Tuesday, April 29, 2008

China Connects the Dots from Lhasa to Dharmsala...

...With Some Help From the TPUM

I'm not about to say that stories about the Tibet People's Uprising Movement (TPUM) are getting spiked in some kind of journalistic omerta dedicated to keeping the existence of this awkward group out of reporting on the Tibetan disturbances...

...but I was interested enough in the issue to send a query about the absence of TPUM from news reports to a distinguished Asian correspondent.

He responded! and advised that he considered that TPUM was not important enough to merit mention in dispatches.

Not important! I sputtered to myself.

I think TPUM's plenty important.

So do the Chinese, for that matter.

TPUM is a five-member coalition comprised of: the two biggest Tibetan NGOs: the Tibetan Youth Congress (30,000 members) and the Tibetan Women's Association (13,000 members); the TYC's political wing, the National Democracy Party of Tibet; Students for a Free Tibet, India; and Gu-Chu-Sum Association of Ex-Political Prisoners, which, if a critical post on a site called World Report is accurate, ranks second on the list of recipients of National Endowment for Democracy Tibet-related largesse, only behind Richard Gere's International Campaign for Tibet.

TPUM is noteworthy for its fire-eating declaration calling for direct action inside as well as outside Tibet:

The Tibetan People's Uprising Movement is a global movement of Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet taking control of our political destiny by engaging in direct action to end China's illegal and brutal occupation of our country. Through unified and strategic campaigns we will seize the Olympic spotlight and shine it on China's shameful repression inside Tibet, thereby denying China the international acceptance and approval it so fervently desires.[emph. added]

We call on Tibetans inside Tibet to continue to fight Chinese domination and we pledge our unwavering support for your continued courageous resistance. [emph. in original]

On one hand, TPUM has only associated itself publicly with one action, a protest March to Tibet from Dharmsala that, thanks to a hostile attitude by the Indian government, has sputtered along ineffectually.

The concrete goals of the march have never been clearly articulated but apparently range from a best-case destination of Lhasa (they are rather coy about how they hope to get there) and a minimum objective of heightened Tibetan consciousness and independence-related militancy.

On the other hand, there's the statement in the declaration that“we will bring about another uprising that will shake China's control in Tibet and mark the beginning of the end of China's occupation”, and a video message (undated, but apparently prepared prior to March 10) from the leaders of the five groups comprising TPUM.

Ngawang Woeber of Gu-Chu-Sam leads off with the longest message, concluding:

Our goal is to bring together all Tibetans inside and outside Tibet before the Beijing Olympics begin. We will join a unified campaign to restore Tibetan freedom. This is an historic opportunity we can't afford to miss. This opportunity won't come again. Secondly, China's policies in Tibet are getting more destructive day by day. Chinese population transfer to Tibet has made matters even more urgent for us. Now it is time for Tibetans everywhere to rise up. In the spirit of the 1959 Tibetan national Uprising we must rise up and resist and bring about an even greater Uprising. An Uprising that will shake the Chinese government to its core. Those who can walk shall join the March to Tibet. Those with money shall support the movement. In short, whatever resources you have—skills, experience, wealth, courage—this is the time to bring it to the table and make a real impact on our struggle. We need everyone. [emph. added]

To me, that sounds like a call to action. Inside Tibet as well as outside. And it's not coming from some slogan-spouting wannabe college revolutionary. Those are the words of somebody who did hard time in a Chinese prison and knows the terrible cost that anti-government words and actions can bring.

And it sounds to me like the kind of appeal that might bring several hundred monks out of their monasteries to protest fifty years' worth of Chinese affronts to Tibetan freedom, religion, and culture on March 10—the 49th anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day—and trigger the Chinese police response in Lhasa and the subsequent disturbances.

Two of the other spokespeople on the video, Tsewang Rigzin, president of the TYC, and B. Tsering, head of the TWA, have been all over the newspapers providing reports and commentary on events inside Tibet since March 11.

But nary a whisper about their affiliation with TPUM can I find, outside of a couple posts I wrote and a March 20 Wall Street Journal profile by Peter Wonacott , which reports Tsewang Rigzin's denial of TPUM involvement in the unrest in Tibet and describes the group's ambitions to act as a source for Western coverage:

Protests this month have unleashed a wave of violence inside Tibetan areas of China. Mr. Rigzin says the protests in Tibet were spontaneous, and had no backing from a group he helped establish in January, called the Tibetan People's Uprising Movement.

