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NightWatch 20100122

NightWatch

For the Night of 22 January 2010

South Korea-North Korea: Update. The North agreed to continue economic talks about developing further the Kaesong joint industrial park. The North offered to hold working-level talks in the North's border city of Kaesong on Tuesday to discuss border crossings, customs clearance, and the use of mobile phones and Internet for South Korean companies in the complex, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said. South Korea will review the proposal, Chun said.

Separately, the North also proposed to hold talks on resuming cross border tours on 26 and 27 January at Mount Kumgang, a favorite tourist site on the east coast. The tours were suspended in December 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot and killed South Korean tourist who had entered a restricted zone.

South Korea has not yet decided whether it will accept the proposal because of the threats the North's National Defense Commission issued in reaction to the announcement of the South's Operation Plan 5029. "We're carefully examining the North Korean proposal in consideration of recent changes in inter-Korean relations," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a briefing. "No decision has been made yet as to whether we'll accept the proposal."

The day after the North proposed talks on the tours, the National Defense Commission threatened a "sacred" battle against South Korea if it executed its plan for responding to a regime collapse in Pyongyang by invading North Korea.

Sri Lanka: Police said a blast destroyed a car and severely damaged the home of Tiran Alles, a key ally of opposition presidential candidate retired Army General Sarath Fonseka; Alles and his family escaped unharmed, Agence France-Presse reported today. A police official on scene stated that the attackers are believed to driven up in a van, carried out the attack and fled.

Fonseka is the leading challenger opposing incumbent President Rajapaksa in the presidential election campaign on 26 January. The government denounced the attack, fearing a backlash that would favor Fonseka, according to The Hindu.

As Army chief, General Fonseka led the military campaign that ended the Tamil insurgency. Now he is the candidate the Tamils support. In his campaign, Fonseka said he will see to it that "every citizen who hasn't got an inch of land gets ownership in this motherland. If the raging corruption and frauds now raging in the country and which is eating up the economy can be eradicated, developing the country is no big task."

India-Terror Threat: India placed its airports and national carriers on high security alert on 22 January based on intelligence reports that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT) has acquired 50 paragliding kits and is plotting to hijack an Indian plane.

Indian Home Ministry sources said they had received "credible intelligence" that LT operatives were receiving training in paragliding allegedly with the help of Pakistani forces.

The Indian Express newspaper, reported intelligence officials had uncovered a plot by militants linked to al Qaida and the LT to hijack an Indian flight destined for a neighboring country. A Home Ministry spokesman said besides tight security, passengers were being subjected to intense security screenings. In addition, radars located on the borders have been ordered to track all low-flying objects and the air force has been asked to shoot them down.

Other reports stated the Indians are aware of no specific flights that have been targeted. The key point of the announcement is the Indian expectation that the threat will originate from Pakistan. Secretary Gates warned the Pakistanis during his visit to Islamabad that Indian patience is running out, according to Pakistani media.

Pakistan-US: Pakistani military leaders told visiting US Defense Secretary Gates that they require six months to a year to consolidate gains from their recently concluded operations in South Waziristan and have no plans to extend those operations into North Waziristan, which is the reputed stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban. They did say the armed forces would raid targets of opportunity.

Today, they executed the first of these raids. Pakistani forces, supported by helicopter gunships, attacked a rebel hideout near Miramshah, Dawn News reported, citing officials. Fifteen militants were killed, according to the Daily Times.

Comment: Secretary Gates made headlines repeatedly during his short visit. One that stands out is his assertion that the linkages among the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban and al Qaida make it pointless to try to distinguish among them. While that idea simplifies US targeting, Pakistanis do not accept it.

In Kabul Secretary Gates observed that the Afghan Taliban are an integral part of Afghan society. The same cannot be said of the Pakistani Taliban at all, as Pakistani analysts have pointed out in Pakistani newspapers. Even the Pashtuns in Pakistan consider the Pakistani Taliban to be violent outlaws.

Pakistan-Afghanistan-Turkey: For the record. A senior Pakistani official said Turks are playing a role behind the scenes in mending relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Reuters reported. The official said that the Turks are among those working on negotiations with some Taliban elements and that there is "a lot happening behind the scenes that people don't know about."

Afghanistan: Pakistan's Daily Times reported that on 22 January Afghan President Karzai decreed a ban on the sale and possession of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which is used in most of the Taliban's homemade bombs. "The import, production, possession, use, purchase and sale of ammonium nitrate fertilizer is banned," the president's decree said.

According to the decree, anyone in possession of the fertilizer must hand it over to branches of the Ministry of Agriculture within 30 days. The Interior and Finance ministries are to train police and customs employees to detect, recognize and seize the chemical, which is imported primarily from Pakistan.

The Pakistani fertilizer factories face a dip in sales. Emerging Asia published a study in January 2009 that quoted the CNFA Country Director who estimated Afghan fertilizer demand at 1 million metric tons, and imports of fertilizer from Pakistan at 500,000 metric tons. One estimate is that only about 5% of the imported ammonium nitrate is used in Afghan agriculture. The Emerging Asia study reported Afghan farmers commonly use urea or DAP, so the total ban should have little impact on agriculture.

This will be difficult to enforce because of corruption at every link in the fertilizer supply chain that must include government officials, politicians, security officers and local businessmen and warlords. The ban is an overdue first step. Assuming the government can cut the imports, this is tonight's good news.

(Note: CNFA is a non-profit international development organization dedicated to improving the income of farmers and rural communities in less developed countries.)

Security. Update. NightWatch is completing the research on fighting in December. Open source reporting on the insurgency in December shows a significant drop in clashes; fewer districts experiencing attacks and a decline in Taliban-initiated actions. Coalition fatalities were down by about 50%, despite the sensational suicide bombing at FOB Chapman in Khost Province on 30 December. More on this later.

Russia-Poland-US: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today dismissed the idea of working with the United States on missile defense, and asked for the reason why Washington plans to station missiles near Poland's border with Russia, when it appears Warsaw is strengthening against Moscow, DPA reported.

This is the first direct high level Russian response to the announcement this week by the Polish Minister of Defense concerning the basing of Patriot missiles opposite Kaliningrad. The Russian Navy also said it plans to strengthen its forces that operate from Kaliningrad.

End of NightWatch for 22 January.

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