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NightWatch 20100131


For the Night of 31 January 2010

North Korea-South Korea: North and South Korean officials met on 1 February, as scheduled, to discuss further development of the Kaesong joint industrial complex. This was the first working-level meeting since July 2009.

At Kaesong, about 110 South Korean factories and enterprises employ some 40,000 North Korean workers. The artillery firing off the southwest coast of North Korea has had no impact on the inter-Korean economic talks.

North Korea: On 29 January North Korean coastal batteries fired 20 rounds near Baengnyong Isand (aka P-Y Do), for the third straight day. They harmed no one and caused no damage, as before. The firing apparently stopped during the weekend.

The firing appears to have been an assertion of the North's right to engage in coastal gunnery practice, not a prelude to a larger provocation

China-US-Taiwan: China has decided to postpone bilateral military programs and security talks with the United States, and impose sanctions on U.S companies involved in shipping advanced weapons to Taiwan, Xinhua reported 30 January. A press release from China's foreign ministry said that that the US arms sales to Taiwan had caused severe damage to Sino-U.S. relations.

The latest arms package includes 60 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, air defense communications equipment and additional Patriot PAC-3 missile defenses, according to various sources.

Comment: China's policy responses are curious in that they mimic US responses to provocations, except in reverse. They appear to be either a bluff or an experiment to determine whether China has the capability to act like a great power. It does not because its reliance on exports to the US makes it vulnerable to its primary customer.

Taiwan must have the ability to blunt the Chinese threat from a ballistic missile attack and from an aircraft attack that saturates Taiwan's air defense capabilities, including anti aircraft guns and missiles plus aircraft. Taiwan does not need to defeat the Chinese threat so much as to ensure the Chinese know they cannot defeat Taiwan using these weapons.

The Chinese may fulminate as they will, but they are not yet capable for using force to recover Taiwan, assuming the US commitment to Taiwan remains firm. The US should also sell the latest versions of F-16s to Taiwan if it wants to be failsafe about deterring a Chinese attack.

India: For the record. The Indian Army has ordered the court martial of one of its most senior officers for his alleged involvement in an illegal land deal, officials said. The BBC reported that Lt. Gen. Avadesh Prakash is the highest ranking officer ever to face a court martial in India.

According to various reports, Lt. Gen. Prakash was among four senior officers who gave approval for a builder to acquire military land near an army base at a significantly reduced price.

Defence Minister Antony is hard-nosed about corruption and it is difficult to imagine that any senior officer failed to get the message.

Pakistan: Pakistani state-run television reported 31 January that Tehrik-i-Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack on 14 January The Tehrik-i-Taliban immediately issued a statement saying that Hakimullah is alive because he departed the site of the air strike more than 40 minutes before it occurred, Agence France-Presse reported.

A Pakistani military spokesman said the military has not been able to confirm Mehsud's death from its sources. At least 10 Taliban militants were killed in the 14 January air strike said to have killed Mehsud. Following that strike, an audio tape was released purportedly made by Mehsud, in which the individual on the tape claimed to be alive following the strike.

The behavior of the Pakistani Taliban resembles that at the time Baitullah Mehsud died. Hakimullah is probably dead. A video is always the best evidence.

One source claimed that a terrorist named Wali-ur-Rahman is the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban. He was the second or third choice for leadership after Baitullah Mehsud died. If Hakimullah is dead, a short period of disorientation among the Pakistani Taliban should occur, followed by a surge in sensational, head-line grabbing attacks that show-off the new leadership.

Afghanistan-India: Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said India is willing to try peace-seeking efforts with the Taliban to stabilize Afghanistan, the Times of India reported. Krishna said India could negotiate with the Taliban if they are accepted in the mainstream of Afghan politics and society, accept the Afghan constitution and sever connections with al Qaida and other terrorist groups.

The Indian terms for greater involvement precisely match those the Saudis announced at the London Conference.

Iraq: Update. Ahmed Abu Risha, the head of the Anbar-based Awakening Council, is weighing whether to urge fellow Sunnis to boycott upcoming elections in protest of the government's ballot purge of hundreds of candidates suspected of links to Saddam Hussein's regime, The Associated Press reported 30 January.

Risha acknowledged that a boycott could throw Iraq into disarray, but said the candidate blacklist likely will result in low voter turnout in Anbar Governate. He said he would make his decision about encouraging people to vote or not at a later date.

A boycott by the al Anbar Sunni Arabs would be a precursor to renewed civil conflict.

Yemen: The Yemeni government rejected a cease-fire counteroffer by the al-Huthi rebel group because it said the offer required that the government cease operations against the group as a precondition and failed to promise an end to attacks against Saudi territory and military forces, Reuters reported 31 January.

The Yemeni government had earlier offered six conditions for a cease-fire: remove rebel checkpoints, end banditry, hand over captured military equipment, release captured government soldiers and officials and end all attacks on Saudi territory and troops.

The al-Huthi counteroffer accepted the first five conditions but made no mention of ending attacks on Saudi forces or territory.

Libya-Russia: Update. Prime Minister Putin said the arms deals signed with Libya were valued at $1.8 billion. He provided no additional details, according to Ria Novosti, except to note that the contracts included more than small arms.

End of NightWatch for 31 January.

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