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NightWatch 20091109

NightWatch

For the Night of 9 November 2009

Japan-India: Japanese Defense Minister Kitazawa and Indian Defense Minister Antony agreed in Tokyo to plan out cooperation on maritime security and antiterrorism, The Associated Press reported 9 November, citing a Japanese Defense Ministry official. The leaders shared concerns about piracy in the Gulf of Aden and agreed to enhance cooperation.

While Kitazawa said the international community should call for transparency on China's security, Antony was not clear on the issue, said the official. Antony's three-day visit to Japan began 8 November.

Comment: Japan and India are strange strategic partners, considering their divergent alliance relationships since World War II. What draws them together is rising China. India has found a partner in Japan that can potentially worry China somewhat approximating the manner in which China benefits from Pakistani tensions with India. Asians are taking responsibility for Asian security.

Antony's ambiguity on the issue of transparency of Chinese security developments probably stems from India's disinclination to be transparent regarding its military developments. India would be held to the same standard as China should it align with the US and Japanese position on military transparency.

Base issues. Organizers claimed 21,000 people participated in the demonstration on Okinawa over the weekend to demand the removal of U.S. military bases, Reuters reported 8 November. Under the terms of a 2006 agreement between the United States and Japan, the Futenma Marine base in Ginowan is set to be closed and replaced by 2014 with a facility at Henoko, a more remote part of the island. There are 47,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan.

Possibly reinforced by the protests, authorities told the press today that the dispute over the base agreement would not be settled as part of President Obama's visit to Japan on 13 November.

South Korea-North Korea: Navy ships of the two Koreas exchanged fire 10 November along their disputed western sea border, a South Korean military officer said, as reported by The Associated Press and the BBC. A South Korean warship shot at a North Korean navy ship that crossed the disputed western sea border on Tuesday morning and the North's ship shot back, said an officer at the Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The news accounts suggest the South shot first. No news services have reported casualties, but the South Koreans claimed to have damaged seriously the North Korean ship.

A clash off the west coast has been overdue since 27 May when the North restated its refusal to recognize the Northern Limit Line or to "guarantee the legal status" of the five offshore islands. Both navies apparently have been regularly sending ships into waters claimed by the other this year, in reaction to the North's declaration, according to South and North Korean media and the BBC but clashes have been avoided.

There have been two serious clashes in the past decade, resulting in loss of life and damage. In 1999 a North Korean ship was sunk and several vessels from both sides were damaged during an exchange of fire. This was a defeat for North Korea in the first naval clash since the Korean War. In a clash in 2002, four South Korean sailors were killed and 18 wounded in a 20-minute battle. One of the two North Korean ships was disabled but returned to the North. A disabled South Korean ship sank after the engagement, evening the score.

Expect an increase in alert conditions by both sides, increased media coverage and a meeting at Panmunjom. Interestingly, on 15 October, the North Korean Navy warned, "The reckless military provocations... have created such a serious situation that a naval clash may break out." Today's clash is probably not quite what the North intended.

China-Somalia anti-piracy patrol: For the record. China has asked to take a leading role in coordinating international anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia, the South China Morning Post reported 9 November. Commander John Harbour, spokesman for the European Union's naval task group off Somalia, said China requested a chance to lead the monthly meetings held in Bahrain known as Shade -- shared awareness and deployments -- to plan and coordinate anti-piracy deployments. Harbour said a decision on the matter will be made at the next Shade meeting in early December.

Leadership of the coordinating meetings is a rotating duty, but this is the first time China has asserted a request to lead/coordinate far more experienced naval powers, according to press reports.

Cambodia: Update. The BBC reported former Thai Prime Minister and fugitive from the law Thaksin arrived in Phnom Penh, beginning the latest episode of Cambodian provocations against the Thai government.

Burma: Tonight's tentatively good news. A senior diplomat said the military government may soon release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi so she can play a role in next year's general election, according to The Associated Press. Min Lwin, a director general in Foreign Ministry, said there is a plan to release her soon so she can organize her party.

Suu Kyi's release would not signify the return of democracy in Burma by any measure, but it seems to represent an earnest of Burma's good intentions for whatever promises the US has made to Burma about normalizing relations.

The elections next year will be rigged to achieve the outcome the military government wants. Suu Kyi's participation would help legitimate a fixed election, but it is better than being under arrest and having no influence on the outcome. Suu Kyi and the junta seem to understand each other.

India- Somali anti-piracy patrol: The Indian Navy warships stationed in the Gulf of Aden to protect Indian merchant ships will remain in the region until a permanent solution is worked out, a senior navy officer said.

"The two warships at the Gulf of Aden will protect Indian ships from Somali pirates. The Indian Navy is concerned that the Indian exports are not affected due to some hooligans. Once the warships give protection to the Indian ships, no one will dare come near the merchant ships,' Rear Admiral P. Murugesan, the Flag Officer Commanding of the Eastern Fleet, told visiting journalists Sunday on board the INS Jalashwa off the port city in Orissa.

"Two ships from Western Fleet would remain positioned at the Gulf of Aden. One ship would continue for 30-40 days and the other one will replace the ship after it completes the duration without any time gap," the admiral added.

