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NightWatch 20091201

NightWatch

For the Night of 1 December 2009

North Korea: For the record. South Korea's Unification Ministry dismissed rumors that North Korean leader Kim Chong-il had been attacked and killed, Reuters reported 1 December. When asked about rumors that Kim was dead, Ministry spokesman Chun Hae Sung said he had not heard anything about it. No further information.

While Kim is apparently still alive, all is not well in the North Korea. The Daily NK posted a report today that North Korean authorities finally announced the national "currency reforms" publicly through the "third broadcast," the colloquial name for cable broadcasts sent directly into North Korean homes. Previously, news of the currency reform reached the outside world via traders in Shenyang, China.

According to the
Daily NK, a source explained in a telephone conversation today, "There was a broadcast on currency reform from yesterday at 2 P.M. The exchange starts officially from today." The source said, "For five days, from December 1, they said they will exchange old bills for new ones at a 100:1 exchange rate, according to an additional decree. The new bills go into circulation on the 6th."

Some analysts opined the purpose of the measure is to stop runaway inflation and to increase social control of the population. Whatever the motive, it was not announced in advance precisely to prevent people with savings from converting them into Chinese yuan or US dollars on the black market. According to international news services, the start of the exchange has been chaotic and its impact devastating to North Koreans.

According to The Daily NK, sources inside the country reported that the People's Safety Agency (PSA) was ordered to control residents, and the National Security Agency, Defense Security Command of the People's Army and army bases were all placed on standby alert, apparently to guard against rioting.

The authorities also warned people not to damage the old bills, reminding them, "Spoiling money on which Great Leader's portrait is printed is treated as treason." Defacing any media, including newspapers, that display a picture of either of the Kims is a capital offense.

In North Korea, there is a high savings rate because many basics are supplied by the state and the economy is not consumer based. Wages are low, but over time savings mount up and have to, if a family needs to replace a refrigerator, say, or wants its own black and white TV.

That liquidity will now be wiped out because not only has the government devalued the currency, it also placed limits on the amount of old currency that could be converted. Plus prices are unchanged. Apparently in a concession to avert civil disobedience, authorities expanded the maximum amount which could be exchanged from 100,000 won to 150,000 won in cash and 300,000 won in savings accounts.

One person said that this was the first time since the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994 that he saw North Koreans weep openly in the streets.

India: Update. In January 2010, the Navy will "launch" a 1,000-sailor force to monitor coastal areas from Gujarat to West Bengal as a result of the November 2008 Mumbai attack, Press Trust of India reported 1 December, citing a senior naval officer. Personnel will include 61 officers and 939 sailors, with 95 "Fast Interceptive Craft. "

One of the failings of Indian security forces in November 2008 was that the Pakistani perpetrators came by boat from Karachi. Indian news services reported that Indian security authorities had warning of seaborne infiltration, put some patrol craft on alert but failed to intercept the terrorists. This measure responds to those findings.

Pakistan: The initial editorial reaction to President Obama's speech tonight was concern about the use of troops along the border, not about the troop increase itself. More later.

Politics. The Supreme Court announced today that starting 7 December an expanded bench of Pakistan's Supreme Court will begin hearing petitions against beneficiaries of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, the Daily Times reported on 2 December. A petition filed in Sindh Province High Court begs the court to review more than 8,000 criminal cases that were closed by Musharraf in issuing the Ordinance in October 2007.

President Zardari and his late wife Benazir Bhutto were beneficiaries of the temporary case closures, without which Zardari could not have served as President. However, the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, refused to make the closures permanent or to extend the effects of the Ordinance, which many legal scholars consider unconstitutional.

The Ordinance expired over the weekend without extension by the parliament. Pakistani analysts wrote that normalization of those cases and a determination as to the constitutionality of the Ordinance required petitions to and findings by the Supreme Court. Those initial steps have now begun.

Comment. This has significance because the Supreme Court could require Zardari to step down as president, should it determine that Musharraf violated the constitution in issuing the Ordinance. The Pakistan Army would likely oppose any move to discredit Musharraf that also would discredit the Army. However, it would back any move to have Zardari replaced through legal action.

