Night Watch

South Korea-North Korea: Update. South Korea faxed to North Korea a proposal for working level talks to control pests at the 30 tombs in the northern cities of Pyongyang and Nampo that date back to the Goguryeo Kingdom of 37 BC to 668 AD. They became the North's first UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2004.

South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-Ik, who is in charge of cross-border ties, said he sees an opportunity for better ties after almost two years of high tensions. Yu last week said Seoul was considering offering support for pest control near the ancient tombs because they also historically significant to the South.

Comment: This is a test to determine the North's willingness to cooperate on a small matter that is important to both Koreas. It is a small step. If the North declines, then the Allies will know that they must maintain a high state of readiness because the regime in the North lacks confidence.

Afghanistan: Special comment. A candid eyewitness account of security conditions in Afghanistan by a US Army field grade officer who traveled the country for a year has caused a furor because his observations contradict more upbeat accounts from senior US and NATO commanders.

Lt. Colonel Davis summarized his observations in an article published in the Armed Forces Journal. In short, Davis confirmed judgments published by NightWatch during the past several years - that NATO forces control mainly the ground they physically occupy; Afghan forces will remain loyal until they must defend themselves at which time they plan to change sides, regardless of the ethical virtues of the central government and the quality of their training; and that Taliban and other anti-Kabul forces are biding time until NATO departs, at which time they will reclaim the land they own.

The temptation for analysts is to split the baby, assessing that the truth lies somewhere in between the official reports and the observations of Lt Col Davis. That would be a mistake. The provinces and districts that Davis states are the most under stress are those that independent reliable sources report to be precisely as Davis describes them. The limitations of security in districts also correspond to conditions reported by independent reliable sources, such as the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

NATO's Afghanistan adventure has exposed most of the country to the modern world and its influences, which are not uniformly welcome. It has enabled China to take advantage of Afghanistan's mineral resources. It has not altered the fundamental pre-modern clan culture of the population; ushered in secular democracy, respect for the rights of women or any assurance than ethnic civil war will not recur.

Iran-Syria: Iran rejected any Yemeni-like scenario in Syria, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Abdollahian who spoke to the press on 8 February at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus. Abdollahian added that Iranians recently kidnapped in Syria were released after Turkish mediation.

Comment: The visit by the Iranian Deputy Foreign Ministry corresponds to reports that the Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force Major General Sulemani had arrived in Damascus to assist in the defense of the Syrian Alawite government. At least one other news service reported -- without good sourcing -- that a large number of IRGC forces are present in Damascus.

Open sources are unable to confirm the reports about Sulemani's visit and the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps soldiers in Damascus. The logic of the situation is that Iran needs to take action to prevent a strategic disaster. The unconfirmed reports suggest it has begun to do so.

However, the deployment of Persians to Syria does not seem a likely first option. On the other hand, Sulemani, in person, might have gone to Damascus to offer his expert advice on destroying subversive movements.

All news services suggest that the struggle to control Homs will determine the future of the anti-al-Asad uprising. If that prediction is accurate, then the Alawites should win, provided that Bashar al-Asad and his generals have the same strength of will that his father and his generals had in ordering the destruction of Hama in February 1982, when Sunni rebels, including the Muslim Brotherhood, held the town briefly.

If the Syrian Sunni uprising hinges on the fate of Homs, it will lose, not only because the Alawites will not hesitate to destroy rebel enclaves in the town, but also because many residents of Homs will side with the government to destroy the outlaw gangs, posing as rebels, according to sources in Homs.

Egypt: Prime Minister el-Ganzouri said that Egypt will not be influenced by threats to its aid when it is investigating foreign-funded pro-democracy groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Egyptian military officials announced plans to deploy troops and armored vehicles around the country as activists plan a strike to mark the anniversary of the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February.

Comment: The government hostility to foreign pro-democracy activists signifies a deliberate shift away from secular democracy that is pro-western. 

End of NightWatch.

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