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NightWatch 20100824

NightWatch

For the Night of 24 August 2010

South Korea - North Korea: South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Tae Young said on 24 August that his troops are now allowed to respond immediately in the event North Korean shelling impacts on land south of the maritime border off the west coast.

South Korean troops previously were banned from firing back north of the Northern Limit Line if the North did not stop firing after warnings, even if shells landed on the South's side. Minister Kim said South Korea will give the North advance warning.

Comment: This represents an official authorization for more aggressive rules of engagement. The South has decided it will not be bullied by the North even if the new rules of engagement put other issues at risk, such as resumption of nuclear talks.

The historic record shows that the South's approach is much more likely to be productive than the alternative. North Koreans respect power, though they will test it to decide whether it is power or bluff. There will be artillery exchanges off the west coast this fall.

North Korea-US: Former US President Carter will depart soon for North Korea on a private mission to free US citizen Aijalon Mahli Gomes who has been imprisoned after crossing illegally from China.

Comment: The North Koreans will welcome President Carter warmly because he is the only American President to have held discussions with the late President Kim Il-sung. Carter would not go were a warm welcome and high likelihood of success not in prospect.

The details of the North Korean welcome -- whether he meets Kim Chong-il and/or Chang Song-taek, for example - plus the success of his rescue mission will provide insights into the stability and confidence of the North Korean leadership and the prospects for Six Party talks.

East Timor: China signed an agreement to finance the construction of a new $8 million military headquarters for East Timor, Radio Australia reported.

East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao thanked China for the funding and expressed a willingness to strengthen military ties between the two countries. He also warned other countries against attempts to stop East Timor from accepting military training from China.

Comment: This is a noteworthy achievement by China at low cost that poaches on Australia's sphere of influence, dating to the fight against the Japanese in World War II. Australian and Dutch forces fought a rear guard action in Timor against the Japanese, supplied by submarines from Australia.

Indonesia, which owns West Timor, invaded East Timor in 1975, despite it being an overseas province of Portugal, a NATO member. This was done with the encouragement of President Ford and Secretary Kissinger - the only time the US is known to have encouraged a US proxy, Indonesia, to attack the territory of a NATO ally. The attack was inept and bloody, but East Timor had no support and the Indonesians prevailed.

Indonesia governed East Timor as a province for more than 20 years, producing an insurgency in which up to 250,000 people died. To end the fighting and the resource drain, Indonesia agreed to a UN-supervised referendum on Timorese independence, which was held on 30 August 1999. The East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence.

By late September 1999, after two months of bloody civil war between Timorese factions, Australian forces led the UN peace keeping mission that restored stability and ended the fighting.

After all that, the Chinese have now discovered East Timor, which is astride one of the less congested passageways between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Apparently no nation of Southeast Asia is too insignificant for Chinese attention and blandishments. Southeast Asia to the territorial waters of northern Australia is being incorporated into the Chinese version of a greater Asian co-prosperity sphere.

India-Jammu and Kashmir State: Update. Indian authorities have lifted the curfew in Kashmir Valley, according to local police. Police sources reported that the situation remains peaceful throughout the area.

Comment: The arrival of the monsoon season probably cooled and certainly dampened the enthusiasm of the Kashmiri youth for public demonstrations. The flooding in Pakistan also probably required anti-Indian government agencies in Pakistan to shift their attention inward. That is itself a significant adoptive admission of meddling.

India-Afghanistan: Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 24 August in New Delhi, regional press reported.

During the meeting, Rassoul updated Singh on peace efforts in Afghanistan. Singh expressed concerns about plans to reconcile with the Taliban, saying only those Taliban who renounce violence, sever ties with jihadism and accept the Afghan constitution should be accommodated. Singh also said India is against external influence in Afghan affairs.

Rassoul is to meet Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on 25 August.

Comment: This week unidentified Pakistani officials told media outlets that they deliberately scuttled peace talks between the Afghan government and a faction of Taliban because the Pakistanis did not want the Indian-backed Karzai government to consolidate power. Afghanistan's cordial relations with India is a continuing provocation to some Pakistani strategic theorists who judge that support for the Taliban best serves Pakistan's long term interests in the confrontation with India.

Rassoul's visit, thus, is significant because it shows that the leaders of Afghanistan and India consider their cooperation in "boxing" Pakistan is essential to achieving their primary strategic objective of stability in South Asia.

Pakistani strategists will consider the Rassoul visit a flagrant and direct provocation that takes advantage of Pakistan's travail in coping with epic floods.

