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NightWatch 20110530


For the Night of 30 May 2011

North Korea-South Korea: The North's National Defense Commission (NDC) said in a statement on 30 May that Pyongyang would "never deal with" South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and his government. The NDC accused South Korea's government of "piling up accusations" and undermining national reconciliation and unity.

Comment: Kim Chong-il chairs the NDC, which is the top policy making body in North Korea. The timing, just four days after Kim's China visit, suggests the statement is Kim's considered reply to Chinese pressure to resume Six Party nuclear talks.

Pakistan-Afghanistan: NATO forces arrested five Pakistani Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP also known as the Pakistani Taliban) leaders on 30 May in the Gorvait area of Pakistan's North Waziristan region, according to unconfirmed intelligence source reports, Xinhua reported. Two NATO helicopters reportedly took the arrested leaders to Afghanistan, sources stated adding NATO took the action without informing the Pakistani government. A North Waziristan political agent confirmed the news, but there has been no official report of the action.

During this Watch,  news reports clarified that the kidnapped persons were from Haqqani's crime and anti-Afghan government network. The NATO command in Afghanistan has made no comment.

Comment: All national Pakistani media carried reports of the above operation. The Chinese news service was generous in describing the operation as an "arrest," vice a kidnapping. 

The identification of the targets as TTP is a mistake. There is no reason for NATO to go after the TTP which is almost exclusively dedicated to overthrowing the Islamabad government and has nothing to do with Afghanistan. The NATO command knows the difference between the anti-Pakistan TTP and the anti-Afghanistan Taliban, Haqqani and HiG fighters.

Regardless of the target, the timing of this operation coincides with an announcement that Pakistan plans an operation in North Waziristan. Further Pakistani efforts that might be deemed supporting the Americans will now be on hold once again.

One conclusion Pakistanis might draw from today's raid is that NATO does not  care whether the Gilani government survives.The consequences for the longevity of the Gilani government are likely to be quite serious.

Even before this raid,  NightWatch  estimated that the Gilani government was likely to fall, after a decent interval, because of the Abbottabad raid on 2 May. This second raid might hasten the downfall and risks converting Pakistan into a combatant against the US and NATO.

Afghanistan: Ten people, including five suicide bombers, were killed and 45 others injured on 30 May in a complex Taliban attack in Herat. The apparent target was the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) which is led by Italian forces. A suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden car near the entry gate of the PRT compound.

Comment: While security incidents in Herat Province have increased during the Taliban's spring offensive, they have been infrequent in Herat City, the provincial capital. Herat City is one of the locations whose security is to be transferred to Afghan forces exclusively in July. Today's attack is not a good portent.

Yemen: Update. A faction of generals led by led by defector Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar have accused President Saleh of ceding southern Abyan Province, northeast of Aden, to an al Qaida group. The generals have called for the armed forces to join the opposition and to fight the militants in Abyan. Government forces reportedly have begun operations to recapture the province.

In addition, a Republican Guard brigade led by Saleh's son reportedly has defected to the opposition. This would mark the first defection among elite government troops, who have been vital to Saleh's staying in power.

Comment: During the weekend, government forces and the opposition briefly honored a ceasefire. If the defection by a major Republican Guard unit proves accurate, the Saleh regime is approaching the end game.

Saleh already shares power de facto with a mélange of opposition groups because of the split in the armed forces. This is not a negotiated power sharing arrangement. Those always are relatively peaceful.

Yemen is experiencing a power sharing arrangement achieved by force, as in Libya. In such an arrangement, in which the armed forces fragment, fighting will continue until one or other side proves the weaker. The side with the most guns, manpower and ammunition wins. Saleh's side has been that side to date, but defections by the Republican Guard indicate the regime is collapsing from within.

Syria: Security Update. Security forces expanded their military campaign in Homs Province in northwestern Syria over the weekend, as tanks entered the town of Talbiseh and helicopters overflew Ralbiseh and Rustom. About 100 tanks were seen near Rustom.

Shelling of Talbiseh began at first light and injured 10 people, a resident stated. No sources reported casualties from Rustom or other towns in Homs. About 20 tanks were seen on the main roads of the city of Deir Maala while four armored vehicles patrolled streets in the inner section of the city. Electricity and telephones lines were also cut in the city.

Politics. Syrian authorities published a new draft election law on several official websites on 30 May, in a move aimed at easing political tension. The law would be "similar to the best laws across the world," according to Deputy Justice Minister Najm al-Ahmad, who headed the commission to draft the new law. The draft will be publicly discussed and amended, he said.

Comment: The al-Asad government remains committed to its own path to restoring civil order. One news service opined that Syria might be going the way of Libya or Yemen, devolving into civil war. NightWatch considers that a complete misunderstanding of the Syrian situation.

The Syrian opposition has no guns - unlike the opposition in Libya and Yemen. That is to say, the protestors have no military capability to resist the Syrian armed forces.

The Syrian armed forces - at least those units committed to internal defense -- have remained responsive and loyal to the government chain of command. That is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the unrest in Syria. The regime can tolerate Friday-After-Prayers protests indefinitely.

The Syrian instability situation features neither negotiated nor enforced power sharing. The Asad regime has conceded nothing to the opposition. The opposition lacks the capability to control a single town or the political clout to influence Asad's top-down reform agenda.

There is no doubt that Syrian Sunnis resent and are discontented with the Alawite regime, which is backed by a mélange of non-Sunni Syrian sects and ethnic groups, not just the Alawites.

Unemployment and under-employment are high, especially among the youth. Syria is one of the poorest nations in the world. Sunni Arab political influence on the Alawite regime is negligible.

Without a source of weapons plus professional military advisors, the Syrian mostly Sunni opposition is an annoyance, but not a threat to the regime at this time. It will remain contained as long as the Armed Forces continue to respond loyally, as they have in the past three months.

Libya: An estimated 120 military officials and soldiers recently defected from Libyan leader Qadhafi's government, according to eight Libyan army officers who held a press conference in Rome on 30 May, Reuters reported. Five generals, two colonels and a major are among those who defected in protest of Qadhafi's actions against the Libyan people. All 120 of the military personnel were outside Libya and are in undisclosed locations, according to Libyan U.N. ambassador Abdurrahman Shalgam who also defected.

Qadhafi reportedly is ready to surrender his power on the condition he and his family are granted immunity from prosecution, according to press services. Qadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, is heading a working group of Libyan government officials tasked with finding a solution to the crisis in the country.

Qadhafi supposedly wants to hand over power in a "dignified manner" in which he and his family receive both domestic and international immunity from prosecution.

South African President Zuma is in Tripoli discussing a ceasefire arrangement with Qadhafi.

Comment: Zuma's presence indicates Qadhafi continues to try to manipulate the situation. Zuma is pro-Qadhafi. Any arrangement involving Zuma means Qadhafi continues to expect he will emerge victorious from the fighting.

End of NightWatch for 30 May.

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