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NightWatch 20100330

NightWatch

For the Night of 30 March 2010

Japan: A senior government official said Japan will extend its sanctions against North Korea for another year, according to Reuters today, 30 March. The sanctions were to expire on 13 April. They ban imports from North Korea and prohibit North Korean ships from calling at Japanese ports. Japan imposed them in 2006 in response to North Korea's nuclear detonation and ballistic missile test that year.

Replying to a question whether the government would consider shortening the duration of the sanctions to six months from one year, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano indicated such a decision would depend on how the government assesses the outlook for Six Party Talks that seek to persuade North Korea to roll back its nuclear program.

South Korea: Update. Naval recovery operations continued near PY-Do, but took the life of a Republic of Korea Navy diver on 30 March. Underwater conditions reportedly are particularly hazardous. The Seoul government is still searching for the cause of the accident and has not given up the search for possible survivors in water tight compartments in the stern of the sunken patrol ship.

India: The Indian Air Force (IAF) will soon deploy the BrahMos air-to-ground supersonic cruise missile, Xinhua reported 30 March. The IAF plans to equip one squadron of SU-30 fighters with the missiles which have a range of nearly 290 kilometers.

According to the Indian Express, the agreement with Brahmos Aerospace, a joint venture between India's Defense Research and Development Organization and a Russian company, would enable production of advanced versions of the cruise missile that can be launched from aircraft, submarines, ships and land.

Comment: This is old news, but the timing of the latest announcement suggests it is intended to offset Pakistan's announcement last week in Washington that the US would provide it with Beyond Visual Range missiles.

Pakistan: A six-judge panel of the Supreme Court, with the Chief Justice presiding, on Monday, 29 March, ordered the arrest of the Federal Investigation Agency's Additional Director General Ahmed Riaz Sheikh after he withdrew an appeal he had filed contesting his conviction by an accountability court and upheld by the Lahore High Court, but with a reduced sentence.

The Riaz case illustrates the far reaching and destabilizing nature of the Supreme Court's ruling in December, as the Court expects it to be enforced. According to the Daily Times,

- Riaz was sentenced to 14 years in prison and fined Rs 20 million on corruption charges in 2001; the sentence was reduced to five years.

- He was dismissed from service in 2002, but reinstated in 2008 under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) promulgated by Musharraf.

- He was promoted to FIA additional director general in 2010 after the NRO had been declared null and void.

The court ordered that Riaz serve out the remainder of his sentence which had been waived under the NRO. This senior law enforcement officer was taken into custody in the Court room and taken to Adiala Jail. He is the first person to be re-arrested in execution of the Court's ruling.

The Court also directed the National Accountability Bureau chairman to confiscate Riaz' assets and to file a report on this matter with the Supreme Court registrar within three days.

Comment: The FIA is one of the premier law enforcement agencies in Pakistan. Riaz is among the top cops and is a close friend of President Zardari, according to The News. This is the first of dozens of similar cases involving senior civil servants and politicians.

In a strongly worded editorial, the Daily Times suggested the Court is engaging in pique instead of the pursuit of justice. The editorial suggests that these proceedings endanger the stability of the government and undermine respect for the law and the Court, which is the opposite of what they are supposed to do.

In a related development, on 30 March, the Supreme Court extended an additional 24 hours to the National Accountability Bureau after disapproving its enforcement status report. "Your report is not satisfactory Mr. Chairman and you will have to assure implementation of our verdict of December 16, 2009 in letter and spirit", Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry told the NAB chairman.

The Chief Justice also described as unsatisfactory progress reports by several government agencies and individuals and adjourned until 31 March, when the proceedings resume. If the head of the National Accountability Bureau fails to provide a satisfactory report on the 31st the, Court has threatened to have him arrested for contempt of court. The National Accountability Bureau is Pakistan's anti-corruption agency.

Iran-Pakistan: Iranian state TV said an Iranian diplomat kidnapped by gunmen in 2008 in northwest Pakistan has been freed and is now in Iran, The Associated Press reported 30 March. The report said Iranian intelligence agents freed Heshmatollah Attarzadeh Niaki after "a complicated intelligence operation." The Iranian Embassy in Islamabad posted a notice of the rescue.

Comment: Attarzadeh was Commercial Attache in the Iranian Consulate in Peshawar at the time of his kidnapping in November 2008. It's not clear how Iran "freed" Attarzadeh, but it almost certainly involved payment of a ransom and Pakistani assistance.

Iran: A CIA report on nuclear proliferation sent to the US Congress includes the assessment that Iran is poised to begin producing nuclear weapons after its uranium program expansion in 2009, even though it had problems with thousands of its centrifuges, The Washington Times reported today.

The report states that Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons. A U.S. official involved in countering weapons proliferation was quoted as saying that the Iranians are "keeping the door open to the possibility of building a nuclear weapon."

The report also assessed that North Korea now has the capability to produce nuclear weapons with a yield of roughly a couple of kilotons TNT equivalent.

Comment: The ABC news exclusive released the night of 30 March about an "intelligence coup" from CIA's debriefing of an Iranian nuclear scientist who defected last year is related to the report to Congress. The "exclusive" carries the Administration's message to Iran that the US knows the Iranian nuclear strategy and the status of its programs. A strong US diplomatic initiative for international sanctions is opening, backed by authoritative testimony from an eyewitness.