He says the group -- comprising five different nongovernmental exile organizations including the Youth Congress -- has swapped information since the protests began with those inside Tibet through phone calls and text messages. That information has often made its way into news releases emailed to journalists or has been posted on the group's Web site.

Let me hasten to point out that the existence of TPUM is no secret, either to the Tibetans, journalists...or to the Chinese.

Its manifesto and activities have been covered by the Students for a Free Tibet blog and, when I discovered the TPUM website on March 16, it was already being disrupted, presumably by a Chinese cyber attack of the disruption of service variety.

At the time, I speculated that China would seize upon TPUM to discredit the Tibetan emigre movement and attempt to place the Dalai Lama on a cleft stick by forcing him to disavow either non-violence or the demonstrators.

On March 18, I wrote:

Regardless of what the TPUM did ...and even if the TPUM just a collection of big-talk and little-action emigres, rest assured that the Chinese media will be happy to connect the TPUM dots as they see fit...

Sure as sunrise, the lead paragraph of an April 2 report on the official Chinese government website read:

China's Ministry of Public Security said on Tuesday that it had gathered sufficient evidence showing that March 14 riots in Lhasa was not isolated or accidental but was part of the "Tibetan People's Uprising Movement" plotted by the Dalai clique.

The report continued:

"The 'Tibetan People's Uprising Movement' plotted by the Dalai clique is intended to sabotage the peaceful, stable and unified social situation in China and use the Olympic Games to put pressure on the Chinese government, thus achieving their political aims," a spokesman with the Ministry of Public Security said.

"The word 'uprising' means to overthrow the present regime through armed force and violence. So I'm wondering, is there any country that allows such an 'uprising' against the central government? Is there any country that tolerates such activities wantonly instigating the subversion of a state regime?" he said.

Police officers have also found copies of a "Declaration of Tibetan People's Uprising Movement;" copies of the Dalai Lama's speech on March 10; pictures of the clique's members undertaking secessionist activities and computers used to contact officials of the clique's "government in exile" in the residence of a person who allegedly took place in the riots.

The suspect was arrested on March 15 of charges of accepting the clique's orders and undertaking secessionist activities, including beating, smashing, looting and arson, in Lhasa on March 14.

Xinhua reported additional allegations on April 2:

A large quantity of offensive weapons suspected to be used for riots were discovered in several Tibetan temples, China's Ministry of Public Security said here on Tuesday.

The public security authorities turned up 178 guns, 13,013 bullets, 359 swords, 3,504 kilograms of dynamite, 19,360 detonators and two hand grenades in the rooms of lamas in some temples in Tibet with the information from lamas and other people, said ministry spokesman Wu Heping.

He said that the Dalai Lama and his followers had recently planned and organized activities around the world to support "Tibet Independence", such as "Support Tibet" and "Global Action Day".

"Their next plan is to organize suicide squads to launch violent attacks, according to our investigation," Wu said, "They even claimed that they fear neither bloodshed nor sacrifice."
"We now have sufficient evidence to show the March 14 Lhasa violence was part of the 'Tibetan People's Uprising Movement', a scheme by the Dalai clique," he said. [emph. added]

China's play of the TPUM card did not provoke a flurry of reporting by Western journalists.

No mention of TPUM in the AP coverage of Wu Heping's press conference. Nothing in VOA. Nothing in CNN . Nothing in the IHT, which picked up the AP report. Zip in The Telegraph .

On the other hand, AFP mentioned TPUM, though it did present the existence of the group as an allegation by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security—not exactly a respected source.

There was an interesting glitch in the report by Reuters’ Chris Buckley, which did mention TPUM:

China's Ministry of Public Security said it had arrested "key members" of an underground network in Lhasa working in concert with overseas pro-Tibet independence groups to spark a "Tibet People's Uprising Movement."

The Chinese accusation is not that local and overseas groups are trying to “spark a 'Tibetan People's Uprising Movement'”. It's that the “Tibetan People's Uprising Movement”—of whose existence in Dharmsala there can be no doubt—is responsible for fomenting unrest inside the PRC—an extremely dangerous and somewhat plausible claim.

In the articles mentioning TPUM, there was plenty of aggrieved rebuttal from the Tibetan government-in-exile (and even Tom Casey of the State Department, who presumably knows zero about the issue) but, as far as I can tell, nobody said Hey, Tsewang Rigzin, he's that guy who's always sending tips to my Blackberry, he's with TPUM, let's get a quote from him!

