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NightWatch 20100512

NightWatch

For the Night of 12 May 2010

North Korea: Feedback. The consensus among the nuclear physicists is that the North Koreans have bragged about doing very little. They certainly are not capable of producing a thermonuclear device; not remotely close to producing a thermonuclear weapon; and no one is close to producing peaceful energy from nuclear fusion.

On the other hand, they are tinkering in a dimension of physics beyond nuclear fission - uranium and plutonium-based nuclear explosions. With outside assistance, the North could be on the path towards much more dangerous weapons than the handful of plutonium warheads estimated to be in inventory. They key unknown is whether North Korea has hired outside help, such as ex-Soviet scientists.

Also worrisome is the high probability that North Korea will sell anything it learns to Syria and Iran. However, even at that, one Reader observed drolly that demonstrating fusion is not rocket science and has been done since the early 1930s. The North Korean media report suggests no capability beyond demonstrating fusion.

Special thanks to all who provided feedback. (Note to all Readers: Feedback is always valued and welcome, even when not invited.)

Thailand: Late today, 12 May, Prime Minister Abhisit's government canceled negotiations with the opposition Red Shirts, who defied a government ultimatum to depart the main shopping district in Bangkok on 12 May or face the consequences, Agence France-Presse reported. The government also canceled its plans to hold early parliamentary elections on 14 November. The government insisted it will proceed with reconciliation plans, however.

Comment: With these actions, the latest concession and under-reaction phases have come to an end. An overreaction phase has now begun.

The Thai army said it will begin limiting supplies of water, food and electricity to the Red Shirt anti-government protesters camped in central Bangkok as part of new measures to clear the streets, according to The Associated Press. An Army spokesman said security forces "will not use force at this stage." However he said this is a full-scale measure to limit the freedom of protesters and to close down the protest encampment area "100 percent."

The army warned residents who live in the high-rise apartments near the Red Shirt encampment should consider alternate accommodations. Red Shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn said the prime minister must not threaten or disperse protesters.

Comment: If this effort to force the Red Shirts to leave Bangkok fails, this government must resign.

India: Defence Minister A.K. Antony said on 12 May that India remains concerned about Pakistan's militant infrastructure, New Kerala reported. Talks will continue, Antony said, but Pakistan must take steps to dismantle more than 40 militant camps.

Comment: India has accepted a Pakistani invitation this week to resume talks. India's main concern is that Pakistan take action to root out anti-Indian terrorists. Readers would be wise in suspecting US pressure on India to throw a bone to the fragile, elected civilian government in Pakistan by agreeing to talks at least in principle.

The American policy is another rerun of an approach that has failed repeatedly. The theory is that the Pakistani civilian government would have a freer hand in applying military assets against Pakistani terrorists and militants, if India appeared less hostile. Prime Minister Gilani and General Kayani, thus, could better manage pressure from the Army Corps Commanders and the enormous corps of retired senior officers who insist that India is the existential threat to Pakistan, instead of internal fragmentation.

As an aside, Pakistani generals and strategists never seem to come to grips with the fact that India contains twice as many Muslims as Pakistan, handles them better than Pakistan, and has no need of or desire for more Muslims or for an unstable Islamic neighbor state that cannot control its Muslim population.

At US urging, India has exercised restraint in response to terrorist attacks from Pakistan at least four times since December 2001 when Pakistani Muslim zealots attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi. India's restraint has not been matched by Pakistani cooperation or even competent police work. Thus Pakistani failures enabled the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, which were launched from near Karachi.

There will be more terrorist attacks against India from Pakistan by Pakistanis. The retired generals' lobby and the defense industrial establishment that is owned by the Pakistan Army must see India as a threat to justify their existence and must deem the terrorists as agents of Pakistan's deterrent strategy against Indian aggression. Without a a threat from India, Pakistan needs only a strong paramilitary constabulary, not a nuclear equipped army. As an ally of China, however, Pakistan must keep that big, expensive army and the weapons China has supplied.

Afghanistan: Early on 12 May the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) party led by a former premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar rejected a draft Afghan reconciliation offer as "completely unacceptable and out of the question," Reuters reported. The only way out of this imbroglio is the complete and unconditional withdrawal of the foreign occupiers from Afghanistan with a reasonable timetable that is already offered by HIA's leadership, spokesman Qareeb Rahman Saeed said. Any other proposal will be unreasonable and unjustifiable, he wrote in an email.

By the end of 12 May, the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) offered conditional support for a peace jirga to be held 29 May in Kabul, Pajhwok news agency reported 12 May. HIA chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said the group would support a peace plan if the jirga was permitted to direct the future course for Afghanistan. HIA also wants foreign troops to withdraw, he said, adding that peace could not be guaranteed while they remain.

Comment: Hekmatyar is hedging his earlier wager that the Coalition will win. His position changes are a good barometer of how things seem to be going. This week's changes indicate Hekmatyar has less confidence in the Coalition than a month ago when he agreed to reconciliation talks, evident in rejection of bilateral terms and his need for company, as in a jirga.

Alternatively, and more likely, Hekmatyar raised the price of the bribe for his participation in reconciliation talks because the security situation in the south is not going according to plan, after the US offensive, and the government negotiators refused to pay, as yet. This process appears to be going no where, but its existence is good propaganda.

Iraq: The final results of Baghdad's election will be announced on 14 May, Aswat al-Iraq reported. Any changes in the election results will then be publicized, a source from the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Iraq stated. He noted that the IHEC has not discovered any "wide-scale rigging" in the election results.

Meanwhile, the political coalition al-Iraqiya List has reached an agreement with the Iran-backed Iraqi National Alliance (INA) on the formation of the next Iraqi government, AKNews reported. An al-Iraqiya spokeswoman said the coalition's leader, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, met with INA leader Ammar al-Hakim to discuss the current political situation and the formation of a new Cabinet, emphasizing the need for the acceleration of the formation of a new government. Al-Iraqiya was the winner of the election and will not give up the prime minister's office, the spokeswoman said.

Comment: Earlier reports of a Shia political super-bloc appear to be premature. The Shia super-bloc configuration foundered apparently because al Maliki insisted that he must remain prime minister. This put him on a collision course with the Sadrists in the INA who reject al Malki.

The main point is that Allawi's group is willing to form a government with the overtly pro-Iranian Shiites including the Sadrists. In such an alliance, the Sunnis and Shiites would be in balance, taking advantage of the Shiite legendary inability to work together, which was one of the pillars of Saddam's political power. Nevertheless, an al-Iraqiya-INA agreement is potentially good news for averting another round of civil war.

End of NightWatch for 12 May.

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