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NightWatch 20100401

NightWatch

For the Night of 1 April 2010

South Korea: Update. The National Defense Ministry said no North Korean submarine was detected in the area the night a South Korean Navy vessel sank, Xinhua reported 1 April. The Ministry said it continues to monitor North Korea's movements and pledged to make public all results of the investigation.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman told the media that rescue operations resumed on 2 April. They were suspended on 1 April because of bad weather.

Note: This statement responds to the news report yesterday that implied US and Republic of Korea intelligence had detected North Korean midget submarines operating near the area before and after the sinking. In short, the message is there are no new developments in the public domain related to the cause of the sinking. All possible external causes remain open. The Navy has ruled out an internal explosion. A comprehensive civil-military investigation of the sinking continues.

China: Update. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told the press he doesn't have information whether North Korean leader Kim Chong-il will visit China. Nor could he admit it if he did.

Qin also said China prefers flexibility in dealing with Iran and did not back up US-based statements that China is considering sanctions on Iran.

China-Spratly Islands: China sent its first two-ship patrol to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on 1 April, DPA reported. Chinese officials said the two-ship patrol will last one month, but could be extended. One of the two ships is a converted People's Liberation Army Navy ship weighing 4,450 tons and is the fisheries administration's largest and fastest vessel, officials added.

Comment: China has a long running dispute with Vietnam and other claimants over ownership of the islands as well as fishing and mineral rights. Fisheries administration ships routinely patrol the area, but not usually in pairs. China claims all the South China Sea as territorial waters and maps available in Beijing clearly demarcate the extent of China's claim.

Since about 2006 when the government passed legislation on preserving the national territory against secession and competing claims of territory claimed by China, authorities in Beijing have been prickly about any action by other Asian states that infringe on what the Chinese deem their sovereignty. As Chinese naval and oversea air capabilities have improved and evolved, the Chinese have become quicker to protect their claim to disputed islands.

India: Today, the government began a year long census in which it plans to photograph and fingerprint every citizen over the age of 15. Using this national database, the government plans to issue its first national identity cards. "It is for the first time in human history that an attempt is being made to identify, count, enumerate and record and eventually issue an identity card to 1.2 billion people," Home Minister Chidambaram said

About 2.5 million census-takers began traveling to more than 630,000 villages and 5,000 cities in an effort to visit every structure serving as a home, from tin shanties to skyscrapers. The project will cost more than $1.2 billion to complete.

Most Indians interviewed by the press said they welcome the ID cards because they will reduce the need for multiple identification papers and make it easier to receive government benefits and services. Wealthy Indians can flash a combination of passports, driver's licenses and credit cards to establish their identity. The poor - who often don't possess birth certificates - are forced to rely on electricity bills, ration cards, voting cards or letters from local officials to prove their identity for jobs, property ownership and public services. Supplying identification documents is a cottage industry, always inconvenient and usually requiring bribes.

Comment: No other administrative task by a modern state conveys the sense of national citizenship as a census. The American founders ordered and took the first US census in 1790, 14 years after the declaration of independence. They knew that a census is at the core of building a nation, as well as its tax base. The Indians know it as well, plus it promises to be a powerful security tool for separating terrorists from law abiding citizens.

The US had a golden opportunity to take a census in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004, when Americans were welcome almost universally and there was little organized violence. Some old hands urged it, but others thought voter registration was more important.

A 24 March press release from the 1st Marine Division reported US Marines and Afghan National Army forces in Garmsir District, Helmand Province, performed census patrols on 19 March to get a baseline of the population that lives outside their outposts. Smart. The last official census in Afghanistan was taken in 1979.

India-Jammu and Kashmir State: Four Indian soldiers and 10 militants have been killed in Kashmir since March 31, the highest number of people killed in firefights within a 24-hour period in years, Reuters reported 1 April, citing an Indian Army spokesman.

The clashes occurred in the Rajouri District in south Kashmir near the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The Indian Army said it has increased its vigilance along the Line of Control to prevent hundreds of militants waiting in the Pakistani part of Kashmir from entering India.

