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NightWatch 20100302


For the Night of 2 March 2010

North Korea-South Korea: Intra-Korean contacts. Yonhap reported that talks between the two Koreas ended today without an agreement on ways to ease the North's border regulations that have burdened South Korean business operations at a joint industrial complex, a South Korean official said.

North Korea also refused to provide information on four South Koreans it said last week it was holding after they illegally entered the country. "The North would only say it still had questioning to do and that it would let us know when the investigation is over," chief South Korean delegate Lee Kang-woo said.

Security. A North Korean soldier defected to the South at the eastern front line Tuesday, a South Korean government source said. The North Korean soldier crossed the Demilitarized Zone in the eastern sector into Gangwon Province and said he wished to defect to South Korean guards in the area.

South Korean authorities are investigating the exact route and motive behind his defection, the source added.

Note: The Demilitarized Zone is the most heavily mined barrier in the world, but North Korean soldiers and some civilians manage to cross it without harm rather regularly.

North Korea-US- South Korea: Today the Korean Central News Agency published another denunciation of the pending US-South Korean exercise. It accused the US and South Korea of training to execute a preemptive attack for an invasion of North Korea. "All the military exercises of the United States and the South Korean puppets are pursuant to this war doctrine and the scenario for a nuclear war…."

"In reality, the "Key Resolve" and "Foal Eagle" joint military exercises have been staged in accordance with the "OPLAN 5027," a scenario for an all-out war to occupy our Republic by launching a preemptive attack. Last year, the United States and the South Korean authorities have produced even a document on the provision of an "extended deterrent," which is premised on the use of nuclear weapons against us in times of a contingency…."

"The process for denuclearization can never take even a step forward as long as the DPRK and the United States remain actually at war and the United States' nuclear war threat against us does not disappear. If the United States continues to adhere to its unrealistic maneuvers to crush the Republic in disregard of our realistic proposal, we have no choice but to further strengthen our nuclear deterrent and our delivery means."

Comment: The statement repeats the themes of last year that conditioned nuclear talks on progress towards a peace treaty. Yet, in the past week, the North's top nuclear negotiator has traveled to Beijing to consult with the Chinese. The writers on security issues appear to be out of sync with the activities of the diplomats. Substantive progress in diplomacy, however, may be expected to be held hostage to the completion of the US-South Korean exercises which run from 8 to 18 March.

Pakistan: Security. In Swat District security forces killed a senior Pakistani Taliban commander and four accomplices. Maulana Muhammad Alam, also known as Maulana Khalil and Binoray Mulla, was one of the 21 most wanted Taliban commanders in Swat, according to The News.

ARY One World TV reported a militant group active in the tribal areas today confirmed that its leader Qari Zafar, who was wanted in the 2006 bombing of the US consulate in Karachi, was killed in American missile strike in North Waziristan.

Pakistani intelligence officials told the press last week that Zafar was killed on 24 February with 13 other insurgents when three missiles struck a compound and a vehicle in the Dargah Mandi area of the North Waziristan. Zafar was a senior member of the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. In addition to the March 2006 suicide car bombing of the US consulate in Karachi that killed US diplomat David Foy and three Pakistanis, he also is believed to have been behind the September 2008 truck bomb blast at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed 54 people.

Note: The degradation of militant leaders is becoming a commonplace feature of daily news from Pakistan. For the first time, Pakistani leaders appear to be serious about taking down the leadership of the militants.

Constitutional reform update. The News reported that it has now been finally and unanimously agreed by the Raza Rabbani constitutional reforms committee that all discretionary powers of the president of Pakistan will be transferred to the prime minister to make his office the real source of political power.

The constitutional reform committee wrote that the Prime Minister's discretionary powers will include the authority to appoint the armed services chiefs, the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the four provincial governors. If these amendments are carried through in parliament, President Asif Zardari will be relegated to a figurehead head of state - which is prescribed in the 1973 Constitution -- while Prime Minister Gilani will become the true head of government

"It has also been decided with the consensus that other presidential discretionary powers like dissolution of the National Assembly (lower house of parliament) and dismissal of the federal government (Article 58(2) (b), and appointment of the Federal Public Service Commission chairman will also be shifted to the prime minister through the new constitutional amendment package," a committee member told The News.

