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NightWatch 20110812

NightWatch

For the Night of 12 August 2011

North Korea-South Korea: South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan said North Korea must suspend all of its nuclear activities, including its uranium enrichment program, as a prerequisite to the resumption of six-party talks, Yonhap reported.

Comment: The statement on the 12th is more explicit and uncompromising than several more inviting official statements of the past two months. The Foreign Minister did not require that North Korea stop all nuclear activities, dismantle its nuclear programs, apologize for its military provocations and murders last year or pay reparations for the damage. In the past 18 months, all of them have been South Korean conditions for talks, at one time or another.

The Seoul government appears, however, to have decided to stand firm in requiring North Korean to suspend all nuclear activities before rewarding it with a new round of talks.

Readers will recall the North's position is that talks should resume without conditions, which is the position most advantageous to its interests. South Korean President Lee might have rediscovered his hard edge.

China-Sri Lanka: After talks in Beijing with Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that China is committed to its relationship with Sri Lanka and that Beijing will support Sri Lanka on the international level. Wen said China will aid Sri Lanka in economic development, promoting bilateral cooperation in infrastructure construction and trade and investment as well as strengthening cultural and personnel exchanges.

President Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka will enhance cooperation with China on all levels, creating a comprehensive cooperative partnership.

Comment: In the bidding war for influence in Sri Lanka, China appears to have an edge over India in development aid. This is a manifestation of China's policy of ringing India. China has good relations with every nation bordering India and arms sales relationship with most of them.

India has the benefits of geographic proximity and its status as the home to millions of Tamils who live in Tamil Nadu State in southern India, just across the Palk Strait from the Tamil region of northeastern Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa tries to blunt India's enormous capacity to exert pressure on Sri Lanka by dealing with the Chinese. China provided significant weapons support directly and along with Pakistan to Sri Lanka's successful conclusion of the Tamil Tigers' insurgency.

Pakistan- Federally Administered Tribal Areas: In Islamabad on the 12th, President Zardari ordered that, pending the issuance of regulations, political parties will be allowed to operate in tribal areas and share their socio-economic programs, a presidential spokesman said.

The extension requires that tribal leaders give seven days advanced notice to government political agents before organizing meetings or inviting their central or provincial leaders to the areas. The legal and political reforms would usher tribesman into a "mainstream national life," while respecting local customs and traditions, Zardari said.

Comment: The President of Pakistan, rather than the National Assembly, governs the tribal agencies through federally appointed political agents. Each of the tribal agencies has its own local administration which is semi-autonomous. Thus, national political parties require special permission or a Presidential decree to proselytize in the agencies.

The point is that the political parties and the Pakistan Army cannot conduct activities in the agencies without permission.

A second point is that by enabling the national parties to operate in the agencies, the federal government is acting to reduce their isolation and challenge the influence of indigenous, extreme Islamist groups and leaders. That is the significance of the term "mainstream national life." This is a use of democracy to counter insurgency.

Somalia: For the record. A senior al Shabaab official, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, said a rift among al Shabaab's leadership caused the group to pull out of Mogadishu, Somali opposition Radio Voice of Mudug reported on 12 August.

Aweys added that al Shabaab fighters have "faced difficult circumstances" in the fight against Somalia's Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia, including the rift between al Shabaab officials. Aweys said al Shabaab plans to regroup and would soon launch fresh attacks.

Comment: During the past two weeks, international media have reported the withdrawal of al Shabaab fighters from Mogadishu. Prior to this statement, the reasons for the withdrawal have not been confirmed, though internal clan, factional and leadership conflicts have been recurrent in al Shabaab in the past five years.

The significance is that al Shabaab's fractiousness has provided Mogadishu the first period of relative quiet in years. Seems like a strategic opportunity.

Syria: Comment: Turkish Foreign Minister Professor Davutoglu left Damascus this week with little to show for Turkey's intervention with President al Asad, but perhaps with greater insight. Asad rebuffed Turkey's remonstrations to stop killing Syrian citizens by labeling them as agents of foreign interests and criminals. Asad also cited his promises and program of political reform.

At least a half dozen states are meddling in the Syrian problem. It has evolved into a proxy struggle between Sunni activists, who are backed by Saudi Arabians and Gulf Arabs, and a mix of Sunni businessmen, Christians, Alawites and other minorities, the Turkish Shiite minority and the Iranians who back the Asad government.

The mix is more complex and odder than simplistic western press coverage. For example, Syrian Christians are on the same side as the government of Iran in supporting the Asad government. All the Syrian minorities, especially non-Sunni Muslims and Christians, would be at risk of their lives in the chaos that would follow the fall of the Alawite government.

Apparently, Davutoglu left with the sense that the Asad government is not in danger of failing any time soon. According to one keen analyst who writes for Asia Times on Line, Davutoglu was able to observe that the large urban populations of Damascus and Aleppo, regardless of sect, stand with the Alawites. The armed forces are united in supporting the government. Syrian claims of foreign meddling have substance.

Such observations would explain the anodyne statements after the visit, compared to the heightened media expectations of a breakthrough before Davutoglu traveled. Davutoglu's observations, which will have been conveyed to the US, also might explain why the US President did not call for Asad to step down today, as many news services expected

Egypt: For the record. The government deployed 2,000 soldiers to the Sinai Peninsula on 12 August to prevent attacks by Islamist militants, according to security sources, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported. The sources said police and military armored vehicles were stationed around North Sinai's city of El Arish. The deployment is for defense purposes only, North Sinai Governor Abdel Wahab Mabrouk said.

Comment: Bit by bit, the military-backed government is revealing that it continues to support almost all of the anti-Islamist policies of Mubarak, except his son's succession as President. That is hardly surprising. The Muslim Brotherhood's appreciation of how little has changed explains its policy of working cooperatively with the military-backed administration in order to try gain power through elections as soon as possible. Eventually, the Army will suppress the Brotherhood again, if elections continue to be delayed.

Libya: A captured Libyan intelligence officer, Brigadier General Al-Hadi al-Ujaili, said that about 70 percent of Libyans in Tripoli still support Qadhafi and that his fall is not imminent, Reuters reported. The Brigadier said that Tripoli is generally stable, and although some oppose Qadhafi, he remains safe. Qadhafi has the support of key tribes and remains very strong. Opposition still exists in some parts of Tripoli such as Tajoura and Souq al-Jomaa, and demonstrations there are still a problem, al-Ujaili said.

Comment: The statements can hardly be taken at face value and are certainly intended to influence the rebels more than inform. Nevertheless, they correspond to conditions on the ground, as reported by open sources.

End of NightWatch for 12 August.

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