Even though AP, Bloomberg, CNN, NPR, the Guardian, VOA, and Reuters and the London Times had all turned to Tsewang Rigzin for quotes on the Tibet unrest in his role as president of the Tibetan Youth Congress.

The difficulty of gaining traction in the Western press has not discouraged the Chinese on the TPUM issue.

The China Matters crystal ball was in good working order on March 18, when I wrote:

Don't be surprised if the Chinese invoke the Global War on Terror, that magic elixir of oppressive state power, to justify going after TPUM, Tibetan monks, and any other source of actual or potential resistance.

Sure enough, Chinese accusations subsequently extended to the Tibetan Youth Congress itself—the most logical dot to connect after TPUM.

To wrong-foot potential American and European sympathizers with Tibetan freedom fighters, the bogeyman du jour, international terrorism, was summoned:

From Xinhua on April 10.

The violent incident in Lhasa on March 14 -- including beating, smashing, looting and arson -- exposed the terrorist nature of "Tibetan Youth Congress" (TYC) as the direct planner of the riot. The crimes made the organization look like a kin member of Al-Qaida, Chechnyan armed terrorists and "East Turkistan" separatists.

Founded in 1970, the TYC advocates "complete independence of Tibet" and has fully integrated into the "Tibetan government-in-exile", entering the power core of the Dalai clique. It has long been involved in secessionist activities.

In February, the TYC held campaigns in Dharamsala to recruit participants for the "Tibetan People's Uprising Movement" and trained key members for the activity.

What makes the TYC a terrorist organization is not only what it has said but what it has done. Police in Lhasa seized more than 100 guns, tens of thousands of bullets, several thousand kilograms of explosives and tens of thousands of detonators, acting on reports from lamas and ordinary people.

These figures, in addition to the deaths of more than a dozen ordinary people in the Lhasa riot, show that the TYC is no different from Al-Qaida, Chechnyan armed terrorists, "East Turkistan" separatists and any other terrorist organization.

Under Chinese law, terrorist organizations are those which use violence to threaten national security, sabotage social stability, harm people and damage their property, those which have leaders and assigned missions, and those which have organized, planned, instigated, implemented or participated in terrorist activities, or are carrying out such activities.

Such groups also include those having built bases for terrorist activities, systematically recruited and trained terrorists, collaborated with international terrorist organizations to sponsor, train and cultivate terrorists, and have participated in terrorist activities.
Judging by these criteria, the TYC is a terrorist organization in a pure sense.

In case somebody didn't get the point, other articles on the Xinhua site declared:

“Tibetan Youth Congress” is pure terrorist organization

TYC common enemy to all human

TYC. a terror group worse than Bin Laden's

TPUM probably breathed a sigh of relief when high-profile actions against the Olympic flame relay provoked a blizzard of anti-Chinese press in the Western media and any chance of coverage of the Chinese allegations evaporated.

Nevertheless, the official Chinese media has persisted, albeit with the usual absence of international traction, in its efforts to make the Tibetan People's Uprising Movement the face of the Tibetan emigre movement.

After connecting the riots to TPUM and TPUM to the Tibetan Youth Congress, the next dot to be connected by the Chinese has been the Tibetan government in exile itself.

Most recently, a lengthy analysis of the “Current Conditions and Essential Character of the Dalai Lama Clique's Tibetan Government in Exile”
on page 4 of the April 27 domestic dead tree edition of People's Daily began:

An abundance of facts demonstrates that the March 14 riots in Lhasa were a major component of the “Tibetan People's Uprising Movement” of the Dalai Lama clique, and were carefully organized and planned.

The article winds selectively through the history of the Tibetan emigres to paint a picture of a theocratic government controlled by the Dalai Lama's family and dominated by pro-independence radicals, promoting their objectives through control of NGOs like the Tibetan Youth Congress and Tibetan Women's Association, and advancing the “Tibetan People's Uprising Movement” for the purpose of achieving Tibetan independence.

Of course, the objective of this over-the-top Chinese bluster is not to get favorable Western ink for their accusations. With the non-stop Chinese attacks on the accuracy of foreign coverage of the Tibetan disturbances, the hostility of the Western press on this issue is a foregone conclusion.

The purpose, as always, is to split the Tibetan emigre movement by creating a rift between the militants and the engagement-minded moderates around the Dalai Lama, so that the credibility and effectiveness of the Dalai Lama as a spokeman for the Tibetan community is undermined.

People's Daily's lengthy bill of indictment against the Tibetan government in exile didn't gain any foreign coverage to speak of, but an editorial on the same page did.

