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NightWatch 20110105


For the Night of 5 January 2011

North Korea-South Korea: North Korea published a peace offer of sorts today in a joint statement by the party, government and armed forces. The main points of the text follow.

"In the joint statement, they ( the organs of the North Korean state, military and Party) set forth the following important proposal to the south Korean authorities, political parties and organizations, prompted by their patriotic decision to usher in a new era of independent reunification, peace and prosperity, reflecting the unanimous will of all Koreans for peace and reunification:

1. We courteously (emphasis added) propose having wide-ranging dialogue and negotiations with the political parties and organizations of south Korea including its authorities.

It is the review of the past three years that the issue of inter-Korean relations can never be solved by confrontation but it only sparks off an armed clash and war. In order to mend the north-south relations now at the lowest ebb we will conduct positive dialogue and negotiations with the political parties and organizations of south Korea including its authorities, be they authorities or civilians, ruling parties or opposition parties, progressives or conservatives.

We call for an unconditional and early opening of talks between the authorities having real power and responsibility, in particular.

2. We are ready to meet anyone anytime and anywhere, letting bygones be bygones, if he or she is willing to go hands in hands with us.

For the great cause of the nation present is more important than yesterday and tomorrow is dearer than present. The danger of war will be defused and the day of peace, reunification and prosperity be brought earlier when all Koreans assert in concert and pool their wisdom and efforts.

3. We will discuss and solve all the issues related to the important matters of the nation including detente, peace, reconciliation, unity and cooperation at dialogue, negotiations and contacts. The north and the south are called upon to sincerely approach the discussion on the issues related to the important issues of the nation irrespective of partisan interests and strategy and isms and make positive efforts to seek agreed points to the maximum.

4. As an immediate offer, we propose discontinuing to heap slanders and calumnies on each other and refraining from any act of provoking each other in order to create an atmosphere of improving the inter-Korean relations.

Dialogue and negotiations cannot be properly conducted nor can they make smooth progress even if the north and south sit at the negotiating table when mud-slinging and provocative acts against each other are allowed.

We call on the north and the south to refrain from now from the smear campaign and provocative act of deepening misunderstanding and distrust and inciting confrontation and hostility. Consistent is our stand to improve the inter-Korean relations, promote national reconciliation and unity and open a landmark phase of peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and negotiations.

The government, political parties and organizations of the DPRK express expectation that the authorities, political parties and organizations of south Korea will positively respond to their sincere proposal and appeal for weathering the crisis on the peninsula and between the north and the south.

They also call on all the Koreans at home and abroad, all governments, political parties and organizations in the world, international organizations and progressive people that love justice, truth and peace to extend warm support and solidarity to them.

Comment: The joint statement is an extraordinary document in that it waives every political obstacle to talks with the South. Something has changed in the North. The document shows the thinking and perhaps translation skill of Vice Premier Kang Sok-ju and his team at the Foreign Ministry. It bears his style.

On the other hand, it does not mention nuclear weapons, missiles or alliances. It is an appeal to ethnic identity.

It appears to be a device for stealing the reunification narrative from South Korean President Lee. Backlit by recent events, the joint statement implies the North wants or needs a source of leverage against expanded Chinese influence and has reached out again to South Korea.

In reaching out, the North all but appeals for help. "Courteously"? "No more calumnies"? "Let bygones be bygones"? The North seems desperate for South Korean help, probably because progress to prosperity in 2012 is behind schedule. Even so, such a document is no warrant against additional provocations, although it contains an admission that provocations are pointless and a commitment to stop them.

The South would be well advised to call the North's bluff by responding favorably.

One scenario is that the South's response to the recent North Korean provocations exceeded the North's expectations. Security incidents, such as the ship sinking and the shelling -- intended to strengthen the leadership pretensions of the heir-apparent and to impress the Army leaders and the North Korean public -- appear to have gotten out of hand. They made the threat of war more palpable than a propaganda gimmick and a reality that the North cannot win.

It is not time to stand down, but is time to be magnanimous from a position of superior strength, emphasis on strength. The North just blinked again.

Pakistan: Update. On 5 January, Pakistani media reported more details about the assassination of Governor Taseer.

The assassin said everyone in the governor's protective detail knew of his intentions. The weird thing is no background investigation would find adverse information about a devout Muslim, not in Pakistan.

The guard who assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer on 4 January told other police officers of his planned attack but was still assigned to Taseer's security detail, the Wall Street Journal reported 5 January. The assassin, Qadri, previously was removed from a counterterrorism police branch because of concerns about his Islamist leanings. He personally had requested to guard Taseer, according to a senior police official.

A dozen people have been detained, including six policemen who were on guard duty and are suspected of aiding the assassination. Investigators are looking into Qadri's ties to radical Islamist group Dawat-e-Islami.

Pakistani religious scholars warned on 5 January that anyone who grieves the assassination of the Punjab Province Governor could face the same fate, Reuters reported.

