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NightWatch 20110831


For the Night of 31 August 2011

China-Vietnam-India: Late in July a Chinese government ship intercepted and hailed the Indian Navy's INS Airavat, an Indian built tank landing ship, when it was in international waters in the South China Sea after leaving a Vietnamese port. Airavat was on a lengthy show the flag tour of Southeast Asia, having already stopped in Cambodia.

The Chinese questioned the identity of the ship and asked for it to explain its presence in international waters, according to the account in the Financial Times. Official spokesmen from all three countries have declined to comment on the incident. An Indian official said, "For any country to proclaim ownership or question the right to passage by any other nation is unacceptable."

Comment: The Financial Times consulted a sufficient number of eyewitnesses to leave no doubt that the incident occurred as reported. The ham-fisted nature of the Chinese intercept exemplifies why most analysts argue China is still a generation or two from becoming a maritime power.

The Chinese obviously are unaware of the UN Conventions on the Law of the Seas and their provisions regarding international waters. The Chinese would have been more justified had they asked what an Indian Navy ship was doing in Chinese waters, but they did not. They are outclassed by the Indian Navy and are not ready for prime time or world class respect.

On the other hand, a Chinese maritime law enforcement ship captain probably just overreacted to the Indian naval pennant. This shows a continuing disconnect between Chinese security authorities and Chinese diplomats over how to handle South China Sea issues. The crudely aggressive behavior of the security ships is a much more reliable indicator of the real Chinese policy than the reassurances of Chinese diplomats.

For the record. A defense ministry spokesman told the state media today that China's first aircraft carrier "attained the anticipated objectives" during its maiden sea trial earlier this month. The carrier is back at its shipyard where refurbishment and testing would be carried out, the spokesman said.

To put this in an Asian perspective, the Indian Navy has operated aircraft carriers in wartime and peacetime since 1961. As a result, the Indian press coverage of the Chinese aircraft carrier is understandably a bit condescending.

Pakistan-Afghanistan: Update. US officials told the media today that the main ingredient in most of the homemade bombs that have killed hundreds of American troops in Afghanistan is fertilizer produced by a single company in Pakistan, where the US has been pushing unsuccessfully for greater regulation. Enough calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer for at least 140,000 bombs was legally produced last year by Pakistan's Pakarab Fertilizers Ltd., and then smuggled by militants and their suppliers across the porous border into southern and eastern Afghanistan, according to US officials.

Comment: Today's official statement understates the problem. There are two large Pakistani fertilizer factories that produce ammonium nitrate fertilizer and multiple distributors. According to one US official assessment, 95% of all ammonium nitrate fertilizer imported into Afghanistan is used for bomb making.

Only drug farmers  use ammonium nitrate as fertilizer  because of its price. Other Afghan farmers generally favor urea-based fertilizers and natural fertilizers because they are much less expensive.  Only the Taliban and drug syndicates can afford to pay to have ammonium nitrate smuggled into Afghanistan, in defiance of the official ban on ammonium nitrate imports since 2009. Afghan media routinely report that the banned fertilizer enters Afghanistan from Pakistan at border crossing points in truck convoys without restriction.

Afghanistan produces no ammonium nitrate. Thus the apparently inexhaustible supply of IEDs used by the Taliban, which represent the greatest threat to US forces, originate entirely in Pakistan in two locations. Somehow correcting this situation and eliminating this source of threat do not seem to be a significant tactical challenge for US special operations forces. The question for ten years has been why nothing has been done.

Special comment: Readers need to know that US officials have known these facts for more than ten years and taken no effective action to shut down these factories despite rising loss of American lives. The irresponsible incompetence or outright maliciousness of the Pakistani government and business community contradict Pakistani protests that they are doing everything they can to control insurgency.

The fertilizer plant owners are flagrant war profiteers and should be prosecuted as war criminals. Every intelligence service in the world knows that terrorists use ammonium nitrate, including Pakistani intelligence. The Pakistani Taliban use ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the IEDs they use against Pakistani soldiers and citizens. Incompetent US diplomats involved in stopping the fertilizer plants need administrative sanction and to be replaced.

Destroying the stockpiles and closing the plants would seem to be obvious and easy fixes. However, the Pakistan Army, Incorporated, probably owns the plants. It owns any plants that turn a profit in Pakistan, unless it is owned by the politicians.

Iran-North Korea: Iranian parliament Speaker Ali Larijani will visit North Korea for three days starting 4 September to discuss the expansion of cooperation with North Korean officials, according to the Iranian parliament's website. Larijani will visit China after the North Korean discussions.

Comment: The purpose of the visit is less important at this point than the proof of a still vibrant high-level linkage between Iran and its two Asian arms suppliers - China and North Korea. This linkage receives little press play in the West.

Missile and nuclear talks with North Korea always have implications for Iran, which is a paying customer and often does not factor into US considerations about North Korean nuclear and arms issues, owing to expert compartmentation. The US has to make a better offer than the Iranians in this bidding competition. Larijani almost certainly intends to ensure that Iranian interests and secrets are not compromised by future nuclear talks.

Lebanon-Syria- Arab League: Lebanon has rejected an Arab League statement demanding an end to the violence in Syria, saying Beirut clearly stands behind Damascus in this regard, Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said.

Comment: Any doubts about the pro-Syrian allegiance of the Hezbollah-backed government in Beirut should be put to rest by today's statement. Beirut is once again a Syrian client government. This is more evidence that Iran has created a corridor of sympathetic states to the Mediterranean Sea.

Libya: Update. Rebels arrested Qadhafi's foreign minister, Abdelati Obeidi, at his farm in Janzour, Libya, on 31 August.

Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, one of Qahafi's sons, has vowed to carry on fighting. In an audio message on Al-Ray TV, he said he was speaking from Tripoli's outskirts - and his father was fine."

On the other hand, Qadhafi's son Saadi called Tripoli's rebel commander Abdel Hakim Belhaj on 31 August to negotiate his surrender. Saadi called previously on 30 August to ask whether his safety could be guaranteed. According to Belhaj, he told Saadi he would not be harmed but would be treated according to law.

Comment: The fighting is increasingly pointless, serving only to make the post-Qadhafi conditions for reconciliation more difficult and probably more violent than necessary. Saif and his father are delusional. The rebel administration discussed today the prospect of holding general elections in 18 months.

End of NightWatch for 31 August.

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