"The president will be left with the job of receiving credentials of foreign ambassadors and putting his signatures on whatever laws he will receive from parliament controlled by the prime minister," another committee member said. He said not even the representatives of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) - Zardari is co-chairman of the PPP -- in the 26-member parliamentary committee resisted undoing of the presidential powers and giving them to the prime minister. A complete consensus was worked out through debate and discussion, the committee member added.

Comment: This transfer of authority is two years overdue. According to the coalition agreement agreements of March 2008, the PPP/PML-N coalition government was to have restored full parliamentary democracy by mid-2008. Under those agreements, the President promised to surrender executive power to the Prime Minister in accord with the 1973 Constitution and to normalize the judiciary.

President Zardari, who succeeded Musharraf in August 2008, honored those agreements piece-meal and only under threat of impeachment. He has advanced the interests of his cronies, is alleged to be personally corrupt, is despised by the military leadership, is derided by the legal profession and the judiciary and has lost the support of his own party's Members of Parliament. He has overstayed his welcome, exactly like Musharraf.

The work of the constitutional reform committee is pursuant to the findings of the Supreme Court in December that President Zardari and hundreds of other officials are legally not qualified to hold office. The warrant for their service is Musharraf's National Reconciliation Ordinance which the Court found to be unconstitutional as ultra vires. This Ordinance purported to waive criminal convictions as a bar to public service for Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari.

Thus, the completion of the committee's work is a key step in executing the orders of the Supreme Court to dismiss Zardari without disrupting government. Stability is maintained by investing the prime minister with the powers that Musharraf arrogated to the president. There is no lapse in authority in this process and parliamentary democracy is normalized.

It also means that the days of the Zardari presidency are short. Zardari is unpopular and corrupt, especially with the armed forces leadership, otherwise constitutional reform would be moving much slower. Zardari has lost the support of his own parliamentarians. In his long running political struggle with the Chief Justice, the Chief is getting his revenge.

Ukraine: Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's coalition government has collapsed after Viktor Yanukovych, the newly-elected president, moved to oust the prime minister from parliament. Tymoshenko had refused to recognize Yanukovych's victory in the elections last month, claiming the vote was unfair and fraudulent, and remained in office.

Her majority crumbled after a number of politicians from minority parties switched their allegiance following her defeat in the 7 February elections. "As of today there is no coalition in parliament. Therefore I announce that the coalition has ceased to exist," Volodymr Lytvyn, parliament speaker, said on Tuesday.

Note: This is the end of the so-called Orange Revolution that brought strongly pro-Western leaders to office. Still, it is significant that President Yanukovych's first visit outside the country was to Western Europe, where he appealed for investment. He is a Ukrainian.

NATO: Update. Germany and four other NATO nations are lobbying to reduce nuclear weapons in continental Europe and seek to review NATO's nuclear policy, Belgium's foreign ministry said today.

The foreign ministers of Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway wrote to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen last Friday "calling for a major debate on the Atlantic alliance's nuclear policy to take place at the next foreign ministers' meeting" in Tallinn, Estonia on 22 April, the Belgian statement said.

Germany was the first country to publicize its intention to call for the withdrawal of US nuclear warheads from its territory. Last month a Belgian prime ministerial spokesman told Agence France-Presse that "the Belgian government and the four countries in question will propose in the coming weeks that nuclear arms on European soil belonging to other NATO member states are removed."

According to the AFP report, "there are no official figures published but there are thought to be some 240 US nuclear weapons scattered around Europe in five NATO nations; Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey."

Key NATO members want to disarm, at a time when the Russians are rearming and the Chinese are continuing to build their military capabilities. Their populations almost uniformly oppose the Afghanistan adventure, which fuels distrust of US intentions for NATO in other domains. Afghanistan is shaping up to be the military excursion that breaks NATO.

Argentina-US-UK: The US Secretary of State has called for talks over the future of the Falklands, the UK possession that the US helped the UK recover from Argentina. The US position is that the Falkland Islands are British. That has not changed until the Secretary's gratuitous swipe at the UK.

Some in Britain might interpret the Secretary's statement as ill advised at best and at worst a betrayal of alliance solidarity by encouraging the Argentine claim to the Falklands. British willingness to support the US in Afghanistan, for example, might weaken proportionately and would be understandable.

Today's US statement is as bizarre as US support for citizen Zelaya, which actually created the political crisis in Honduras. The US would seem to gain nothing by disrespecting its oldest ally in favor of Argentina and would put larger interests with the British pointlessly at risk.

End of NightWatch for 2 March.

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