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NightWatch 20100331


For the Night of 31 March 2010

South Korea: The government announced that officials are to stay on emergency alert until the crisis sparked by the sinking of a warship is resolved, Agence France-Presse reported 31 March.

Navy chief Admiral Kim Sung Chan said the ship's munitions storage room did not appear to have exploded and the ship was "broken in two because of powerful outside pressure or an exterior explosion." Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said U.S. and South Korean intelligence had satellite photos showing submersible craft moving in and out of a North Korean west coast naval base at Sagot, within range of the offshore islands, before and after the sinking, but the evidence is inconclusive.

North Korea: North Korea broke silence on the sinking today. A representative of a state agency for inter-Korean economic cooperation said North Korea had nothing to do with the sinking of a South Korean warship in the Yellow Sea, Yonhap reported. This was North Korea's first response to the incident since it happened and the official made the statement during a visit to Dandong, China.

Kim Chong-il heading for China? North Korea watchers expect that North Korean leader Kim Chong-il will visit China in the near future, Yonhap reported. A South Korean presidential spokesman said the Seoul government is keeping a close watch.

Another senior official stated that Seoul received some intelligence about it, but it is not decisive. He cited unusual activities near the Chinese border city of Dandong, North Korea's border areas, and the Chinese capital of Beijing. Yet another senior official said, said that South Korea has "some intelligence, albeit not decisive."

When Kim travels, which is seldom, he moves by special armored train, never flies. Chinese and North Korean authorities always impose tight security all along the right of way over which the Dear Leader's train will travel. These precautions disrupt local normality and are always detectable.

The extent of local economic, transportation and individual movement restrictions plus other forms of disruption is a reliable indicator that a leadership train carrying the Dear Leader is en route soon. Local disruption is minimal when only a decoy train is en route.

If Kim goes to China this week, he is likely to return before the opening of the Supreme People's Assembly at which he customarily presides. The Assembly is set to convene on 8 April.

India-China: The Annual Report for 2009-10 of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs said construction of 27 road links totaling 804 kilometers will be built along the India-China border, Zee News reported 31 March. The construction will address poor connectivity that has hampered the operational capability of border guard forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

Comment: India needs better border roads to support a planned increase in military presence along the China border, as a safeguard against a two-front war with Pakistan and China. Lateral movement is particularly difficult in the foothills of the Himalayas. The military plans for troop increases are far advanced. This is the most recent indication that the civil infrastructure to support the military increase also is progressing.

Pakistan: Dawn News reported that the elders of the Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan refused to raise a tribal levy to fight the Pakistani Taliban, all of whose leaders have been Mehsuds. The government also presented a list of demands to the tribal elders that included handing over 378 militants including key militant commanders, laying down arms and surrendering to security forces, expelling or arresting foreign militants and turning over criminals from the Frontier Regions.

The elders rejected the government's demands and refused to agree on repatriation of displaced tribesmen and handing over militants to the authorities.

Internal politics. The Daily Times reported that all members of the parliament's constitutional reforms committee have signed the draft of the 18th Amendment after reaching a consensus on 31 March. The new Amendment will return the political system to parliamentary normality with the Prime Minister as the head of government and chief executive. The signing ceremony took place at the committee room in Parliament.

One of the sticking points last week was the renaming of Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). The members of the constitutional reform committee agreed that NWFP is to be renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkwa Province. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif delayed the Amendment package for a week until today's consensus was reached … and probably until he received back briefings about the high level visit to the US last week. The next step is to submit the constitutional reform package to the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

At the Supreme Court today. The Supreme Court today demanded the National Accountability Bureau take measures to secure the return of millions of dollars plundered by Pakistani leaders and bureaucrats; take action against former Attorney General Malik Qayyum and increase the number of anti-graft courts so as to resolve cases speedily.

Malik Qayyum was Attorney General under Musharraf until Musharraf resigned in August 2008. He led the government's case to dismiss Chief Justice Chaudhry in 2007 and the other Justices who declared the National Reconciliation Order unconstitutional.

The Chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, Naveed Ahsan apparently gave a more satisfactory progress report today. According to The News, he told the seven-judge panel today that the Law Secretary has been contacted for an official opinion on charges against Malik Qayyum and the measures for executing the Supreme Court's orders are "afoot." Naveed said that 158 cases have been revived pursuant to the Court's ruling on the National Reconciliation Ordinance. In ten cases, the original jail sentences have been restored.

He also briefed the Court that the Bureau has set in motion the action for re-opening the Swiss cases against President Zardari and letters have been written to Swiss officials and the Attorney of Geneva, Geo News reported. Swiss authorities told the press they have yet to receive any letters from Pakistan requesting the cases be reopened, however.

In response to a query by Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday regarding cases in Spain, Naveed said Pakistan did not send any request for these cases.

The Court adjourned the hearing until tomorrow, 1 April. It informed the National Accountability Bureau's Chairman that he need not come to the Court tomorrow, but the Court might call him if needed.

