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NightWatch 20101227

NightWatch

For the Night of 27 December 2010

South Korea: The government in Seoul announced another round of naval exercises began on 27 December.

North Korean press issued the following statement:

The puppet Joint Chiefs of Staff of south Korea plans to stage provocative naval firing exercises in the East, West and South Seas of Korea from Dec. 27 to 31, according to South Korean KBS.

The madcap naval firing exercises to be staged by the puppet war-like forces again in 23 places with huge forces involved will drive the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a war as they are aimed at invading the DPRK.

North Korea: Internal: Reports of public appearances by Kim Chong-il dominated reporting for the internal audience.

On the 25th Kim attended a banquet hosted by the Workers' Party Central Military Commission.

Comment: The reports of public appearances reinforce the message that internal conditions are as normal as they ever get in North Korea, despite the bellicose public reaction to South Korean training.

The appearance reports also are important for informing the public about the leadership lineup. A large entourage always accompanies Kim. Their names and titles are listed in order of precedence.

Since the Party Conference that designated Kim Chong-un as heir-apparent, Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, the Chief of the General Staff, is often listed immediately after Kim Chong-il and ahead of Kim Chong-un. Ri's position signifies to the public that the army, rather than the communist party, is the most important institution in the state. There are many party officials who have more seniority and longer service that RI, but second-listing indicates proximity to Kim Chong-il. Ri has it.

Pakistan: Security. The Daily Times reported that the Pakistani Taliban claim they have kidnapped 23 tribal elders from South Waziristan have not been seen since 17 December. The men were abducted because they met or attended functions with Chief of Army Staff General Kayani in South Waziristan on 7 December as part of his initiative to demonstrate that South Waziristan is secure.

Comment: Kayani's trip backfired. The actual kidnapping occurred in North Waziristan where the 23 elders traveled to meet a Pakistani Taliban delegation, at the latter's invitation. What is unexplained about the kidnapping is why the men went at all. In any event, the fact that they went when the Taliban called prime facie evidence that Waziristan is not secure, meaning free of Pakistani Taliban coercion.

Politics. One of the core members of the ruling government coalition, which is led by Prime Minister Gilani's Pakistan People's Party, withdrew its two ministers from the federal cabinet on 27 December but promised for now to remain in the federal coaliltion and in the Sindh Province parliament.

The MQM told the Pakistani media that it was withdrawing from the cabinet because of corruption, rising prices, and lack of attention to the problems of the people. Its leaders said it was not withdrawing from the governing coalition to avoid causing political instability.

"The coordination committee has unanimously concluded that the ministries it has in the federal cabinet are of no use since the recommendations and proposals (of MQM ministers) are being ignored without citing any reason. A decision will soon be taken about quitting the federal government and future relationship with the Sindh government as a coalition partner."

Comment: This is the second defection from the coalition in two weeks. On 14 December the JUI, a small Islamist party, withdrew from the coalition because its single minister was dismissed by Gilani for malfeasance in organizing pilgrimages to Mecca. The government responded as if it was glad to see the troublesome Islamists depart. They were powerful in northwest Pakistan during Musharraf's regime.

The MQM, which dominates Sindh Province and especially the Karachi, is a key coalition member because its 25 seats in the National Assembly give the PPP a majority. Should the MQM decide to join the opposition, the government could fall.

The coalition currently holds 181 seats - including the MQM's 25 - in the 342-member National Assembly. It needs 172 to preserve its majority and the right to lead the government.

The larger issue is a popular perception that the Gilani government is not serious about solving Pakistan's problems, is too concerned about placating the US, and has accomplished little in three years. The government is not popular, so more defections may be expected.

The implications of an unstable government are serious. Most important, it is one of the conditions that invites a military takeover of government. At this juncture, a military government would be cheered by most Pakistanis, just as they cheered Musharraf's coup d'etat in 1999.

Another coup would undermine three years of international efforts to strengthen elected civilian government in Pakistan and throw the country into severe turmoil once again. The judiciary would be undermined and the Islamists always thrive under Pakistan Army protection.

For the US, the political instability means that the government will remain unwilling to order the Army to undertake operations in the tribal areas anytime soon. The Army opposes such operations which it considers not part of its mission, as waging war against Pakistani citizens and a police chore, not a defense task.

The Gilani government is likely to collapse in 2011. It has become accident prone which means its best efforts to shore up the coalition are unlikely to reduce the instability and might worsen it.

End of NightWatch for 27 December.

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