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NightWatch 20091221


For the Night of 21 December 2009

North Korea: North Korea declared waters along its west coast sea border with South Korea a ''firing zone'' Monday and warned ships from the South to stay away from the area. ''All fishing boats and warships are required to take security measures by themselves in that zone to protect themselves,'' the North Korean naval command said in a statement published by the Korean Central News Agency.

The naval command said it was taking the measure to cope with a ''grave situation'' that it blamed the South for creating. The statement said the navy was designating the area a ''peacetime naval firing zone of coastal and island artillery units.''

This is the rather unimpressive response to South Korea's routine island gunnery practice last week, which the North protested. The North has guns and multiple round rocket launchers along its southwestern coast that can range South Korea's offshore islands.

The significance is that the North essentially matched the South's gunnery practice, but did not escalate. North Korean coastal artillery already uses the area for practice, when allowed to fire live ammunition, which is infrequent. The difference apparently is the South still declares closure areas before shooting, but the statement by the North makes no such promise. .

The prospect of random, unannounced gunnery practice in well used sea lanes and fishing areas might actually violate several provisions of UN law of the seas treaties, which bind the North. The North Korean naval command still wants its grudge match with the South, but this announcement won't get them there.

India-Jammu and Kashmir State: Last Friday, an Army spokesman confirmed that in the past two months India has completed a significant drawdown of infantry from Jammu and Kashmir State. "We have moved out two divisions of infantry formations who were on internal security duties... and approximately the number of soldiers pulled out is 30,000 men," spokesman Colonel Om Singh said in New Delhi. The forces were withdrawn from Rajouri sector in the south and Poonch sector in the north. The spokesman said the withdrawal was in response to the decline in militant attacks.

In past years, both were hotbeds of violent incidents because they contain infiltration corridors from Pakistan into Jammu and Kashmir State. The drawdown does not affect the more than 120,000 forces based along the Line of Control in Kashmir whose missions include defense against a Pakistani attack and counter-attack.

Pakistan belittled the withdrawal, calling it cosmetic. Actually, the drawdown is impressive. The two divisions probably constitute close to 10 per cent of the security forces in Kashmir. These are the largest single units to be withdrawn at a time, but over several years India has been reducing forces cautiously, as security conditions permitted.

India also has reduced the public profile of security forces in Kashmir for several reasons. One is the insurgency has devolved into a law and order problem, where it now stands so high visibility patrols have become unnecessary. The second is the high public profile of the security forces discouraged tourism and commerce, and the local business community complained to New Delhi. Third, as violence declined, Kashmiris protested as unnecessary the heavy-handed practice of commandeering buildings, parks and other public places for the quartering needs of the Army and paramilitary police. This is tonight's good news.

Pakistan: Update. A second Pakistani court summoned Interior Minister Rehman Malik over revived corruption charges, Agence France-Presse reported 21 December. Malik's defense lawyer Amjad Iqbaltold told the press that the accountability court summoned his client to appear on 2 January and said that Malik will appear in court.

The chief opposition has promised to not press for the President and government to resign. IN return, it wants the President to restore in full the powers of the Prime Minister and parliament that he still exercises, as legacies of the Musharraf era. The political crisis is moving in slow motion.

Afghanistan: Five militants armed with guns and suicide vests attacked a building in Gardez, the capital of Paktia Province, The Associated Press reported 21 December.

Provincial government spokesman Rahullah Samon said the assailants stormed a building near a police station and three of the attackers died in the fighting, adding that one wore a suicide vest that detonated. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the attackers all wore suicide vests and were armed with rocket-propelled grenades as they targeted the police station.

Paktia Province forms part of the border with Afghanistan. It is nearly impossible to secure because the Pashtun tribal areas are on both sides of the border. In normal times, Many Pashtuns from Paktia seek work in Pakistan and return home at night. Paktia is a core province of the insurgency.

Gardez, as a result, is a common target for attacks. Two points are worth noting about this attack. First this attack represents the same old thing the Taliban have been doing for the past three years, with about as much success. The attackers die and nothing changes,

Second, is the fact that the Taliban still do not have control of Gardez after years of trying, but keep trying the same old tactics. It is important to hold on to Gardez because the government and Coalition presence signifies Taliban failure; limits of capabilities and imagination.

Notes to new analysts: Violent instability is centripetal at every level of government. That means that the insurgents must always seize and hold the center of political authority, whether that is a district center, a provincial capital or the national capital. The insurgents know that holding the countryside is necessary but not sufficient to govern, unless it is a stepping stone to holding the centers of government power. Most district centers are the historic locations of markets, commerce, religious practice, and culture in some combination. This convergence of functions explains why one village becomes a district center over others.

