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NightWatch 20110104

NightWatch

For the Night of 4 January 2011

Japan-North Korea: Japan has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, but the government in Tokyo wants to "create an environment" to strengthen direct dialogue with Pyongyang in 2011, according to Foreign Minister Maehara. Maehara said it is important to create conditions in which the two countries can directly and firmly discuss abductions, missiles and nuclear weapon issues. He added these issues should not be addressed only in multilateral settings or six-way talks, which require relying on other countries.

Comment: Japanese leaders are following and supporting the South Koreans at this time. Japan and North Korea have had bilateral talks about the same issues, without resolution. The message is that Japan will not block US efforts to restart multilateral talks with North Korea, but has some unique agenda items of its own.

South Korea-Japan: South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin and his Japanese counterpart, Toshimi Kitazawa, will meet in Seoul on 10 January to discuss the General Security of Military Information Agreement, designed to protect shared military secrets and strengthen military ties, South Koran officials said on 4 January. They also are expected to discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula, bilateral cooperation on military supplies and services, as well as the proposal of another pact, the "Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement

South Korea: Update. An unidentified government official denied a press report that the Seoul government is working on a joint declaration calling for stronger military cooperation with Japan. The official also denied that South Korean President Lee would visit Japan in the first half of 2011.

It is difficult for South Korea and Japan to discuss bilateral military cooperation, although they could cooperate on multilateral security issues, such as United Nations peacekeeping operations, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official stated.

Comment: The South Korean statement means that the latest trial balloon about military cooperation with Japan also has been shot down. South Koreans are not ready for a military alliance with Japan. This is in contrast to the NATO practice of absorbing and en-arming former members of the Warsaw Pact. When war seems imminent, the two Northeast Asian democracies will find a way to join forces. War is obviously not imminent.

Northeast Asia is in a state of agitation owing mostly to the erratic behavior of North Korea, but also China, in its dealing with Japan. Considering the Chinese public stress on regional stability, its actions have not matched its words.

A more united front by the democracies would be particularly auspicious for a less violent Northeast Asia in 2011.

Pakistan: An elite police commando from the provincial police force who was assigned as a bodyguard for the governor of Punjab Province murdered the governor today in Islamabad. The commando dropped his weapon and surrendered to the police, bragging that he was proud he killed a blasphemer. With that, Pakistan's political crisis deepened.

The commando killed Governor Salman Taseer because the governor openly criticized Pakistan's law that requires execution for blasphemy against, not just god, but Mohammed and Islam. In a strict interpretation of blasphemy, it is a denunciation of god, not of a prophet or a set of religious beliefs. That is not the Pakistani law, however.

Taseer advocated a pardon for Aasia Bibi, a Christian factory worker who was convicted of blasphemy against the prophet on the testimony of her Muslim co-workers. Taseer thought this was unjust.

His murder is the most sensational since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

Comment: The most sensational attacks by fundamentalists have all involved bodyguards. They include the most serious assassination attempts against Musharraf when he was President; the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the assassination of Governor Taseer. In addition every attempt to attack military facilities in Rawalpindi has involved cooperation by guards.

Taseer's assassin was no wild-eyed Islamist. He was a trained and vetted police commando. And that is the point. The ranks of Pakistan's security forces are dominated by Islamists. They take seriously their oath to uphold Pakistan's laws, including the blasphemy law. The popular culture has become Islamist, in sympathy if not in action, and the political and military elite are a small modern minority.

There is no need to search for the black hand of al Qaida. The investigation will find that the murderer discussed his sense of outrage with comrades. The majority of Pakistanis might not approve of the method, but will not denounce the act of stopping a blasphemer.

Afghanistan: For the record. Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said the militant group did not agree to a cease-fire in the Sarwan Qala area in the Sangin District of Helmand Province despite the provincial governor's claims otherwise, Afghan Islamic Press reported.

Calling the cease-fire reports "baseless and vicious propaganda," Ahmadi said the Taliban will never agree to any cease-fire under any condition, adding the Taliban executed an attack in Sarwan Qala on 2 January. However, a spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor said the elders of Sarwan Qala negotiated a cease-fire with the Taliban, though the agreement was unofficial and came only through the local elders' efforts.

Comment: Open source reporting from November and December do not indicate a ceasefire is in effect during the past 25 days, as the initial report suggested. The press reports indicate there is no cessation of fighting anywhere in the South or Southeast.

Sudan: Update. During a visit to Juba in southern Sudan on 4 January, President Omar al Bashir said he is ready to welcome and support Southern Sudan as a new country if its people vote for independence in the upcoming referendum on 9 January.

Al Bashir was welcomed on is arrival by Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir. Speaking to officials and members of civil society, al Bashir said unity imposed by force cannot work and that it should not come at the expense of the South's wishes.

Sudan-China: For the record. A Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman said on 4 January that China would send a mission to Sudan to observe the upcoming referendum in southern Sudan at the invitation of both the northern and southern parts of Sudan.

End of NightWatch for 4 January.

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