Entitled “Attempts to Split the Motherland Will Certainly Suffer Defeat”
, the brief editorial heaped scorn on “the Dalai Lama clique” for allegedly pursuing Tibetan independence under the guise of the “Middle Way” policy of Tibetan autonomy.

The coverage in the Western media was exemplified by the headline provided for Tania Branigan's article in the Guardian: China Ridicules Dalai Lama, despite ‘talks’ .

The Chinese media must be slapping its forehead in frustration at the gormless inability of capitalist correspondents to understand calibrated socialist invective and goal-post setting.

The editorial didn't attack the Dalai Lama personally; it attacked the “Dalai Lama clique”, meaning the stubbornly radical members of his family who serve in the government or as his advisors.

The Chinese government has not yet decided to connect the next available dot in the political chain it has constructed from the March 14 disturbances in Lhasa...the Dalai Lama himself.

The Chinese are offering the Dalai Lama the opportunity to disassociate himself from the independence movement, or even avail himself of the dubious privilege of implying he was personally held captive by the malign forces of the pro-independence clique.

You know, like the Manchu Last Emperor.

By the way, the Dalai Lama isn't the last possible dot. The ultimate accusation available to demonize and marginalize the Tibetan emigre movement would be that the United States and the UK used the Tibetan government in exile as their cat's paw to subvert China.

You know, like the Japanese with Manchukuo.

But that's a maybe for the future. Right now, the focus is on the Dalai Lama.

And the Chinese are signaling that, if and when any further meetings are held between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama's envoy, the Dalai Lama will have to come up with a new formulation to replace the Middle Way—one that precludes demands for withdrawal of Chinese troops or asserts Tibet's right to handle some of its foreign relations directly--if he wants to pursue engagement with China.

The Chinese strategy of driving a wedge between the Dalai Lama and the militants can be seen from an April 11 report in Xinhua Chinese entitled:

United Front Department: the Door will be Forever Open for the Dalai Lama

The United Front Department is, of course, the Chinese department in charge of negotiations with non-sovereign political organizations.

The vice director of the department listed the extensive contacts between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government; contacts that, to the most militant of emigres, will always carry the whiff of appeasement:

According the UFD, 20 visits have occurred since 1979, by the Dalai Lama's older brother, his second (younger brother), his brother-in-law, his younger sister, and other close associates, including(?) six visits from the Dalai Lama's personal representatives since 2002, featuring tours of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Guangdong (to see the results of economic reform); and Yunnan and Guangxi (to see multi-ethnic polities).

The UFD declared that the door to dialogue with the Dalai Lama will “forever remain open” as long as the Dalai Lama renounces Taiwan independence, ceases “splittist” activities, openly acknowledges that Tibet as an inseparable part of China, and acknowledges that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China.

It is unlikely that the Dalai Lama will renounce the advocates of Tibetan independence.

But it is likely that he will have to deal with an awkward, open split within the emigre Tibetan community as a result of this year's unrest that calls his leadership and tactics into question.

The Dalai Lama has consistently labored to square the political circle between the militants and moderates, not abandoning his policy of engagement while not capitulating to the Chinese government.

Most recently, he endorsed China's hosting of the Olympic Games, in direct contradiction of the TPUM declaration, which demands “Cancel the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and never again consider China as a potential host country of the Olympic Games until Tibet is free.”

The Dalai Lama even offered to attend the games—while Western leaders are talking boycott—“under one condition, that is there must be a relaxation of suppression in Tibet...China must release all prisoners in Tibet and treat the injured.”

I hope the Dalai Lama gets tickets for the opening ceremony, but I'm not optimistic.

From the Chinese perspective, the Dalai Lama is unable to control and unwilling to renounce militants within the Tibetan community, which means an olive branch like this is being offered from a position of weakness and can be safely spurned.

It remains to be seen whether the Chinese government takes the politically inflammatory and diplomatically costly step of calling on the Indian government to dissolve the TPUM NGOs as terrorist organizations.

It's cruel to say it, but China may decide it's unnecessary. The TPUM NGOs may be more useful to the PRC if they survive as impotent scapegoats for Tibetan unrest inside China, and as a focus for polarization and division within the emigre movement.

TPUM's absence from international reporting may be a function of its true unimportance, the result of careless journalism, or a conscious refusal by reporters and editors to enable cynical Chinese propaganda and be party to the persecution of some very nice, noble people who also happen to be their sources.

But it doesn't really matter.

