenomenon is apparent. The number of Districts under stress from Taliban and other anti-government movements only grew 45% in a year-to-year comparison. Last October Taliban operated in 119 of 398 districts. Last month they operated in 172 of 400 districts. Earlier this year, they mounted attacks in up to 218 districts.

The number of provinces reporting clashes in October was 30 of 34, the lowest number since last December, in the NightWatch data base.

Taliban succeeded in creating and supporting a persistent threat in the northern provinces, notably in Konduz, but the clash data does not suggest a large and capable force, such as those that operate in districts adjacent to Pakistan and in the Pashtun heartland in the south.

The data also show the Taliban paid a considerable price to support their expansion to regions north of the Hindu Kush in that they seem to have stopped contesting districts that were hot a year ago in other provinces.

The security picture is very mixed and not all negative as measured by the fighting data that NightWatch tracks. Taliban mastery of internet and international broadcast media - which they disparaged and suppressed when in power in Kabul -- seems responsible for the distance between international public perceptions and the fighting data.

Overall NightWatch continues to assess that the Taliban have peaked, or culminated, relative to the number of districts they can control. They can increase the violence, but that does not equate to geographic control. The security picture is very mixed, but one thing is clear: most of the fighting remains centered in the Pashtun heartland, as it was a year ago. They do not look like they can win, but nor can they be defeated in any military sense in the dozen core provinces.

The data is subject to several interpretations, the most relevant of which will be discussed in the forthcoming Special Report.

End of NightWatch for 12 November.

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