Afghanistan: Today Al Jazirah published what purports to be an eyewitness interview with one of its own correspondents in Afghanistan about the situation in Helmand Province. The correspondent said the momentum has tilted in favor of the Taliban, who, he said, now control 70% of Helmand Province.

The correspondent reasoned that the Taliban in Kandahar Province left to avoid the coming US offensive and returned to recapture most of Helmand Province.

Comment: This item was inaccurate, deliberately biased, plus it was data and source free commentary. The main problem is that the correspondent did not bother to mention nor check the status of the US Marine force in Helmand, which is a powerful deterrent.

He also did not go to Helmand and did not research the tribal animosities between tribes from Helmand and Kandahar that impeach his compelling narrative.

Regardless, the al Jazirah version of Afghanistan is the version the Arab world hears.

Special comment. Old hands recognize that contradictory statements about policy by putative leaders of a target state indicate policy confusion, disarray and stalemate.

Since Saturday, no less than four American senior generals have contradicted in public the US President's policy for withdrawing US soldiers from Afghanistan next July. They also have contradicted Secretary Gates. Two US Marine Corps generals have been the most honest and outspoken about the military consequences of withdrawing US troops next summer. Quoting a fellow commander's assessment, one Marine General said: "We can either lose fast or win slow."

The problem with the statements is their impact on the Taliban. Blogs already have begun opining about the generals who are disagreeing with the US President. The Taliban interpret the statements of the generals as proof that the fight has tilted in their direction.

What appears to be an initiative to deny the Taliban the certainty that US troops will begin to withdraw next summer is producing certainty that senior US generals in charge of Afghanistan are contradicting their Commander-in-chief, despite stern orders from the Secretary of Defense to halt discussing policy in the public domain.

Secretary Gates prescribed the proper channels for policy debate after firing General McChrystal. Other generals appear to be ignoring Gates' directive and backtracking on the advice they gave the Commander-in-Chief last December that July 2011 was a realistic target for withdrawal.

Ukraine: Television UT1 on 24 August broadcast live an address by President Viktor Yanukovych to the nation to mark the country's Independence Day, in which Yanukovych said that the real work on carrying out reforms in Ukraine started during his presidency.

"Humanizing society, upgrading the economy, and achieving European standards of life are the three goals we set for ourselves in the nearest future… We have to take the country out of an abyss," Yanukovych said, and "turn Ukraine into a developed and socially-oriented democracy."

Outlining foreign policy, Yanukovych said that European integration is a priority. Ukraine is close to acquiring associated membership in the EU, he said, and expressed hope that a Ukraine-EU summit to be held in fall 2010 will be a significant step toward European integration. Improved relations with Russia promote rather than hamper Ukraine's European integration, Yanukovych said. "A united Europe needs an economically-strong and democratic Ukraine which together with Russia promotes stability, not only in the Central and Eastern European region, but in all Eurasian space," he said.

Comment: Yanukovych reinforced the theme that economic policy will be Europe-oriented but security policy will remain linked to Russia in order to provide stability, as he said, in Eastern Europe. Europe, not Russia, is the standard for Ukraine's economic and social progress.

Lebanon-Hezbollah-Iran: For the record. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah today called for the Lebanese government to construct a nuclear power plant. Nasrallah said Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant was cheaper than Lebanon's investment in its power grid and that a nuclear power plant would let Lebanon produce electricity to sell to Syria, Cyprus and other countries in the region.

Comment: A nuclear Lebanon probably would cross more than a few Israeli red lines. Nasrallah was being cheeky, but not entirely unreasonable.

Somalia: Fifteen lawmakers and officials were killed by al Shabaab militants who attacked the Muna Hotel in Mogadishu today. The death toll stands at 30. Troops stormed the hotel, which is adjacent to the presidential palace. It was reported that another hotel, Wehliye, also was attacked.

The timing suggests a response to reports that African Union reinforcements have begun arriving, but that is speculation at this time. The attack is the highlight of the second day of the al Shabaab surge against the Transitional Federal Government and African Union forces in Mogadishu. Despite the atrocity, al Shabaab appears to have gained no ground.

Mexico: Update. The Attorney General for Nuevo Leon State said today that the police officers arrested in connection with the kidnapping and murder of the Santiago Mayor Edelmiro Cavazos Leal committed the crime in retaliation for corrective measures being imposed on them. The State Attorney General said Mayor Cavazos had cut the officers' salaries because of their poor attitudes. Seven police officers are currently detained, while three more remain fugitives.

End of NightWatch for 24 August.

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