By now it's irrelevant if TPUM directed or encouraged or dropped plausible-deniable hints to monks inside Tibet to emerge from their monasteries for the March 10 demonstrations, or did absolutely nothing except make big, empty talk on its website and its videos for overseas consumption.

The Chinese government has the footage of the riots and they have people in detention whose confessions they can extract, coerce, or fabricate. They also have the documented professions of TPUM militancy, and the will to broadcast their allegatiions and connect the dots as they see fit.

Below is the transcript of the video appeal by TPUM.

Rev. Ngawang Woeber, President, GuChuSum Association of ex-Political Prisoners
Representing the five leading NGOs in Dharmsala, we're hereby launching the Tibetan People's Uprising Movement. Our goal is to bring together all Tibetans inside and outside Tibet before the Beijing Olympics begin. We will join a unified campaign to restore Tibetan freedom. This is an historic opportunity we can't afford to miss. This opportunity won't come again. Secondly, China's policies in Tibet are getting more destructive day by day. Chinese population transfer to Tibet has made matters even more urgent for us. Now it is time for Tibetans everywhere to rise up. In the spirit of the 1959 Tibetan national Uprising we must rise up and resist and bring about an even greater Uprising. An Uprising that will shake the Chinese government to its core. Those who can walk shall join the March to Tibet. Those with money shall support the movement. In short, whatever resources you have—skills, experience, wealth, courage—this is the time to bring it to the table and make a real impact on our struggle. We need everyone.

Mr. Tsewang Rigzin, President, Tibetan Youth Congress
50 years have passed since China invaded Tibet. In a few months the Olympics will be held in China. In our struggle for independence, culture, and religion, there has never been a better opportunity. So I request each and every one of us to take action and fulfill our duty to the six million Tibetans.

Mr. Tenzin Choeying, President, Students for a Free Tibet, India (in English)
This is a message to all Tibetans and non-Tibetans, Tibetan supporters...This is a request from us, here, in India that this is a crucial period, a crucial year for us in our cause to struggle in a year-long campaign. For us from India, we will be organizing a march back to Tibet and we hope that every Tibetan and Tibetan supporter join us in our campaign and also with that, along with that, the Chinese are organizing the torch relay as well as doing the games also, we request every people [who] support us to do whatever they can.

Ms. B. Tsering, President, Tibetan Women's Association
The time has come for all Tibetans to unite and rise up and join the Tibetan People's Uprising Movement. Every Tibetan on the face of the earth, every Tibetan organization, and every Tibet Support Group must join forces. This initiative is being launched by the coalition of five organizations, but it is a people's movement, a people's uprising, so only the full involvement of the Tibetan people can make this movement successful.

Mr. Chemi Youngdrung, President, National Democratic Party of Tibet
In the history of nations, there are critical junctures and watershed moments. Those who siezed these moments have achieved victories and changed the course of history. Today, we Tibetans are at a crossroads. And we must seize this moment. In March 1959 Tibetans all over Tibet rose up against Chinese invasion. In the same spirit of resistance, let us rise up again and make this Uprising event a watershed event in our struggle. Let's be Tibetan. Let's be proud. Let's work together. Let's achieve victory. Let's change the course of Tibetan history. RISE UP!!!



Tibet will be free.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

The Saga of Syria's Nuclear Plant

There is a goodly amount of spin surrounding American allegations that North Korea assisted Syria in the construction of a nuclear reactor.

If the report is true and the pictures are not some Hail Mary neocon forgeries, Syria's motives and judgment are certainly open to question.

But in the context of Syria's stated nuclear ambitions, it might have seemed a good idea at the time.

According to an organization called Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), run by Ted Turner and Sam Nunn, Syria first expressed its interest in developing a civilian nuclear capability ten years ago.

I'll quote it at length because I don't think you'll be reading about Syria's civilian nuclear program in your hometown paper anytime soon.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Syria began exploring its potential for indigenous nuclear resources. Upon completion of several uranium exploration projects, Syria began experiments to extract uranium from its vast phosphoric rock reserves. In 1986, the IAEA and AECS constructed a micro-plant at the General Phosphate Company Plant in Homs to study the process of uranium extraction from phosphoric acid. The plant would be the forerunner to a commercial plant if Syria obtained a nuclear power reactor and needed fresh fuel regularly. In 1996, Syria began developing a plant to recover uranium from tri-superphosphates using a similar technology. That facility came online in 2001.