In that respect, the Army would be a member of an odd informal alliance of Opposition leader former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Supreme Court Chief Justice Chaudhry, all of whom disdain Zardari for different reasons. His prospects for remaining in office much longer do not look bright with today's petitions.

Zardari squandered a once-in-a-generation opportunity to become a legendary president of Pakistan. He reneged on his political promises; promoted his personal business interests and those of his cronies; appointed flagrantly corrupt officials and mishandled national security secrets. The latest charges against him are that he has gotten too close to the Americans and, in the process, compromised Pakistan's defense posture against India.

He has been good for American interests, to be sure, but so was Musharraf for a time. What is worth noting is how policy can become hostage to the fate of individual leaders, one of whom already has been rejected by the people and courts and the other is heading in the same direction.

If Nawaz Sharif were to be elected the next president of Pakistan, for example, US policy would be unhinged.

Security. A suicide bomber detonated at a guest house owned by North West Frontier Province (NWFP) assembly member Shamsher Ali Khan. The Daily Times reported at least 13 others, including Khan's brother, were seriously injured in the attack near Mingora in Swat District. He was exchanging Eid greetings with people at his residence in Dherai village when the bomber struck, NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told the BBC.

The lawmaker's name was on a list of 65 people the Pakistani Taliban had said would not be able to return to Swat. They proved true to their word..

Iran: Update. An aide to President Ahmadi-Nejad said Iran will take serious measures against five British yachtsmen detained in the Gulf if it proves they had "evil intentions," Reuters reported today. Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, the president's chief of staff, said that the judiciary will decide.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said there is no argument or confrontation and the five people are being well treated. He added that Tehran is investigating the incident and the U.K. looks forward to it being sorted out.

The three US backpackers remain in Evin political prison in Tehran, awaiting trial for espionage, according to the Telegraph.

Iran-China: China said more dialogue -- not sanctions -- is needed to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear program, The Associated Press reported 1 December. China Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang stated that sanctions "are not the goal" of the UN resolution and pressure on Iran. He added that the issue should be properly resolved through dialogue and that all parties should step up diplomatic efforts.

Iran-Russia: In reaction to Iran's announcement of its intention to build more nuclear enrichment facilities, the Russian government said it would support a consensus in favor of sanctions. The Russians did not say they would stop selling technology to Iran. China's statement above would seem to pretty much ensure no Security Council consensus.

The Russians benefit by appearing to be cooperative with the US at no cost to their interests.

Switzerland: For the record. The Swiss People's Party will attempt to ban forced marriage, female circumcision, dispensation from swimming lessons, the burqa and special Muslim cemeteries to contain what one party leader called Islamicization of Swiss society, Swissinfo.ch reported 1 December, citing Adrian Amstutz. Amstutz called for Muslims to integrate into the Swiss culture. This party is rightwing populace and hostile to foreign residents. In 2007 elections it won 29% of the popular vote.

The Swiss seem to be joining the French in insisting that resident Muslims must adjust to the national culture instead of craving exception. Most of the demands will not be enacted by the government, but anti-Muslim sentiment appears to be rising.

International Criminal Court-US: For the record. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal that although the U.S. is not a participant in the ICC, the ICC has jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers because Afghanistan is a signatory to the Court's founding treaty. The Afghan government ratified the Rome Statute in 2003.

ICC chief prosecutor, the famous Argentine human rights attorney Luis Moreno Ocampo, told the Journal, "We have to check if crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide have been committed in Afghanistan. …There are serious allegations against the Taliban and al Qaida and serious allegations about warlords, even against some who are connected with members of the government."

Regarding Western soldiers, he said, "there are different reports about problems with bombings and there are also allegations about torture." Ocampo told the Journal he is already conducting a "preliminary examination" into whether NATO troops, including American soldiers, fighting the Taliban may have to be put in the dock. He also said the way NATO fights has changed forever.

Something is seriously wrong when NATO, Allied and US soldiers are lumped in the same class as Taliban and al Qaida murderers.

End of NightWatch for 1 December.

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