More than 500 scholars of the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat from the Barelvi sect of Sunnis praised the assassin's "courage" and religious zeal, saying his deed made Muslims worldwide proud. They warned against expressions of grief or sympathy for Taseer's death. The Jamaat-e-Islami party also called Taseer's assassination justified, saying there would have been no need for someone to kill him if the government had removed him from his post.

Comment: The extent of the security breakdown is astonishing, curious and ominous. Qadri's intention to commit murder was apparently barracks gossip. The curious part is that none of his fellow officers alerted security.

No police supervisors apparently voiced concern about the conditions for Qadri's reassignment. They had to know about his intentions, or they are incompetent. Every other cop in the team knew. Either way, the whole group needs to be dismissed and charged with aiding and abetting murder.

The ominous part is that no background investigation or other safeguards can be effective when all the people in a node of a security system support murderous behavior.

Now apply the above analysis to the guards and technicians who control nuclear weapons in Pakistan. How can Pakistan Army Generals trust any results of the personnel security system, if the personnel vetting system fails to filter extremists? For that matter, can the civilian government trust the generals?

Old hands counted and tracked the colonels and generals with beards because they were the men openly sympathetic to fundamentalist Islam, unless they were Sikhs.

The Pakistani security system might catch an Indian spy, but it will not even search for an Islamist extremist who might try to steal fissile material so as to use it against blasphemers, heretics or infidels. The greatest threat to internal stability is from true believers already inside the Pakistani security forces, not from the Pakistani Taliban.

Finally, the statements of approval of murder and the encomiums for the assassin arise from an alien culture and spotlight the distance between western and Islamic ideas of life and its worth. The Muslim scholars never read John Donne's "Meditation #XVII". Or, having read it, rejected it.

Afghanistan: "I think the influence of the Taliban is diminishing, definitely,"German Major General Hans-Werner Fritz, Commander, Regional Command North, told Pentagon reporters.

"They are leaving the area. If they don't leave, they were killed. They were handing themselves over to us by the reintegration program. So they are simply giving up," he argued. Only low and medium level Talibans are present in his region, he said.

"These people are really are giving up; they're coming with their soldiers, or with members of their troops. It might be 10. It might be 15 or more, sometimes. And they are obviously giving up," Fritz said.

"My impression is that also these people, they are war tired on the one hand, and on the other hand, they really get a feeling that they're on loser street," the German Commander said, but could not give any figures to the surrendered Taliban.

Comment: The Germans, who command the northern regional command with 11,000 German, Swedish, Norwegian, Hungarian and Turkish soldiers, have had their hands full in Konduz and the other provinces of the north. They have been trying since 2007 to rid the north of the Taliban fighters and sympathizers with little success until recently.

With a lot of help from US Special Forces, the German-led command appears to have made some headway at last. Unclassified sources indicate that in November 2010, more Taliban fighters surrendered to the government than in any prior month of the insurgency. Almost all of the surrenders were in northern provinces as follows:

Province Surrenders in November 2011

Badakhshan 2

Badghis 50

Baghlan 212

Balkh 1

Konduz 8

Sarepol 8

Takhar ` 11

(Note: data gathering for December 2011 is in progress.)

Today's report by the Pahjwok News Service states that surrenders in Konduz Province also are increasing. German Major General Fritz said 64 fighters recently surrendered in Imam Sahib District, one of seven districts in Konduz Province. Konduz Province contains a hardcore Pashtun population in Chahar Darra District that has been the base of northern expansion and nearly impossible to suppress. There are no surrenders from Chahar Darra.

Past Afghan governments -- always led by Pashtuns -- resettled tens of thousands of Pashtuns from southern Afghanistan to various districts in the north among the Uzbeks and Tajiks. They implemented transmigration in order to have a loyal base in the event the government had to deploy forces against the northern tribes.

The Pashtun enclaves in the north that served as secure bases when Pashtun kings and sultans ruled in Kabul have become safe havens and support bases for the Taliban in the past four years. The Germans have struggled to control them to little avail, until recently.

War weariness appears to be a major factor in the sudden increase in surrenders. The November offensive appears to have backfired in these provinces. Fighters attacked with limited support and concluded it is not worth the effort. The remote provinces of the north, such as Takhar, are difficult for the Taliban and other anti-government organizations to support because they are far from any main roads.

There is no way to assess the permanence of the surrenders, but more than 361 anti-government fighters surrendered in November which is an all time monthly high. Most were in areas the Taliban were attempting to develop as expansion areas, but failed. That is good news.

Iraq: Update. Muqtada al-Sadr has returned permanently to his al Hanana neighborhood home in Najaf, Iraq, Agence France-Presse reported 5 January. Al-Sadr was accompanied by senior aides Mustafa al Yaqubi, Muhammad al Saeidi and Haidar al Jabri.

Comment: Now all the players are assembled for the next act in the Iraqi political drama. Sadr's return is not good news for US interests. Does anyone know whether he achieved the status of an ayatollah, after two years of study in Qom?

End of NightWatch for 5 January .

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