In the core provinces of the insurgency, Taliban or other anti-government groups offer the services of a counter-government, including dispute resolution and administration of justice. The ability of an insurgent group to provide such services is an important threshold in the evolution of an insurgency into a revolutionary movement. Yet they have proven unable to seize and hold district centers.

The Taliban are stuck in that they act like local government, but everyone knows they are not. Most importantly, they lack the capability to change this condition unless the government and coalition abandon district centers.

Thus, what the Taliban do is provide a convenience to the villagers that might be workable, locally, and even popular, but everyone knows power spreads outward from the district, provincial and national centers. If the government fails to hold or recover a center, it risks losing the possibility of recovering the countryside in that district. Even a national flag over a police station means right to govern, which the Taliban lack and know it, which is why they keep doing the same old thing in areas they should have consolidated long ago.

Iran: Police clashed with mourners after hundreds of thousands of people attended the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a cleric who criticized Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and described government crackdowns on opposition as the work of power hungry despots. Reformist website Jaras said people shouted slogans in support of Montazeri during his funeral and also in support of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, Reuters reported 21 December.

Montazeri broke with the regime in the 1980s after claiming that the ruling clerics violated the ideals of the revolution by taking absolute power rather than serving as advisers to political leaders. He spent five years under house arrest and had only a minor role in political affairs after being released in 2003. Montazeri believed the power of the clerics derived from the people, not from god. This was a key issue in his falling out with Khomeini and his successors who believe god ordained them to be leaders of Iran.

The opposition will not go away but still shows no signs of political traction. It has no control of guns. The guns always win in internal instability problems.

Iraq-Iran: Update. An official from Iraq's Maysan Province said that Iranian soldiers are still on the Iraqi side of the border as of 21 December, though they have pulled back from the oil well they briefly occupied on the 18th, Agence France-Presse reported. Mayssam Lafta, a Maysan provincial council member, said Iraqi forces are stationed at the well, and Iranian forces are about 50 meters away.

Some analysts argue this is a strategic provocation aimed at the US. If that is the case, the Iranians are rather poor strategists. NightWatch continues to assess the border dispute will not escalate and will be solved by negotiations.

For one thing, boundary settlements always require application of international law. Negotiations are a necessary condition for an internationally recognized settlement. Disputes keep lawyers employed. When the guns eventually fall silent, the lawyers get busy…. Always.

UN Report on the Arab Region: The UN Development Program and the Arab League published a report on development challenges in the Arab region. The authors of the joint report found that nearly 140 million Arabs live below the poverty line and 'there has been no decrease in the rates of poverty in the Arab region over the past 20 years," with some countries actually showing an increase. It is worthwhile to read the summary at least.

The document entitled, "Development Challenges for the Arab Region: A Human Development Approach" also indicated youth unemployment was 'the highest in the world' in Arab countries. The proportion of young people of the total unemployed population is more than 50% for most Arab countries, which makes the unemployment rate among young people in Arab countries the highest in the world.

The Arab hope for self-sufficiency in food production remains elusive, despite the success of two Arab countries (Syria and Sudan) in achieving self-sufficiency in grain production. The proportion of the population suffering from malnutrition in Arab countries has seen no significant improvement over the rates of 1990.

Despite the magnitude of the challenges facing development in Arab countries, the report remains optimistic on its outlook to the future. As the report emphasizes, the Arab region has all the ingredients it needs for development-an abundance of fertile land suitable for agriculture, a wealth of natural, economic resources, substantial financial flows, and a tremendous human capital with a labor force hungry for suitable job opportunities.

Comment: Few, if any, single Arab countries seem to possess all the ingredients for development listed by the UNDP report. The lack of progress in Arab lands is second only to the economic and cultural devolution in sub-Saharan Africa.

The report implies that only regional solutions will achieve the goals of food sufficiency and significant reduction in unemployment. It is explicit that regional development requires a different strategy from that of acquiring wealth from extractive industries.

Despite the political spin pervading the treatment, the statistical data are an indictment of poor government policies and leadership in a large region for a generation or more. When the Arabs tire of poverty, the violence will decrease and the birth rate will go down.

Venezuela: President Chavez accused the United States of violating Venezuela's airspace with an unmanned spy plane, The Associated Press reported 21 December. Chavez said the aircraft flew over a Venezuelan military base in the western state of Zulia after taking off from neighboring Colombia.

He stated that "the Yankees" entered Venezuela, and he ordered the aircraft to be shot down. He added that Venezuela cannot permit this. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy said the mission had no information about any flyover and had not been contacted by Chavez's administration. Sad.

End of NightWatch for 21 December.

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