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NightWatch 20120110

NightWatch

For the night of 10 January 2012

North Korea: For the record. North Korea said on Tuesday that it would release prisoners in its first special amnesty in seven years, a day after soldiers paraded in the capital, Pyongyang, vowing to become 'rifles and bombs' to defend the country's new leader, Kim Jong-un.

Comment: The military rally in Pyongyang on Monday and the special pardon, effective from 1 February, are part of the continuing campaign to build popular support for Kim Jong-un. The announcement provided no details about the special amnesty. Several hundred thousand political prisoners are estimated to be in detention in dozens of work camps.

Political crimes in North Korea include being pro-Soviet and being pro-Maoist along with being counter-revolutionary or hostile to the Kim family. Essentially any political idea that did not originate in North Korea is potentially deviationist and a political crime.

China-Korea-US: In a recent interview, Professor Zhang Liangui of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies of the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and an expert on Korea said there is almost no chance of restoring the Six-Party Talks at this time and that it will be difficult to re-open the talks in future.

Zhang said North Korea issued a statement on 5 January declaring that the possession of nuclear weapons is the revolutionary heritage of Kim Chong-il and that the nuclear weapons will not be abandoned. The statement also said that it cannot be more stupid for people to believe so-called aid can be used in exchange for a nuclear deterrent.

Zhang said the statement appeared directed at South Korea. He suggested in fact it was directed at the US, among others. This is because, according to Zhang, its timing was calculated as a reaction to the visit of Kurt Campbell, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, to China. During Campbell's talks in Beijing, one important issue that he discussed with China concerned how to restore the Six-Party Talks as soon as possible.

Comment: The NightWatch assessment for years has been that once nuclear weapons and delivery systems were described as the revolutionary legacy of Kim Chong-il, whereby he exceeded the greatest achievements of his father, they would never again be the topic of serious negotiations. Kim Chong-il identified nuclear weapons and missiles delivery systems as his legacy during his lifetime, at least six years ago.

The 5 January statement means that the Chinese and the North Koreans consider the Six Party Talks to be dead. It also signifies that aid for disarmament is dead as a strategy for inducing talks. Professor Zhang's interview represents China's effort to clarify the obvious for the US diplomats.

The Six Party Talks began in 2003 and were last held in 2009. In the era of the Six Party Talks to the present, North Korea reprocessed several reactor cores from the Yongbyon reactor to build its stock of plutonium for weapons; then shut down the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and replaced it in situ with a modern centrifuge cascade for producing highly enriched uranium to weapons grade. It conducted two nuclear weapons-related tests and tested long range ballistic missile delivery systems, while continuing to export its technology to Pakistan, Iran and Syria.

After nearly a decade since the first talks were held, it appears long past time to declare the Six Party Talks strategy a failure and to search for new ideas for managing northeast Asia security affairs with a nuclear North Korea; find a new strategy and maybe bring in new people. The North Koreans appear open to new ideas.

A final point in Professor Zhang's interview requires emphasis. Zhang said that South Korean President Lee went to China to seek assistance in terminating North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The Chinese replied, according to Zhang, that their paramount interest is stability.

This means that the leaders talked past each other. The Chinese are reconciled to a nuclear armed North Korea, but will restrain it from actions that destabilize the peninsula. They will not cooperate in "denuclearizing" North Korea, the South Korean and US goal.

Pakistan: Another constitutional crisis has begun. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has reactivated a two-year old constitutional struggle with the Gilani government that stems from unconstitutional actions taken by Musharraf in the final months of his tenure. New hearings have been set for 16 January that threat to disqualify the President and Prime Minister and other senior officials because prior criminal behavior was unconstitutionally waived by Musharraf or because of contempt of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in failing to implement its orders.

The six options given to the Attorney General for implementation, after a two year grace period of inaction by the government, are stark.

"01: To initiate the contempt of court proceedings against the Chief Executive (Prime Minister Gilani) and the Secretary Law for not implementing the NRO verdict.

02: To declare the chief executive ineligible from the membership of the Parliament.

03: The court may form a commission to get the verdict implemented.

04: The people themselves decide on the issue and the court exhibit patience ( i.e., hold a referendum).

05: Contempt proceedings against Chairman National Accountability Bureau may be initiated.

06: The action may be taken against President for violating the Constitution."

The Supreme Court said in its order in NRO implementation case that, 'The government is not taking interest to observe the order for the last two years. We knew that the actions we are about to take may be unpleasant….The court has taken an oath to defend the Constitution. The prime minister respected the party (the Pakistan People's Party) over the Constitution.'

Background: The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was a controversial ordinance issued by the former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, on 5 October 2007. It granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder, and terrorism between 1 January 1986, and 12 October 1999, the time between two states of martial law in Pakistan. Those amnestied included Benazir Bhutto and her husband President Zardari and more than 8,000 politicians and senior government officials.

The NRO was the equivalent to an executive order by Musharraf pardoning himself and thousands of people not yet charged with crimes, in most instances. It enabled Bhutto to return to Pakistan without getting arrested for her conviction for serious abuse of office when she was Prime Minister and allowed her to run for office. Her husband, President Zardari, was notoriously corrupt. So he also benefitted from Musharraf's deal with Bhutto under the NRO. Convicted criminals are banned from public office under the constitution.

It was declared unconstitutional by the full bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on 16 December 2009. More than 200 persons have lost their jobs because of the Supreme Court's findings, but the government has refused to act against the President or Prime Minister, claiming immunity as long as they are in office.

Comment: The timing of this court order, after two years, suggests that the Pakistan Army leadership has authorized the Supreme Court to revive a constitutional issue that the Court had agreed to suspend two years ago in the interest of national security and apparently at the Army's request. The Army and the Court seem to agree that it is time for the Pakistan People's Party coalition government to go and take President Zardari with it.

Afghanistan: For the record. A group of insurgents tried to storm a government building in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, setting off a firefight that killed at least five people, police said." Four insurgents reportedly "attempted to take over a government building in Sharan, the capital of Paktika province," and three of them were killed, along with two policemen.

Comment: Attacks on district administrative centers are common, but attacks against provincial government buildings require more resources and daring. Four-man attacks are almost suicidal, as this was. The timing in mid-winter suggests some local reason for the attack, rather than part of a larger tactical scheme.

Egypt: For the record. The Muslim Brotherhood's political party has backed down from demands that Egypt's new parliament should have the right to replace quickly the military-appointed government.

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said, "it wants to avoid conflict when the legislature is seated on 23 January and get through the transitional phase without angering the country's military rulers.

Comment: Prior to the opening of Parliament, the political parties have no political clout. Thus, the Brotherhood has decided to refrain from publicizing and pursuing key agenda items that might provoke the Egyptian Army leadership before it is invested with the power to form a government. The Brotherhood's party will form the elected government of Egypt this month.

The Brotherhood's propaganda lapses that prematurely exposed parts of its agenda leave no doubt that a Brotherhood-led government will move to subordinate the military to civilian control and to shift Egypt's foreign policy in a more Islamist direction.

End of NightWatch for 10 January.

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