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NightWatch 20100419

NightWatch

For the Night of 19 April 2010

North Korea: Yonhap and North Korean media reported that a group of North Korean officials inspected the Kaesong joint industrial on 19 April, according to a South Korean government official on 20 April. The eight North Korean officials included a policy director of the National Defense Commission, the highest policy organ in the North.

"The North Koreans took a tour of South Korean companies and facilities in the complex, saying it was a visit aimed at understanding its operations," the South Korean official said. The North's inspectors also renewed the criticism of anti-Pyongyang leaflets floated by South Korean activists.

Comment: Yonhap's treatment pointed out that the inspection was reminiscent of a similar inspection in December 2008. Six days later, the North banned South Korean access to the industrial park.

Two years later, the context and the stakes are different. The inspection follows by five days the North's freeze of South Korean assets at the Mount Kumgang resort which was accompanied by a renewed threat to freeze the Kaesong joint industrial zone. On 8 April the North said it would re-evaluate the joint industrial park if relations did not improve.

The North has shown no signs that it considers relations to have improved, nor that it expected an improvement. The North's behavior indicates the industrial assets will soon be frozen, precipitating a further deterioration of contacts and increase of tension.

The North Korean leaders button up to the South when they anticipate or find themselves in a serious crisis, either internal or external. The freezes will impose significant detriment to the North by the cut off of a reliable source of hard currency. No other source is as dependable as South Korea. Self-imposed detriment without an obvious external cause is a reliable indicator of an internal crisis.

The NightWatch hypothesis is that a significant internal crisis is taking place. The South Korean President's cautious handling of the investigation into the sinking of the patrol ship Cheongnan is helpful for isolating the cause of the crisis as something internal to North Korea, vice a provocation or allegation by the South.

The crisis is most likely about leadership. Kim might have suffered a relapse, for example, or a worsening of chronic conditions. The North is even more sensitive than normal to real or perceived slights when it has leadership problems that it fears outsiders might try to exploit.

As for Kaesong, the industrial park is the last major tangible manifestation of commitments to cooperate made at the first summit in 2000. Yonhap reported more than 110 South Korean firms employ some 42,000 North Korean workers. It began operating in 2004.

Should the North rip up the railroad tracks that cross the Demilitarized Zone which link Kaesong and Seoul, that action would indicate a serious crisis is afoot.

Thailand: Former Prime Minister and retired General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said he is trying to get an audience with the King in order to end the growing political instability, Bangkok Post reported 19 April. Chavalit and former Premier Somchai Wongsawat called on the government to dissolve the House of Representatives and revoke the emergency decree.

No clashes involving weapons or loss of life and limb were reported today. The Bangkok Post reported that the Red Shirts plan an escalating rally on 20 April

Comment: These are the demands of the Red Shirts. The difference is that Chavalit and Somchai are attempting to go over the head of the parliament by appealing to the King in the name of free and fair democracy. The irony is that their action, in the name of order, is the antithesis of the egalitarian demands of the Red Shirt leaders in Bangkok.

This is a classic bid for power sharing. Chavalit has close ties with the Red Shirts, according to the best experts. Somchai is the brother-in-law of ousted prime minister Thaksin. Chavalit was Somchai's deputy prime minister in 2008.

Chavalit has called repeatedly for Prime Minister Abhisit to dissolve parliament and hold new elections because he knows in a fair election, the pro-Thaksin supporters, represented by the Red Shirts, far outnumber the Bangkok political elite and the monarchists, who back Abhisit.

Today's statements appear intended to avert the looming prospect of more violent clashes. Royal Thai Army Commander-in-Chief General Anuphong has been criticized for being too lenient, but the Army made clear today in a public statement that it will not tolerate more shooting from the Red Shirts, as occurred on 10 April.

The hard line Army attitude appears to have prompted the Chavalit initiative, plus the prospect of more Red Shirt provocations on 20 April. If the Army continues to support Abhisit and if it manages to disperse the Red Shirts, the Abhisit regime will become an army dependency, but will not fall, almost identical to the Bangladesh state of emergency in January 2007. If the Army falters, the government must dissolve parliament and hold new elections.

Yellow shirts. Arguably the most ominous development for internal security is the re-emergence of the Yellow Shirts. These are the backers of Prime Minister Abhisit's government who ultimately were instrumental in forcing Thaksin from power. They wear yellow shirts.

Today, 19 April, they gave the government an ultimatum to restore peace and order within seven days. They also raised the prospect of clashes between Red and Yellow Shirt groups that would justify martial law again.

India-Pakistan: Indian troops opened "unprovoked fire" at the Pakistani border in Shakargarh Sector, ARY News reported 19 April.  For more than 30 minutes, Indian forces fired at least 90 rounds and mortar shells at the boundary area. No casualties were reported.

Note: This is important for two reasons. First, it is the first shooting across the international border in years. Cross border shooting in this sector is serious because past wars have been won and lost here.

The second reason this is significant is that Shakargarh is the site of a battle that ended the India-Pakistan War in 1971. Indian multiple round rocket launcher units destroyed two Pakistan Army armored brigade in a strike division without ever engaging the tanks in direct fire in a matter of hours. The next day or so, Pakistan sued for peace. Firing in this location always is a reminder of December 1971. The timing suggests this incident is related to the next.

Pakistan: The armed forces have conducted the largest coordinated field training since 1989, according to Pakistani news sources. In Exercise Azm-e-Nau 3" (New Resolve 3) troops supported by fighter aircraft conducted a mock battle with India in the largest military exercise in 21 years, signaling that the old rival remained its biggest security threat. The purpose of the exercise is to remind the nation that India remains the primary threat to Pakistan and to test the "riposte" doctrine.