Iraq: The Sadrist movement is open to forming a government with Prime Minister al-Maliki's State of Law bloc, provided that al-Maliki is not the prime minister, Al Rafidaeen reported March 30, citing sources close to the Tehran talks. An aide said al-Sadr is calling for a referendum to determine the next Iraqi prime minister, The Associated Press reported March 30. The unnamed aide had recently returned from Iran, where al-Sadr currently resides and held talks about forming a new government.

Comment: In just a few years a rag tag pro-Iranian Shiite movement based among the most disenfranchised and poverty stricken people in Iraq has evolved into a potential kingmaker in Iraqi politics. In the past two years, the movement leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, has been studying theology in Qom to become an Ayatollah.

Sadr's movement is no longer overtly assassinating Sunnis and Shiites who oppose them, but it remains rabidly anti-US. It's participation in electoral politics has done nothing to moderate its desire for the earliest withdrawal of American forces. It likely has advanced its agenda.

Al Maliki's bloc and smaller Shiite religious parties are meeting in Tehran to work out the terms for forming a governing coalition in Baghdad. Maliki and the Iranians seek to ensure that the Shiites retain control of the Iraqi government and do not succumb to their longstanding propensity to fragment through bribes and blandishments. Iran and al-Maliki are, in effect, using the rules of electoral government in Iraq to negate the result of the Iraqi election. The Tehran venue speaks for itself.

In a related development, former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya List won Iraq's parliamentary elections, has accused Iran of interfering in Iraqi politics and trying to keep him from becoming prime minister, BBC reported. Allawi said the Iranian government invited all major parties except his Iraqiya List to Tehran for talks.

He also accused Iran of influencing the Iraqi commission that has been checking candidates for connections to the Baath Party and which indicated yesterday that it intends to disqualify several members-elect of Allawi's bloc.

Turkey: The governing Justice and Development Party submitted a draft law to the Parliament, including 29 amendments to the constitution, to strengthen democracy and Turkey's application for European Union membership, according to Today's Zaman. A parliamentary vote may come the week of 5 April. Passage would enable a referendum in the summer.

Comment: The government continues to use the EU membership issue to keep the Army out of politics and guard against any future military overthrow of the government, even though EU membership is highly unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Russia-North Korea: Russian President Medvedev signed a decree on 30 March that commits Russia to join U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear missile tests, RIA Novosti reported. He ordered all entities, public and private, not to buy weapons or materials connected to North Korea, retroactive to 12 June 2009. Transit through Russian territory of weapons and materials connected to North Korea and exportation to North Korea are also forbidden. The most recent North Korean nuclear test occurred on 12 June 2009.

A Russian academic told a conference in Moscow that the new decree means that Russia is following an independent policy, would lose nothing by withdrawing from the Six Party Talks, expects nothing from the talks and does not consider an "absolute" priority the dismantlement of all North Korean nuclear programs, as the US and South Korea seem to.

Comment: The decree is rather typically complex in its implications. It represents a reversal of Russian policy, which generally has opposed sanctions on North Korea and Iran. Russian policy makers have decided to decouple the two countries apparently based on the fact of the two North Korean nuclear tests.

On the other hand, Russia is not supporting a policy of inducements to persuade North Korea to return to the Six Party Talks to negotiate the dismantling of all its nuclear programs. It is going with the flow of UN sentiment. Besides, North Korea can't pay for anything from Russia and China has the advantage in access to any mineral rights of value in North Korea.

The Russians are taking the line of least resistance and reducing their diplomatic and political exposure over North Korea. They seem to have decided the goal of the Six Party Talks is not achievable and, thus, not worth the energy. In imposing sanctions, they actually might improve relations with Japan, though Japan remains committed to the Talks.

Ukraine-Russia: The Ukrainian Defense Ministry plans to participate in joint air defense exercises with Belarus and Russia in 2010, Interfax reported, citing a ministry spokesperson. According to the statement, an exercise with Belarus is planned in April, while one with Russia is scheduled for October.

Comment: President Yanukovych is cooperating with Russia in stopping NATO's eastward expansion, as part of his non-aligned national security policy. Nevertheless, the Ukraine also is likely to train with NATO on occasion, cherry picking the best of NATO and Russian/CSTO capabilities, as it can afford them.

Somali piracy: Update. Crew members from an Indian ship recently released by pirates told naval officials that eight other Indian boats had been captured in the last few days. Somali pirates reportedly captured 120 Indian merchant sailors hostage as they were on their way from Somalia to Dubai, The Times of India reported 30 March. Sources said the hijacked Indian vessels were traced near Seychelles.

The boats anchored last in the rebel territory of Kismayo in Somalia where they loaded cargo. Pirates captured them after the boats left port. The pirates have not yet asked for ransom. Sources in the Indian Navy confirmed the news of the hijack and said efforts are being made to contact the pirates and get the sailors back safely.

Colombia: A Colombian Army sergeant was released by the FARC rebels to a humanitarian rescue mission after 12 years in captivity. The rescue mission included delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Senator Piedad Cordoba and Bishop Leonardo Gomez Serna, according to the BBC on 31 March.

The FARC released another soldier, a private, on Sunday after near4ly a year in captivity, but said they will free no additional hostages until the government agrees to negotiate. The BBC reported the FARC still holds about 20 Colombian police officers and soldiers. This is tonight's good news.

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End of NightWatch for 30 March.

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