In 1991, China started constructing Syria's first research reactor, a 30KW miniature neutron source reactor (MNSR) to be located at the Der Al-Hadjar Nuclear Research Center near Damascus. China provided Syria with approximately 980 grams of 89% enriched U235 to operate the reactor. That facility went critical in 1996 and become fully operational in 1998. The MNSR gives Syria the capability to produce neutrons for nuclear analysis, isotopes for industrial applications, and radioisotopes for training purposes, but is unsuitable for weapons production.
In more recent years, Syria has continued to develop its nuclear research facilities and other facilities to help manage its nuclear material. The government has also entered into new cooperation agreements with several countries, most notably
Russia. In 1998, the intergovernmental Russia-Syrian Commission on Trade and Scientific and Technical Cooperation signed of a memorandum of cooperation between Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy and the AECS. Part of this accord was an agreement to construct a nuclear research center that would include a 25MW research reactor.

Current Status

Syria's nuclear program remains in the fundamental stages of development, with virtually no fuel cycle facilities in operation. ...

In 2003, Russian and Syrian officials continued their negotiations for the construction of a nuclear facility that would include a nuclear power plant and a seawater atomic desalination plant. Open sources reported that the Russian Minister of Atomic Energy confirmed that discussions over supplying Syria with a power plant and a desalination plant were taking place. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman refuted the Minatom statement and denied that any discussion had taken place. Consequently, Syria's quest for obtaining a nuclear power plant remains an unanswered question.
In early 2007 Syria announced possible plans to pursue nuclear energy in order to meet increased energy consumption in the country. Syrian officials have stated that nuclear energy could provide a feasible energy alternative in light of concerns of oil depletion and a ten percent annual increase in electricity use.

So... Syria has uranium resources and has been openly exploring its nuclear power options since 1998.

Furthermore, the legal basis under the NPT for criticizing Syria, let alone bombing the beejeezus out of a suspected facility as Israel did, is less than rock solid.

Syria is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and therefore has accepted the obligation to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor its nuclear material.

Beyond the general principle of “safeguarding”, as the process is known, there are devilish details that are not publicly known and form the content of a series of bilateral agreements between the IAEA and member states.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists believes that Syria's agreement with the IAEA probably contained a new obligation to notify the IAEA if it was constructing a reactor, and not just letting the IAEA know when nuclear material entered the equation, as was previously required.

[The IAEA] board called for revisions to existing subsidiary arrangements to be incorporated into both new and old safeguard agreements. These revisions would oblige states with comprehensive safeguard agreements in force to provide preliminary information to the IAEA as soon as a decision has been made to construct, authorize to construct, or modify a facility. Finally, in an interesting coincidence, the February 1992 board session also approved the text of the comprehensive safeguards agreement for Syria, which would enter into force on May 18, 1992.

The Bulletin concludes:

Syria, whose safeguards agreement entered into force after the board decision to revise the subsidiary arrangements, would therefore need to inform the IAEA as soon as it decided to construct a facility, if such construction was underway.

As presented by the Bulletin, the argument against Syria isn't 100% smoking-gun.

From the timing of the IAEA's public announcement that they interpreted safeguard agreements as including obligations to notify to the IAEA as soon as construction of a reactor was authorized and the simultaneous approval of the Syrian agreement, the Bulletin is inferring that Syria was subject to the notification requirement.

In fact, it could go the other way and Syria might claim that the enhanced requirements post-dated finalization of Syria's text (which clearly had been negotiated and submitted for approval prior to the announcement) so they aren't covered by it.

In either case, it would be nice to see this point explicitly confirmed.

One clear indication of Syria's intentions is its refusal so far to sign the “Additional Protocol”, an expansion of IAEA mandate enthusiastically promoted by the United States. The desired terms are enshrined in a “Model Additional Protocol” released by the IAEA.

The intent of the Model Additional Protocol is to “turn accountants into detectives” in the words of Theodore Hirsch, in the wake of the IAEA's failure to detect a massive undeclared nuclear program by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s.

If an NPT signatory concludes an Additional Protocol, it is required to make a full declaration of all nuclear-related activities, including non-nuclear processes such as fabricating centrifuges, and give the IAEA the right to make unannounced site inspections based on third-party information to verify the completeness and correctness of the declaration. For good measure, if IAEA inspection reveals a demonstrated material mis-statement in the declaration, the case gets referred to the United Nations Security Council.

Non-proliferation wonks routinely express dismay and disappointment that more states haven't signed onto the sovereignty-busting Additional Protocols, but the amazing thing is that anybody has.

