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NightWatch 20120111

NightWatch

For the night of 11 January 2012

North Korea: For the record. In an interview with Japanese media last week, Kim Chong-il's eldest son, Kim Chong-nam, criticized North Korea's hereditary succession, pointing out that even Chinese leader Mao Zedong was against it. Chong-nam said the political elite in Pyongyang is using Kim Jong-un as a figurehead to advance its own interests.

Comment: The significance of this is that no progress in talks or other forms of engagement is possible until the real leaders of North Korea show themselves. Even then, they are likely to be temporary place holders.

The new paradigm for talks is direct, between North Korea and the US. The new leadership increasingly looks desperate. That condition of vulnerability constitutes an opportunity for clever people.

Pakistan: Political crisis worsens. Pakistan's military publicly rebuked Prime Minister Gilani over his accusations against the defence secretary, whom he fired today. Gilani dismissed retired Lieutenant General Lodhi as defence secretary - the highest ranking civil service position in the ministry - because he facilitated the transmission of Army testimony to the Supreme Court without obtaining Cabinet permission, from the Minister of Defence. Lodhi also recently wrote to the Supreme Court saying the government had administrative, but not operational, control of the Army.

The Pakistan Army today, 11 January, warned of "serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences" in response to the Prime Minister's criticism of military leaders in an interview with Chinese media. Gilani accused the military of violating the constitutional by providing testimony directly to the Supreme Court about the infamous "memo" that detailed a military threat to overthrow the government sent to US retired Admiral Mullen, when he was Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and requesting US assistance.

The Army statement said, "There can be no allegation more serious than what the honorable prime minister has leveled. This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country."

It said the prime minister had accused the Chief of Army Staff and the head of Inter-Services Intelligence of violating the constitution. The army said Chief of Army Staff General Kayani had "followed the book" and had passed its response via the Defence Ministry to the Supreme Court according to the law.

Comment: The Army leadership's public rebuke has escalated the political struggle with the elected government. This is a struggle that politicians cannot win, especially with US State Department backing.

The next step in the struggle is up to the Supreme Court of Pakistan which has disqualified on constitutional grounds the President and the Prime Minister. The elected government's time in office appears limited, making early elections likely for a new parliament and president. The actions and investigations of the Supreme Court will provide the legal justification. Imran Khan, a former cricket star, appears to have Army backing and is a man to watch as the next prime minister of Pakistan.

The US needs to recalibrate its policy. The US backed Bhutto and Zardari and courted general Kayani endlessly, to no avail. That policy has deepened hostility to the US. The renewal of US drone attacks this week, for example, is certain to backfire if early elections are called.

Afghanistan-Uzbekistan: On 21 December, Afghan and Uzbek authorities inaugurated Afghanistan's first regular rail service. The 75km railroad has begun carrying cargo between Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and Hairatan, near Termez in southern Uzbekistan.

The Uzbekistan National Railway constructed the Russian- gauge line with financing primarily from the Asian Development Bank, provided by Japan. Uzbeks will continue to operate the trains as an extension of their national railroad and maintain the line until Afghans establish a railroad authority and have trained personnel. For now the line will run cargo trains exclusively.

Comment: About half of Afghanistan's exports pass north, through Hairatan, by truck, averaging about 4,000 tons per month. The railroad will at least quadruple that volume - according to the experts; shorten trucking time and costs; and facilitate mineral exploitation and exports to central Asian states and Russia. Railroad spurs from Mazar-i-Sharif are planned to Herat in the west and connecting to Turkmenistan and eastward to Sher Khan Bandar linking to Tajikistan.

Two other railroad projects are a line that Iran has promised to build that will run between Mashhad and Herat and an industrial line China has committed to build from the Aynak copper mine south of Kabul to Uzbekistan with a spur to Pakistan. The Iran line is half completed and the Aynak line's feasibility is still being studied.

The rail lines, coupled with international investment in resource extraction promise to transform the Uzbek and Tajik provinces and western Afghanistan into less primitive areas that will far surpass the Pashtuns. The change will probably take a generation, but once begun it will be unstoppable.

End of NightWatch for 11 January .

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