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NightWatch 20100307

NightWatch

For the Night of 7 March 2010

North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency published a statement by the North's military mission at Panmunjom in reaction to the annual US-South Korean military exercises. "The revolutionary armed forces … will be left with no option but to exercise merciless physical force as the rival is set to do harm to the (North)." The military mission at Panmunjom also repeated the North Korean position that it will no longer be bound to the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Comment: These are repeats of shopworn positions by the North. They perpetuate the recent alternating pattern of conciliatory and warlike statements, characteristic of a lack of consistency in policy. For example, after discussions with North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, this weekend a Chinese statement predicted the North will return to Six Party Talks by mid-summer.

None of the statements listed above, including that by the Chinese are trustworthy. The North's propaganda is re-running old tapes.

Pakistan: Interior Minister Rehman Malik said today that Faqir Mohammad, a senior commander of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban, i.e., TTP) and a commander in the Bajaur region, may have been killed in a helicopter gunship attack, Reuters reported on 6 March.

Rehman Malik said Faqir Mohammad was meeting with another commander in the basement of the building when Pakistani forces attacked on the 5th. Malik added that another Taliban commander, Fateh Mohammad, also was killed along with at least 16 insurgents.

Comment: The significance of the report is it shows the pressure continues against Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leaders.

One dimension of the anti-Taliban campaign that receives little attention in US media is the larger political significance of the campaign. It is the outward manifestation of a profound political realignment. The Pakistan Army forged a political alliance with Islamic fundamentalists during the regime of General Zia ul-Haq in the mid-1980s.

Musharraf arranged and relied on support from the Islamists to have himself elected president twice, but they proved unreliable political partners during the siege of the Red Mosque in 2007. Musharraf's violent reduction of that Islamist insurrection was the trigger for the formation of the Pakistani Taliban.

Despite the increasingly violent insurrection, including the murder of Benazir Bhutto, the Army did not abandon the Islamists and resisted suppressing them until the South Waziristan campaign against eh Mehsud tribe. Even then, other Islamist leaders, including all significant Afghan Taliban leaders, remained protected by the Army and its extension, the Intelligence Service. Madrassahs, Islamic schools, always proliferated during periods of Army rule, including under Musharraf, according to a study published by the Daily Times.

Since late January all that has changed. The Army with the Intelligence Service as its agent has turned on previously protected Islamists from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Army has turned against one component of its political support base, meaning it has burned some political bridges.

The Islamists overreached and their leaders are on the run. Pakistan has become a hostile environment for them and that is a permanent solution to their ability to make mischief, for as long as it lasts. The Pakistan Army has given the government strong leverage for protecting Pakistani interests in any power sharing arrangement in Afghanistan and for stopping the rise of Islamist political influence in Pakistan, for a time.

Afghanistan: Update. A local police spokesman in Baghlan Province said 20 militants from Hizb-e-Islami surrendered to the Afghan government, Xinhua reported 7 March. The fighters joined the government after a 6 March clash between Hizb-e-Islami and Afghan Taliban militants in the Kokchinar area of Baghlan-e-Markazi District where the fighting resulted in at least 30 people killed. The reported reason for the clash is rivalry over extending power and collecting taxes from local agricultural products.

The spokesman said police had surrounded the area, which still is seeing sporadic fighting between the two sides.

Comment: The government has not disclosed the identity of the Hizb-e-Islami group leader, but the locale of the fighting corresponds to the recent PBS special about the operations of the Central Group under Commander Mirwais. Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is notorious for switching sides in order to align himself and his followers with Helmatyar's estimate of the likely short term winner, which appears to be the Afghan Government.

Iraq: Concerning today's elections, long term Iraq student, Pat Cockburn, estimated today that al Maliki will not be the prime minister, but that the Shia-Kurd power sharing relationship will endure. That means the Sunnis will remain fundamentally disenfranchised.

An analyst for al Jazeerah reminded readers/listeners that three basic issues have not been settled in the five years of US tutelage since the last election. These are the role of Islam in the state, especially Shia or Sunni Islam; federalism; profit sharing of oil revenues among the ethnic and sectarian groups. The issues that can start a civil war were kicked down the road, which everyone knew in 2005. Iraq has arrived down the road.

In the backdrop of all issues is the relationship with Iran, which the Sunnis accuse of bankrolling and otherwise supporting the Shiite religious political parties. As US forces withdraw, the next round of civil strife readies itself. The election results represent the trigger to the next episode in which power relationships reveal themselves. The elections are a watershed event, but not necessarily to prolong peace.

US administrations often hire advisors who have fallen victim to the myth that the process itself is salvific and is the same as substance. The theory is that by participating in elections, the inevitable losers, the Sunnis, will learn to face their own limitations and accommodate themselves to their minority status.

Nobody believes that except some Americans. Everybody else knows that a reasonable alternative, and probably the only alternative to subjugation, is to fight. Earlier generations of Americans also knew that.

End of NightWatch for 7 March.

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