For the night of 16 January 2012
North Korea-US: For the record. The Associated Press (AP) opened its newest bureau on Monday, 16 January, in downtown Pyongyang. This makes it the first international news organization with a full-time presence in North Korea. Coverage will include words, pictures and video content. The bureau is located inside the headquarters of the Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang,
Comment: The announcement did not describe whether AP reports would be subject to official review. Government/Party officials approve all materials published by North Korean media.
China-Mekong River States: For the record. Chinese river police in the company of Thai, Lao and Burmese officers completed their second joint patrol on the Mekong River.
Comment: The point is that Southeast Asians are accepting and cooperating with Chinese police operations in Southeast Asia. Not even the ancient Chinese empires achieved such an expansion of official security presence and the influence that made the Southeast Asians unable to resist Chinese intervention.
Pakistan: Comment: The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, passed a resolution stating its confidence in democracy and in the present leadership. No vote of confidence was taken on the government of Prime Minister Gilani.
Gilani retreated from his defiant statements last week about subjecting his government to a vote of confidence on the 16th and claiming he would not beg for support from anyone. A slightly more contrite Gilani played down his own continuation in office in favor of endorsing democracy. He said parliament was superior to the executive and the judiciary, in a blatant misrepresentation of Pakistani constitutional law.
Following today's vote, the federal government had intended to organize similar votes in the four provincial parliaments, to build a fire break against the Supreme Court for failing to pursue corruption cases and the memo scandal in which President Zardari reportedly asked for US assistance to prevent a military overthrow of the elected government.
At the Supreme Court…
The Supreme Court on Monday issued a contempt of court citation against Prime Minister Gilani and ordered him to "show cause" why his government has failed for more than a year to execute a court order to pursue corruption cases against the president and other officials.
The hearing is set for 19 January. Gilani said he would attend and could be subjected to a jail sentence.
Comment: The various branches of government and the Pakistan Army are flexing their political clout, but none seem willing to risk provoking serious and endemic instability from a major constitutional crisis, which could result. Some kind of compromise is likely that buys time and allows investigations to continue. No Pakistanis want to appear weak or out of control to the Indians or vulnerable to the Americans. This crisis will be kicked down the road, but political power is shifting nonetheless, back to the Army.
Afghanistan: The Taliban said they will step up "political efforts" to secure peace in Afghanistan in response to US moves to open new talks with the group. They also said they would not give up armed struggle as a condition for negotiations or agree to a ceasefire.
The Taliban also said its involvement in any talks did not constitute an acceptance of the legitimacy of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government. "This understanding does not mean a surrender from Jihad and neither is it connected to an acceptance of the constitution of the stooge Kabul administration," the statement said. They said it was about getting prisoners back and about creating an office in Qatar.
Special comment: Press services last week reported that the US Intelligence "Community" published a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan that presents a gloomy outlook for the future of the US-backed government and its security forces, after US forces depart.
The press reports indicated that US military commanders, naturally, disagreed with the bleak assessments. This is a normal military response because the NIE is a judgment on their nation-building efforts, as they interpret it. In fact, the NIE seems to state the obvious: westerners cannot build Afghanistan with expeditionary forces of limited durability.
In the NightWatch experience with Afghanistan, which began in 1979, the common theme in Soviet and US involvement is that loyalty ends when the money runs out.
The Afghan government had sizeable forces, over 200,000 in the Army, when the Soviet 40th Army left Afghanistan in 1989. A civil war ensued that nurtured the Taliban (aka students) movement to end the endless violence. The pro-Soviet Afghan government and security forces survived until 1992. Thus, three years is the metric for the success of NATO and US efforts after the departure of combat forces. If the Karzai or a pro-US government does not last until 2017, then NATO will not have done as well as the Soviets did.
The Afghan national forces were not defeated by the Taliban in the mid-1990's. They just deserted and joined the Taliban. For example, there was no major battle for control of Kabul in 1996. As the disorganized Taliban fighters approached, the Afghan army deserted to the Taliban and surrendered the capital. The Tajiks and Uzbek soldiers went home, to the north. The Pashtuns stayed because the Taliban were and are a Pashtun movement.
That is likely to be the pattern after US and NATO soldiers depart. Limited open source reporting suggests the pro-government forces remain subject to tribal and clan loyalties and only the presence of outside, Western forces with money sustain the Afghan national security forces. That is the pattern of the Soviet intervention.