Especially when one considers what use the United States might make of them.

The United States was the driving force behind the drafting of the Model Additional Protocol and took the important step of signing and ratifying a version that was, inevitably less than model—it reserved the right to claim a national security exemption for secret activities and facilities.

The Bush administration enthusiastically touted the value of the Additional Protocols and achieved a measure of success with Japan and with Europe. NATO included a demand that acceptance of the protocols be made mandatory and a prerequisite for the international nuclear trade in its November 2004 resolution on nuclear proliferation—something that looks like an attempt to unilaterally abrogate the existing safeguarding agreements the IAEA had negotiated under the NPT.

The Bush administration, guided by Robert Joseph and John Bolton, was eager to gain control of the IAEA. John Bolton's quixotic, high profile vendetta against Elbaradei should be understand less as pique at the DG's correctness on Iraq and coddling of Iran than as a doomed attempt to install a pro-American director general (the only candidate the US was able to float was Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer) and divert the IAEA mission into a more pro-American direction.

If the United States gained control over the IAEA, it would undoubtedly have expanded and asserted its prerogatives for heightened, adversarial scrutiny of Iran—and any other potentially nuclear state on America's blacklist—by establishing behavior in conformance with the Additional Protocol as the baseline for acceptable behavior even if NPT states didn't sign the protocol—essentially replacing the non-proliferation activities the IAEA was chartered to pursue with the new US counterproliferation doctrine.

Even after the United States' credibility and pretensions to leadership of the world anti-proliferation movement were devastated by the Iraq shambles and Elbaradei had sailed to a third term, the Bush administration has labored mightily to influence the IAEA process by virtue of its leadership of the Western block of key military powers and nuclear suppliers.

Jan Lodding of the Acronym Institute wrote :

...some states are updating their interpretations...making the legal argument that since comprehensive agreements with additional protocols are becoming established as the prevailing norm of the safeguards system, these broader agreements now constitute the safeguards legally required under Article III [of the NPT].

For “some states” read “United States”, in my opinion.

And I've toiled long enough in the vineyards of Boltonism to see this rather unlegal “legal argument” as a classic example of “I can't get people to agree with me but since they didn't openly disagree with me I'll ignore the absence of a formal agreement and claim to represent a tacit consensus”.

In testimony in 2003 concerning Syrian activities, John Bolton took Syrian bad faith as a given and gave an idea what sort of treatment Damascus could expect if the IAEA toed the American line:

Without question, among rogue states, those most aggressively seeking to acquire or develop WMD and their means of delivery, and which are therefore threats to our national security, are Iran and North Korea, followed by Libya and Syria. It is also the case that these states are among those we identify as state sponsors of terrorism. We aim not just to prevent the spread of WMD, but also to roll back and ultimately eliminate such weapons from the arsenals of rogue states and ensure that the terrorist groups they sponsor do not acquire weapons of mass destruction.

As I informed Congress last fall, we are concerned about Syria's nuclear R&D program and continue to watch for any signs of nuclear weapons activity or foreign assistance that could facilitate a Syrian nuclear weapons capability. We are aware of Syrian efforts to acquire dual-use technologie, some, through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Technical Cooperation program, that could be applied to a nuclear weapons program. In addition, Russia and Syria have approved a draft program on cooperation on civil nuclear power. Broader access to Russian expertise could provide opportunities for Syria to expand its indigenous capabilities, should it decide to pursue nuclear weapons. The Syrians have a Chinese-supplied miniature research reactor under IAEA safeguards at Dayr Al Hajar.

Syria is a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has a standard safeguards agreement with the IAEA but, like Iran, has not yet signed or, to our knowledge, even begun negotiations on the IAEA Additional Protocol. The Additional Protocol is an important tool that, if fully implemented, could strengthen the IAEA's investigative powers to verify compliance with NPT safeguards obligations and provides the IAEA with the ability to act quickly on any indicators of undeclared nuclear materials, facilities and activities. We believe the Additional Protocol should be a new minimal standard for countries to demonstrate their nonproliferation bona fides.

In Syria we see expanding WMD capabilities and continued state sponsorship of terrorism. As the President has said, we cannot allow the world's most dangerous weapons to fall into the hands of the world's most dangerous regimes, and will work tirelessly to ensure this is not the case for Syria.

Now we have some context for some scenario-spinning.