Another casualty. Former Attorney General Malik Qayum fled to Dubai with his wife in a private plane after he learned of the Supreme Court's order against him (Qayum). Ostensibly Malik Qayyum went to Dubai for treatment for his ailing wife.

Recap: The Additional Deputy Director of the Federal Investigation Agency is in jail. The former Attorney General is in self-imposed exile. Ten other officials not identified face jail terms and 158 cases of waived sentences have been revived. More to follow.

Afghanistan: Special note. When Pakistan began cracking down on Afghan Taliban leaders in early February, NightWatch began compiling and analyzing open source reporting on fighting in Afghanistan to try to determine whether the disruption of the Quetta Shura and the arrest of Mullah Berader, for example, have had measurable impact on the fighting in Afghanistan.

With research and analysis of January and February data nearly complete, the answer is the Pakistani crackdown seems to have contributed to a clear, but delayed drop in clashes after the arrest of Berader on 8 February in Karachi.

In early January combat was lackluster, typical of mid-winter, with about 5 or 6 significant clashes involving loss of life or property damage reported by the press a day. On 13 and 14 January, the daily number doubled and continued to rise to three times the early January rate and stabilized at that level in February.

In the week after Baradar's arrest, the daily number of clashes dipped for a about a week, but returned to late January levels until 22 February. On that date and until the end of the month, the daily number of clashes returned to the early January level. By the end of the month they had not recovered to the early February level.

The late February dip is striking because it includes the fighting related to Operation Moshtarak in Marja/Nad e Ali, Helmand Province. Anti-government fighters usually receive orders to surge operations elsewhere to relieve pressure from NATO operations. For that reason alone, the level of clashes reported in open sources should have remained steady.

Weather was a factor in mountainous provinces in the center and along the border with Pakistan, but weather effects are limited in the Pashtun heartland provinces of the south. Heavy snow days in mountain provinces coincided regularly with heavy clash days.

Sampling is always a problem. Press coverage of clashes is a fraction of the total level of violence, but has been reliable for trend analysis in NightWatch Special Assessments for four years. It seems to be so still. The daily numbers only have significance relative to each other in assessing the direction of the trend.

The data in the NightWatch sample show that Pakistan provided significant support to NATO by rounding up Afghan Taliban leaders. All the drone attacks against targets in Pakistan and the Pakistani counter-militant offensive in South Waziristan exerted no comparably demonstrable impact on the fighting in Afghanistan, as did the Pakistani crackdown on the Afghan Taliban leaders in Baluchistan and Sindh. Research and analysis of data for March continue.

Iran: According to a Reuters report, six world powers will begin writing sanctions against Iran in response to its nuclear program within a few days. The group includes the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Russia, Germany and China. The unidentified Reuters source said China was brought on board during a conference call with the other nations.

Comment: China's participation in a sanctions regime against Iran would be extraordinary. The report is probably optimistic, unless the US has shared persuasive details of the program that it obtained from the Iranian nuclear scientist who defected last year. In any event the diplomatic offensive in support of sanctions has begun.

Iraq: Prime Minister al-Maliki confirmed 31 March that his State of Law coalition formally appealed the 7 March parliamentary election results, Reuters reported. Al-Maliki said there was confusion in the results that should be clarified by a three-judge electoral panel. "Everyone should be bound by the decision."

Al-Maliki was not mentioned by his State of Law coalition during alliance negotiations with the National Coalition. A State of Law coalition leader said the possibility of al-Maliki serving as prime minister in the next government "has not been broached," according to AKnews.

Note: Although the language is ambiguous, most observers interpret the State of Law leader's statement to mean that the coalition will not nominate al-Maliki for another term as prime minister. Old school types would say he blotted his copy book with Iran by not defeating Allawi's bloc in the election.

Russia: Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov said in a video posted on Kavkaz Center Web site and YouTube on 31 March that he personally ordered the two suicide bombings in Moscow, BBC reported. Umarov, leader of the Islamist militants in Russia's North Caucasus and self-proclaimed head of the "Caucasus Emirate," described the attacks as special operations to "eliminate infidels and greet the Russian Federal Security Service."

The Chechens also have promised more attacks, like that in Dagestan today that killed 12 and injured 23 others in a staggered double bombing to victimize first responders as well as the initial target. There will be collective punishment again in the Caucasus.

Russia-South Ossetia-Abkhazia: For the record. RIA Novosti reported the Russian Federation Council on 31 March ratified pacts between Russia and South Ossetia and Russia and Abkhazia regarding joint defense of borders. In the agreements, the status and terms of the Russian Federal Security Service's presence are stipulated.

Comment: Russia now has a defense pact with each of the former provinces of Georgia. Georgian President Saakashvili, however, has not abandoned his goal of recovering them or his hope of ensnaring the US in his adventure through training and support for Afghanistan.

Kosovo: Tonight's good news. US military forces in Kosovo performed their last duty patrol, after ten years, along the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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End of NightWatch for 31 March.

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