There will be no Afghan national forces for very long after the US combat forces depart. As noted above, three years is the measure of merit.
Tajik and Uzbek soldiers, who make up the bulk of the national forces, simply will go home to the north. There are few Pashtun fighters in the Afghan national security units. Thus, the National Intelligence Estimate's major judgments, as reported in press, appear on the mark, although the virtual certainty of the disintegration of national forces is not mentioned in the press reporting. It is the Afghan way.
The level of violence will decrease because all the tribes are tired of the fighting. That is the reason the Taliban are willing to engage in negotiations. Talks do not signify concessions. The Taliban know the endgame for the US and NATO is near. They also seek to minimize casualties at this time.
The brightest single prospect is the possibility of substituting the cultivation of saffron for poppy in the Pashtun farming regions of the south. Saffron is far more profitable as a cash crop with no risk of violence, yet.
Egypt: An Egyptian presidential candidate and former senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood said on 15 January that the Egyptian parliament would review the Camp David Accords along with all international agreements, The Daily Star reported on the 16th.
Comment: Mohammed el-Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, withdrew from the presidential race over the weekend, leaving the field open for the Islamists.
A promise to review does not necessarily mean a repudiation of the accords, but it does mean that a new government will not deem itself constrained by the actions of its predecessor governments, which is normal in international relations.
This is a big deal because it means that if the Egyptian Army allows parliament to convene at all, it means that it deal with an elected legislature whose leaders, backed by the Brotherhood, intend to review and reserve the right to change Egyptian foreign policy.
European Union: Last Friday, Standard and Poors downgraded the credit worthiness of nine of the 27 European Union countries, including France, Italy and Spain. The move is mostly a symbolic statement based on an assessment that austerity measures taken to date are insufficient to restore investor confidence the sovereign debt of the nine countries.
Greece: The Institute of International Finance said Friday's negotiations in Athens have "not produced a constructive consolidated response by all parties," and discussions were being put on hold to consider "the benefits of a voluntary approach." One of the main sticking points in the negotiations appears to be the stipulation that bondholders accept the write downs voluntarily.
Under the terms of the deal, banks and investors would exchange existing bonds for assets with longer maturities and lower interest rates, resulting in significant losses for investors.
The problem is that a non-voluntary deal could trigger credit default swaps, which many officials and investors say could spread chaos in the financial system. The owners of the credit default swaps could themselves become incapable of paying, setting off a ripple effect of insolvency. No sources have reported on the ownership of credit default swaps on Greek sovereign debt, but the suspicion is that the potential ripple effects are extensive.
In addition, the Greek government reportedly has been calling for even steeper write downs, angering some bondholders involved in the talks. Bondholders had been under pressure to take a 50% loss in their investment, but are now being asked to bear an even larger loss, mainly because Greece is unable to pay anything on its sovereign debt. It is insolvent with no prospects.
The private sector's participation in restructuring Greece's debt is a key condition of the planned second bailout package for Greece from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. That bailout now looks unlikely.
The drama will play out for a few more weeks or months, but Greece increasingly appears destined to leave the eurozone.
Romania: The government held an emergency meeting late on 15 January, after violent protests against austerity measures continued, AP reported. Hundreds of protesters demonstrated in Bucharest's University Square, reportedly hurling stones and incendiary devices at police, injuring at least 13.
Hungary: About 2,000 far-right activists from the Jobbik party gathered in Budapest outside the European Commission offices and burned the EU flag, calling for the country's exit from the bloc, Euronews reported on 15 January..
France and Austria: Government officials said Standard & Poor's downgraded the credit ratings of France and Austria, two of the currency zone's six triple A creditors, plus seven other nations in the eurozone.
Comment: The immediate impact is small and underwhelming. For example, France held a successful sale of government bonds today in which the interest rate, or cost of the loans to the government, actually declined. France is not showing signs of a loss of confidence, which a spike in loan rates interest would indicate.
The more serious threats in Europe are reflected in the actions of the Jobbik Party activists in Hungary and the protestors in Romania. The micro-economic impact of macro-economic decisions is provoking local violence and support for utopian social and economic solutions. The European bankers and politicians, riveted on monetary and fiscal policy, do not seem aware of this threat.
For now, the outbreaks of violent protests are on the periphery and are relatively infrequent, but increasing. They also are not limited to Greece and Italy. When they become more frequent and begin to move towards the center of European wealth, then the threat will have become difficult to control.
End of NightWatch for 16 January.
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