The exercise was held east of Bahawalpur in the central region of the international border with India. Some 50,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen participated. The Pakistan Army tested its ability to "counterattack" an Indian war preparation cycle by rapidly taking the fight into India before Indian could seize any Pakistani territory. Anywhere else in the world, this would be called a preemptive strike doctrine, rather than a counterattack doctrine.

Somewhat ironically one US-based commentator said, "It is meant to signal internally that we are back to where we belong," said Moeed Yusuf, from the Washington DC-based think tank, United States Institute of Peace. "For the world, it signals that India remains the principal threat."

Pakistan Major General Muzammil said India had been informed about the plan - which is required by bilateral agreements. He pointed out that India had conducted around 12 military exercises over the past two years - to test its Cold Start doctrine. "We cannot remain oblivious to what is happening around us."

Exercise Zarb e Momin in 1989 involved 200,000 personnel from all services and was the first exercise to test the riposte or counter attack doctrine. F-16s in the Pakistan Air Force apparently performed well for the Prime Minister, senior cabinet members and the senior military leadership who observed.

This exercise is good for Pakistan Army morale, but in any conventional fight India would win easily because they are more numerous and better equipped. That realization means that any future conflict between these two states will escalate to a nuclear exchange. Pakistan must use its nuclear missile force to survive an Indian conventional attack. That is the lesson of the crisis in 2002 that barely avoided escalation to full scale hostilities. That also is why there must be no more wars between India and Pakistan.

Afghanistan: Al Jazeera reported 19 April that one of its reporters visited Korengal Valley, Konar Province, following the completion of the US military withdrawal last week, and found the Taliban had control of the area and access to every part of the camp.

Taliban fighters said they intended to make use of the US camp and launch attacks to capture more territory in the region. There is a lot of ammunition left behind, including mortars, rockets and missiles that will be used against U.S. forces, a local Taliban commander said.

Comment: With much fanfare, US forces and embedded news reporters assured the world that the US Army company was a nuisance in the middle of tribal or village disputes and doing no good. They assured the world that the Taliban could not take advantage of the US withdrawal because the tribes would see to it, if properly armed. The US forces left many supplies behind.

They were lied to; were naïve; were trying to outsmart the locals, just wanted out or all of the foregoing.

This area is traditionally a superhighway, figuratively, for infiltration and supplies. Konar is known for its hostility to outsiders. The US and US proxies, the mujahedin, relied on that to use the Konar Valley as a main support route in the fight against the Soviets. Everyone who ever studied Afghanistan knows that if someone leaves ammunition in a large pile, it will create an insurgency, not a village defense militia.

Any intelligence officer who thought it was a good idea to leave behind the ammunition and supplies so the tribal villagers could defend themselves -- which is what a US spokesperson said last week -- probably should look for an alternative line of work.

Perhaps the idea is to induce the local Taliban to assemble in a single area for a big air strike. The Taliban might not be western educated, but they knew how to fight the Soviets who used similar and much more brutal tactics.

Siraj Haqqani gave an interview to jihadist web sites on 13 April that was published today. He confirmed his area of responsibility is Paktia, Khost and Paktika Provinces of Afghanistan, all of which border Pakistan in the central part of the border. He said his men control 90% of the region, but not the cities and the main towns. He also said he has more men than he has weapons for.

Siraj's boast shows that he controls none of the key symbols of control as the Afghans define them - the district and provincial centers. He controls the border regions in which smugglers operate, of which his family is one. He admitted he is short of weapons. These conditions have not changed in about three years.

Iraq: A review panel on 19 April ordered the immediate manual recount of ballots cast in Baghdad during the 7 March general election, Reuters reported, citing electoral commissioner Hamdiya al-Husseini.

Note: This is part of the scenario that prime minister al Maliki sought to engineer to ensure he remained in office. It indicates al Maliki judges he still has a chance to stay in power, despite the odds.

Meanwhile, Al-Iraqiya List threatened to withdraw from the political process if other parliamentary blocs align to exclude or marginalize it, Asharq Al-Awsat reported 19 April, citing al-Iraqiya spokeswoman Maysun al-Damaluji. She said an alliance between the Iraqi National Alliance and current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition would be considered a "sectarian alignment" and rejected, echoing earlier statements by Muqtada al-Sadr of the Sadrist bloc.

Al-Damaluji said al-Iraqiya and its candidate, Iyad Allawi, "should be asked constitutionally and officially to form the government." She added, "If we are unable to form a government in one month, then we will see what we have to say."

The political maneuvering continues, but the Shiites, probably with Iranian encouragement, are holding together. That is not good for Allawi's Al-Iraqiya List or for stable security conditions. The Shiites parties lost the elections, but will form the government, again.

Belarus-Kyrgyzstan: Belarus' President Aleksandr Lukashenko is ready to receive ousted Kyrgyz President K Bakiyev, BelTA reported 19 April. Lukashenko said if Bakiyev wants to travel to Belarus, he will be received as a distinguished guest, colleague and as the president of Kyrgyzstan. He added that Bakiyev will be provided with support and help in this "very difficult moment for his family."

Lukashenko said it is a personal decision, but as head of state he has the right. He stated that "betrayal is the most disgraceful thing in the world." He said Bakiyev could hold a press conference in Minsk.

Note: Statements by Lukashenko in the past weeks indicate he was shaken by the developments in Kyrgyzstan. He has indicated Belarus will tolerate no uprising like that which occurred in Bishkek. In welcoming Bakiyev, Lukashenko also once again shows that he is not a slavish adherent to Russia's political lead. Russia has sided openly and unambiguously with the new Kyrgyz government. President Medvedev warned dictators in the Russian sphere of influence to beware.

End of NightWatch for 19 April.

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