Rajouri District contains a primary infiltration route from Pakistan into the Jammu part of Indian Kashmir. Infiltration always surges in spring. The Army makes a point of publicizing incidents at this time to expose continuing Pakistani support for the militants and terrorists. Pakistan has throttled back its use for terror as an agent of state policy, but the restraint is not so apparent along the Line of Control in Kashmir, now that winter is past.

Pakistan: Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan's South Waziristan Chief Waliur Rehman Mahsud said the entire country of Pakistan is a battlefield for them, Sana News reported 1 April. Talking to Dawn News from an undisclosed location in South Waziristan, Mahsud said the Taliban would target sensitive installations, particularly offices of secret agencies, throughout the country. He said they would not hold talks with the government until it withdrew support to the United States.

The significance of this statement is that it is a declaration of war against the state. The Pakistani Taliban are, in fact, claiming they already have recovered from the setbacks caused by the Army's South Waziristan operations last year and have new leadership. Expect a surge in terrorist attacks in all cities that house intelligence and special law enforcement stations and bases.

At the Supreme Court today. The Attorney General of Pakistan pleaded that the Law Ministry was blocking his efforts to restart the cases in Swiss Courts against President Zardari and others. The Chief Justice ordered the Law Ministry to cooperate with the Attorney General and submit an update of its actions on 5 April.

Today's exchanges exposed delaying tactics by at least one cabinet member that is close to contempt of court. The Chief Justice ordered the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Law Ministry - the top civil servant - to stop bickering.

Constitutional reform. The News reported that the constitutional reform package in the form of the draft 18th Amendment will be submitted to both houses of parliament on 2 April. On 5 April the National Assembly, the lower house, will begin the process of amending the constitution.

The Amendment will restore the Prime Minister as the Chief Executive. The Chairperson of the National Assembly called 31 March, the day of the consensus agreement, a historic day in the parliamentary history of Pakistan.

Iraq: Political developments. The two largest, mainly Shiite blocs, State of Law (SoL) and the Iraqi National Alliance, agreed that the next prime minister will be from their two lists based on compromise between the parties, according to SoL leader Ali al-Adeeb, Bab News reported 1 April. Adeeb told the Iraqi National News Agency that the coalitions agreed on basic principles that form the biggest bloc in the next parliament. Adeeb said the two coalitions and the Kurdistan Alliance are expected to form a parliamentary majority capable of forming the next government, based on partnership.

Al Sadr's Iraqi National Alliance is holding what it calls a binding referendum on who shall be the next prime minister and is not al Maliki. The results are expected on 2 April. Despite emerging as the kingmaker, al Sadr remains in Iran and vows not to return until US soldiers are gone in 2011.

Comment: State of Law is Prime Minister al-Maliki's bloc and Iraqi National Alliance's bloc is led by Muqtada al-Sadr and has Iranian backing. If the Shiites hold together, there will be three consequences. Their parliamentary seat count will negate the election result that favored the secular bloc, according to the prevailing interpretation of the constitution. The Sunni Arabs effectively will be disenfranchised. Violence, probably evolving into insurgency, will return and might become chronic after US forces depart. Patrick Cockburn in The Independent pointed out that the political resurrection of al Sadr ensures US forces will leave on schedule if not before.

Russia: President Medvedev told authorities the measures to fight terrorism "should be expanded, they should be more effective, more harsh, more cruel."

RT and RIA Novosti reported the President's five components of fighting terrorism in Russia's North Caucasus:

"Firstly, to strengthen law enforcement and security bodies, the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service and other agencies, and to help the courts.

Secondly, we must continue to deliver precision strikes against terrorists and their hideouts.

Thirdly, we should help those who decided to break away from the bandits.

Fourthly, we should develop the economic and social sphere, educational, cultural and humanitarian programs.

And finally, we should strengthen the moral and spiritual component, help religious leaders. Given those five components, we will succeed."

Medvedev arrived 1 April in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan to inspect the latest terrorist attack.

Ukraine: For the record. Parliament refused to hold hearings on Ukraine's accession to the customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan after only 218 of the 412 members of parliament present during the session voted in favor of a bill to schedule hearings, Interfax reported 1 April. At least 226 votes are required to proceed on legislation.

