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NightWatch 20100202


For the Night of 2 February 2010

North Korea: Leadership update. The head of Free North Korea Radio, a defector run media outlet, said on 2 February that the North Korean government sent notices to its embassies to "firmly establish the system for the sole leadership" of Kim Jong Un. A member of a North Korean embassy is reported to have told the defector organization that the notices also said that Kim Jong Un's birthday, 8 January, has been designated as "the largest holiday of the nation."

This is the only report that notices were sent and it omits the date. However, the inconsistencies in North Korean public statements and actions in the past month have suggested the leadership is unsettled.

If this report is accurate, it would represent an important development in the leadership transition and would be the second time that the transition to Kim Chong-il's third and youngest son has started. During the first attempt at transition, North Korean behavior was erratic and prickly and may be expected to be so again.

Currency reform update. South Korea's Chosun Ilbo reported 3 February that North Koreans are starving to death and unrest is growing due to last year's currency reform.

Reportedly North Korean Workers' Party finance director Pak Nam-gi, who led the currency revaluation aimed at breaking up market activities in the socialist state, has been removed from his post, according to a diplomatic source in Beijing. "Markets have come to a grinding halt following the currency revaluation and prices have soared," the source said.

No other sources have reported Pak's removal nor details of internal conditions.

Pakistan: Security in Karachi. The News reported eleven more people were killed on 2 February in Karachi. On the fifth consecutive day of ethnic and political violence in Pakistan's largest city the number killed stands at 41.

To contain the violence, the Sindh Province government has invited the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers (Sindh) to take control of law and order in 26 police districts for the next 30 days, under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The government also cancelled all permissions to carry arms.

Comment: The Rangers have been in this situation in Karachi before. They restore law and order but tend to be brutally effective.

The attacks appear to be politically motivated, but the Pashtun community has complained many of the victims are from Karachi's large Pashtun community. The Pashtun party in the Sindh Province coalition government, the ANP, has threatened to withdraw from the government until law and order is restored.

Political killings and incitement to rioting are common political tools in Karachi. This episode, however, seems aimed at inciting more sustained ethnic strife.

Security in the northwest. Pakistani newspapers featured reports about the biggest drone attack in the Pakistani tribal areas. Government officials in Miramshah, the main town of North Waziristan, said nine armed remotely piloted aircraft fired 18 missiles at multiple targets and killed 17 people.

Officials said Deegan village in Dattakhel Tehsil, North Waziristan, where the Pakistani Taliban last week claimed to have shot down a US drone, suffered the worst. The drones fired eight missiles, hitting several houses and vehicles parked inside the mud-walled buildings.

"Deegan is considered to be a stronghold of the Taliban but we don't know whether those killed were militants or villagers," according to a government official who declined to be named. The drones missiles at targets in at least four other villages.

An intelligence official said on condition of anonymity that the drones mostly targeted small posts set up by the militants. He said it appeared the US forces in Afghanistan wanted to avenge the loss of their drone, which the militants had allegedly shot down in the same area a few days ago.

Officials said they could not gather exact details about human and material losses in Tuesday's attacks due to lack of physical presence of the government in the area. "We don't have any physical presence in the area and then there is no telephone facility. We do have our security personnel deployed on their checkpoints on hilltops but they are away from the area where drones played havoc," a government official explained.

Comment: The report is significant for several reasons. Simultaneous saturation attacks are a new tactic in the drone war, at least in public accounts. The reports from witnesses indicate they are much more broadly terrifying than the singleton attacks.

Comments by officials indicate that the targets were selected so that no Pakistani officials or security officers would get hit. That bespeaks excellent intelligence work.

Finally this show of force conveys a first impression that the drone war has escalated in intensity and the US has more resources than before.

Bajaur. Pakistani forces mounted attacks against resurgent militant groups in Bajaur Agency, less than a year after the agency was declared cleared of militants, according to the Daily Times on 3 February. The security forces killed 20 Taliban while two soldiers were martyred and another injured in various clashes in Bajaur Agency on Tuesday.

According to a Frontier Corps statement, helicopter gunships and fighter jets pounded Taliban hideouts in Damdola, Chinagai, Shinkot and adjacent areas of Mamoond tehsil, killing eight Taliban and destroying several militant hideouts.

Comment: Bajaur Agency is adjacent to Dir District which is adjacent to Swat District. Militant resurgence in Bajaur raises concern that it can spread to Dir and Swat again, despite the government operations there last year.

This ebb and flow pattern of militant behavior is the danger that Chief of Army Staff General Kayani rightly noted in his refusal to widen large scale anti-militant operations into North Waziristan before gains in South Waziristan was consolidated.

Pakistan has committed more than 300,000 reasonably capable, indigenous paramilitary and Army forces to the northwest region; has current and long historic knowledge about the people and the cultures; and most of the population supports the central government. Even with these assets, its forces must fight for the same ground repeatedly.

That is the style of this fight on both sides of the border. It makes official US statements about Pakistani gains and setbacks to the Pakistani Taliban look like ill-informed cheerleading. Not even the Pakistanis believe them.

The difference with Afghanistan is that Kabul has none of those assets in a similar fight.

Iran: President Ahmadi-nejad announced 2 February Iran is prepared to send its uranium abroad for further enrichment, as the United Nations requested, the Associated Press and other services reported. Ahmadi-nejad said Iran would have "no problem" giving the West its low-enriched uranium and taking it back when it is enriched by 20 percent, several months later. He dismissed what he said were colleagues' concerns that the West would not give the uranium back, saying if that occurred Iran would continue producing its own enriched uranium.

The wrinkles are that the West wants to hold the uranium for a year and in a single delivery. Iran knows the West's terms. This is another tactic to avoid more sanctions by presenting the illusion of cooperation. Some will see this as progress. It actually appears crafted to divert attention away from the main objective, which is to ensure Iran does not produce nuclear weapons, by snaring the Western diplomats to quarrel over the adequacy of deliberate evasions.

In his statement, Ahmadi-nejad was unwavering in his commitment to Iran's nuclear program. The latest offer is not a step towards closing nuclear weapons options. It assumes the program will continue and threatens to co-opt the West into buying into that assumption.

Israel: Update. Hamas has halted the indirect negotiations with Israel for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit because of the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai two weeks ago, Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip said yesterday.

The negotiations were reportedly close to a breakthrough in December, but "The current circumstances do not allow a continuation of the indirect talks to finalize a prisoner swap deal," said Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha. However, he added, "we cannot say that the talks have completely stopped. The movement will later make a final decision."

Almost everyone in the Middle East has concluded that Israeli intelligence killed al-Mabhouh. The notorious Palestinian arms smuggler was more valuable dead, apparently, than recovery of a live Israeli soldier, assuming the Israelis did kill al-Mabhouh. Harsh math.

End of NightWatch for 2 February.

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