INS Jalashwa (trans. Seahorse) was formerly the USS Trenton. It is the only US Navy ship transferred to India, which acquired it in January 2007. Then- Commodore Murugesan signed the transfer agreement. It is the second largest ship in the Indian Navy, after the aircraft carrier INS Viraat, and can carry six helicopters and up to 1,000 troops.

Pakistan: Politics. The government is unlikely to adopt any of the ordinances mentioned in the Supreme Court's 31 July decision before November 28. Under Musharraf's emergency decree in November 2007, he enacted 37 ordinances, including the National Reconciliation Ordinance that permits President Zardari to serve, despite being a convicted felon.

In its July 31 decision, the Supreme Court declared the 3 November 2007 actions of Musharraf unconstitutional and directed the government to have the 37 ordinances, including the National Reconciliation Ordinance, passed by parliament as required by the constitution. According to the Court's order, all of the ordinances would lapse if they were not enacted by parliament before November 28.

"If one goes by the schedule of the National Assembly (NA- the lower house of parliament), it is highly unlikely that any of the 37 ordinances will get through parliament and becomes a law," sources in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs told Daily Times on Monday.

Sources said the NA would be prorogued on 16 November, while no session of the Senate was scheduled before 2 December.

The 37 ordinance include a mix of useful and highly irregular measures, the most controversial of which is the National Reconciliation Ordinance. This was enacted by Musharraf under emergency powers as part of the deal arranged by the US to have Benazir Bhutto return to power, despite her conviction as a felon, so she could participate in a power-sharing arrangement with Musharraf.

Her assassination did not prevent her husband from benefiting from the same ordinance. The wily Musharraf did not pardon Bhutto or Zardari, however; only suspended the ban on holding political office.

The significance is that, under the Supreme Court ruling, the ban on Zardari's holding office resumes on 29 November, meaning his presidency would become invalid. Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, in opposition, intend on making Zardari adhere to the letter of the law.

Unless some minor miracle occurs, which should be expected, Pakistan could enter another period of internal political tension. No major Pakistani power brokers want Zardari to remain in office, including Bhutto's family. Tension has increased already because Parliament refused to even consider extending the National Reconciliation Ordinance. Even if Zardari manages to remain in office, his administration has been badly damaged, rendering his effectiveness as president negligible. Time to settle for a ceremonial presidency.

Security. Former President Musharraf said the country's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) influences contacts within every Islamist terrorist group in Pakistan for its "own advantage," adding that ISI's "ingresses" with militant groups make it effective, RTTNews reported 9 November, citing a Musharraf interview with CNN.

Musharraf is in exile in London, but seems determined to stir up trouble in Pakistan. His career and his long term as president, however, lend prima facie credibility to his statements. If anyone knows about ISI's capabilities, it would be Musharraf, over any of the players on the scene in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. In endorsing the capabilities of ISI, he provides leverage for greater US pressure on Islamabad to do more to suppress the terrorists.

Nuclear security. Pakistan's Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Tariq Majid said Pakistan maintains "a very effective nuclear security regime" and does not allow any foreign entity, individual or state access to sensitive information about the country's "nuclear assets," the Inter-Services Public Relations Office reported 9 November.

The words are encouraging. Nevertheless, the obvious ability of terrorists to infiltrate the Army and other security forces so that they assist in the execution of bombings in high security zones does not instill confidence in Pakistan's recruitment and personnel vetting system.

Pakistan's security against outside attack may well be excellent, but the vastly more serious threat would be from terrorists working from within the nuclear security system. It would be reassuring for the Pakistani leadership to speak to that issue, especially in light of the bombing of Army General Headquarters.

Iran: Update. Three U.S. citizens who entered Iranian territory from northern Iraq several months ago are being charged with espionage, Iranian prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said, IRNA reported 9 November. The families of the Americans - identified as Josh Fattal, Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer - have said the three accidentally strayed into Iran as they were hiking in northern Iraq.

Iran just raised the ante for nuclear talks.

Iran-Russia: A senior Iranian lawmaker said 8 November that Russia must follow through on proposals to sell Tehran the S-300 air defense system, Reuters reported, citing Iranian state-run media. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Majlis Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, said that if Russia does not fulfill promises to deliver the missiles, it will harm relations between the countries. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in October that there have been no deliveries of the system to date.

This is the clearest statement that there are problems in the S-300 deal. Note that Medvedev did not say no contract existed, only that not deliveries have been made.

Saudi Arabia-Yemen: Al-Huthi rebels from Yemen sustained a high number of casualties and at least 200 were captured by Saudi troops before the Saudis scaled back attacks along the border with Yemen, Middle East Online reported, citing a Saudi government source. According to the source, heavy shelling in the area has ended and tactical units have been redeployed.

Most prior press reports mentioned engagements by Saudi combat aircraft, but apparently a substantial number of National Guard forces also were involved.

Colombia-Venezuela-UN: For the record. Colombia announced it will appeal to the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States in reaction to Venezuelan President Chavez' order to his army to prepare for war to assure peace, Reuters reported 9 November.

In its statement, the Colombian government said that after considering the threats of war emanating from the government of Venezuela, the government of Colombia proposes going to the OAS and the UN Security Council. Colombia called for "frank dialogue" with Venezuela over their long-simmering diplomatic spat and a border dispute.

End of NightWatch for 9 November

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