The significance is that, despite Ukraine's overt tilt towards Moscow in national security affairs, it still looks westward for economic ties and seems wary of becoming a Russian vassal in a Russian-led customs union.

Israel-Gaza Strip: Israeli planes have carried out 13 air strikes on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources have told the BBC. Palestinian news agencies reported that Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over parts of Gaza on Thursday warning residents of retaliation for last Friday's killings of the soldiers in Khan Younis.

Four of the strikes took place near the town of Khan Younis, where two Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes with Palestinian fighters last week. They were the first Israeli soldiers to be killed in hostile fire in Gaza in over a year. The military wing of Hamas claim responsibility for those attacks.

The Israeli military told the BBC the operation was targeting four weapons factories.

The strikes are the most serious for more than a year. Neither Hamas nor the Israelis provided casualty reports. The Israelis practice asymmetric warfare differently.

Somalia Anti-piracy Patrol: The USS Nicholas captured a group of pirates Thursday after they opened fire on the frigate, according to a statement released by the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

The Nicholas quickly returned fire and began pursuing the skiff, which was eventually disabled. A boarding team from the Nicholas subsequently captured and detained three people, the statement said.

The team discovered ammunition and several cans of fuel aboard the skiff, which was later sunk by the Nicholas.

In another action, Turkish commandos captured nine pirates aboard a boat in the Gulf of Aden, the Turkish Armed Forces said in a statement on Thursday. The frigate Gelibolu, serving as part of the NATO anti-piracy mission, intercepted the pirate skiff while monitoring the security corridor for merchant shipping 80 miles from the coast on Wednesday, the statement said. This was a bad day for pirates and that is tonight's good news.

Kenya: Foreign Minister Wetangula announced today that Kenya will no longer try captured Somali pirates in its courts, the BBC reported April 1. He said Kenya has not accepted captured pirates for two weeks and has informed other countries to try them elsewhere. He said the international community has not kept its promises to help with prosecuting and imprisoning the pirates.

The hard part of the anti-piracy initiatives always has been determining what to do with the pirates. In earlier eras, that seems not to have been much of a problem for the maritime powers.

Mexico: Several incidents in the past two days point to a significant increase in the threat to the southern US border. The first was the cartel takeover of al Porvenir, a town three miles from Fort Hancock, Texas. Cartel leaflets demand payment or children will be murdered. They also warn of a pending inter-cartel fight in the town, many of whose residents have fled to Forth Hancock and requested asylum.

The other incidents were attacks by cartel fighters on Mexican Army facilities in Reynosa, Matamoros and General Bravo. Mexican General Edgar Luis Villegas said gunmen staged seven separate attacks on the Army, including three blockades, according to The Associated Press 1 April.

Gunmen parked trucks and SUVs outside a military base in the border city of Reynosa trying to block troops from leaving and sparking a gun battle with soldiers. Gunmen also blocked several streets leading to a garrison in the nearby border city of Matamoros. Another gang of armed men opened fire from several vehicles, shooting at soldiers guarding a federal highway in General Bravo, in Nuevo Leon State. Troops fought back, killing 18 gunmen, wounding two and detaining seven more suspects.

Many of the attackers in the past two days are Zetas, according to The Associated Press. The Zetas are Mexican Army deserters trained as assassins. They began as a mercenary force for the Gulf cartel, but evolved their own independent operations and are fighting the cartels, who reportedly want to eliminate them as bad for business.

Attacks against the Army create terror by establishing that the premier defense forces of the state cannot defend themselves, much less its citizens. They also establish that the attackers have the capabilities to deliver on the threat. If these attacks continue in the border region, that part of Mexico will begin to resemble the warlord enclaves of Somalia or Afghanistan.

One commentator worried that the cartels are attempting to establish a lawless buffer zone just inside the Mexican border patterned after the Taliban base areas in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Northwest Frontier Province. If that occurs, or perhaps when that occurs, the refugee flow will increase and violence will follow the refugees.

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End of NightWatch for 1 April.

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