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NightWatch 20100625


For the Night of 24 June 2010

North Korea: The South Korean defense ministry announced on 25 June that last week North Korea declared a nine-day ban on shipping near its west coast. South Korea is monitoring whether Pyongyang may be preparing to perform short-range missile tests.

An official said "We are closely monitoring North Korea's military activities as it imposed the no-sail zone from June 19-27" near the North Korean port of Nampo.

Comment: The ministry assessed the restriction to be part of a regular coastal artillery exercise, but is taking no chances in the aftermath of the sinking of the Cheonan. Short range missile launches are possible. The South Korean defense official did not explain the delay in announcing a closure that will end in two days.

India-Pakistan: Foreign secretaries from the two countries resumed their dialogue on security. Indian Foreign Secretary Rao met her Pakistani counterpart, Salman Bashir, in Islamabad on 24 June for discussions on a joint resolution against militant extremism, Reuters reported.

The two agreed to enhance counterterrorism cooperation and Rao said they must work together to deny militants any opportunity to obstruct their improving relationship. "The searchlight is on the future, not on the past," Rao said. Both leaders characterized the talks as "cordial, sincere and earnest," which could lead to a more comprehensive dialogue in the future, as well as an easing of tensions between the two countries, according to India press.

Comment: Despite agreement in principle between the two prime ministers to resume the comprehensive dialogue, the Indian condition of prior security talks appears to have prevailed. Today's meeting is significant primarily as the restart of a process of consultations. Pakistan still has not shown that it has abandoned support to militants or terrorists as an instrument of state security policy. An Indian Army colonel was killed in Kashmir today in a clash with militants who receive support from Pakistan.

Pakistan-Afghan: Expressing dissatisfaction about the deteriorating Afghan situation, Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi said that talks are the only solution to the Afghan problem and no military means can bring peace. Qureshi spoke in a joint press conference with his Afghan counterpart Dr. Zalmai Rasoul.

Qureshi said they discussed the security situation, especially the efforts of the Afghan government to ensure stability through reconciliation. The countries agreed to enhance bilateral relations in politics, trade and economic among other fields.

The foreign minister said peace and security in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan therefore, Pakistan has sincerely offered assistance, cooperation and training facilities to Afghanistan in all the fields, including training Afghan military so that a well trained Afghan Army can take over the responsibility of the security in their country.

                Comment: The meeting is significant as a sign of shifting relationships. An Afghan official tilt towards Pakistan is being reciprocated by Pakistani moves towards Afghanistan, as described in the New York Times. Since last year's presidential elections, President Karzai's relations with the US have become strained. The emergence of strain in the US relationship appears to be the precursor to a warming trend with Pakistan.

The shifting ties have mixed implications. Pakistan invested heavily in the Taliban regime in Kabul before 2001, as part of a strategy to provide depth against India. The Pashtuns were the primary beneficiaries of Pakistani support against the northerners who eventually sided with the US in overthrowing the Taliban.

Nevertheless, Pakistani behavior and continuing reports indicate the national security leaders in Islamabad have not, probably cannot, abandon that strategy. They only can de-emphasize it temporarily as a matter of expediency. The Times article and Qureshi's remarks both point in the direction of power sharing, starting with the ex-royalists, the Haqqanis.

Pakistan also is in a position to do much more, provided it has a key role in arranging the power sharing. Pakistan's tactics are more nuanced, but the policy of using Afghanistan to gain strategic depth against India appears to be still in place. Afghanistan's handling of Indian relations, aid and infrastructure construction companies will be a good indirect measure of rising Pakistani influence in Kabul. If Indian Border Roads Organization units are invited to leave Afghanistan, for example, the tilt to Pakistan

Russia-Kyrgyzstan: A single Russian news outlet, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, reported that the Russian General Staff plans to create a new Russian Federation military base in the south of Kyrgyzstan -- in Osh or Jalal-Abad. The report claims that President Medvedev instructed Defense Minister Serdyukov to examine this issue in detail and that talks could begin next week.

An analysis carried out by the General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate concluded that constant instability in Kyrgyzstan could lead to its disintegration and becoming the protectorate of "third forces" -- a reference to terrorists, extremists and militants.

Comment: Russia has an airbase in Kyrgyzstan, at Kant in the north. This base is committed to the needs of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and was used to send a reinforced battalion of the Airborne Troops' 31st Airborne Assault Brigade to strengthen the security of Russian military facilities and the safety of Russian servicemen during the recent riots.

The reason cited for considering another base does not square with Russian behavior.  During the Kyrgyzstan disorders, Russia consistently refused repeated official requests from Kyrgyzstan for Russian peacekeepers. The threat of "third forces" taking over a country in central Asia has been discussed since before the fall of the Soviet Union, but has not moved the Russian government to embark on building new bases. Rather it has used the CSTO venue  and aid agreements to shore up its weaker members. This report is likely to be denied.

Iran-Gaza Strip: Iran's Red Crescent Society canceled the planned shipment of humanitarian aid to Gaza, Ynet reported 24 June. The organization's secretary-general, Hussein Sheikh al-Islam, said at a press conference that the ship, which was supposed to depart 27 June, would not be sent due to "the Zionist regime's violence and inhuman response to humanitarian aid." The aid will instead be sent by other means and not in Iran's name, al-Islam added.

This relieves some of the pressure on Israel and the danger of escalating tension. Lebanese media speculated that Lebanon also might cancel planned aid ship voyages in the interest of easing tension.

End of NightWatch for 24 June.

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