Syria has openly sought a nuclear capability. It claims its objective is civilian power generation only. Syria has a much more plausible case than Iran, in my opinion, given Syria's shortage of oil, presence of uranium resources, and the unlikelihood of a small, militarily weak state next door to Israel imagining it could successfully prosecute a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

During the Reign of Big John as America's WMD and counterproliferation czar--roughly 2001 through 2006--US hostility to any Syrian nuclear capability is absolute.

Syria tried to do nuclear power station business with the Russians but has been unsuccessful, undoubtedly due to US pressure.

The NPT process—by which signatory states allow their nuclear activities to be monitored in return to access to nuclear technology—isn't working.

And it's not going to get better.

Elbaradei, committed to the independence of the IAEA, is not going to be around forever. If a pro-US director general was installed, the emphasis is going to shift from traditional non-proliferation to counter-proliferation, demands to conclude the invasive Additional Protocol as a precondition for any further dialogue, and perpetual institutionalized hostility fueled by US and Israeli tips, innuendo, and pressure. And, undoubtedly, no nuclear power plants for Syria.

If Syria wants to obtain a nuclear capability while the environment at the IAEA is still relatively favorable, then maybe it would be seen as a good idea to get some nuclear technology from the only people willing to sell it—the North Koreans with their crappy, obsolete Magnox reactors—and get a facility up and legitimized while Elbaradei's still in office.

So, by my scenario, Syria builds a reactor in 2004-07, relying on a personal interpretation of its obligations under the Safeguard Agreement and recalling that it has opted out of the restrictive Additional Protocols in order to justify not notifying the IAEA that it is constructing a nuclear reactor.

Syria executes the project on the sly so that the United States doesn't unilaterally invoke the Proliferation Security Initiative , a Joseph and Bolton-designed, US-led “coalition of the willing” that, by 2005-2006, had tasked itself, in the absence of enabling UN Security Council resolutions and outside the IAEA, with interdicting North Korea's transport of proliferation related equipment and materials.

Then, at the politically opportune time, Syria planned to announce it has a civilian nuclear reactor at the ready and wants to run some power lines to it and fuel it, and negotiates a deal with Elbaradei—bygones be bygones!-- to get the new facility blessed by the IAEA and incorporated into the safeguards regime.

Syria would have a new bargaining chip: a legal, emergent nuclear program that Israel has to factor into its considerations as to how far it can push Syria, Lebanon, and Hizbollah. And a new source of prestige and leverage for Syria in the Arab world.

This scenario, as it so happens, dovetails with my theory as to why Israel had to bomb the Syrian facility in September of last year.

Yes, it was because the facility might be ready to come on line.

But not for the reason you think.

There was no nuclear weapons threat.

Even if the facility started up in 2007—and nobody seems to be saying yet they had the fuel to start it up—Syria would have at least a year away from getting barely enough plutonium for a bomb, even if they had the facilities for extracting it from the fuel rods (which they don't) or the equipment and technology to construct a gadget (which they also don't).

As for the spectre of radioactive debris if the IDF bombed the reactor after it was fueled, well, call me callous, but the Middle East is awash in depleted uranium courtesy of Gulf Wars I and II and I don't see a huge regional health hazard from the possible release of 45 tons of unenriched uranium. Besides, Global Security reported that the U.S. has all kinds of plans for bombing Yongbyon back in 1994 with minimized radioactive release and I think the Israelis can pancake a structure with the best of them.

No, I think the reason the Israelis had to destroy the reactor last year was because they didn't want the diplomatic headache of having to launch an attack after Syria went public and was involved in negotiations with Elbaradei and the IAEA.

Israel's current geopolitical stance—and its claim on undiluted, unquestioning US support—relies on its assertion that Israel faces existential nuclear threats from Iran and other nations that can only be pre-empted and not negotiated with.

Last October I wrote :

From what's been leaked we can conclude that the Israelis saw something in Syria that they declared, either through sophisticated analysis, an excess of caution and paranoia, or cynical calculation, to be something nuclear that they wanted to blow up and the White House without a great deal of enthusiasm, let them do it.

My take on the situation:

Israel's concerns—both Likud and Labor--are focused on regional security doctrine, the relationship with Washington, and the potential confrontation with Iran.

What Syria actually did or did not have in the desert was of secondary importance, and certainly was not an imminent threat.

Israel wanted to use its Syria findings to paint for Washington a picture of the Middle East with the proliferation genie out of the bottle and Israel threatened by Islamic nuclear reactors operated by duplicitous regimes in Iran and Syria and percolating with potential for covert weapons programs.

These programs would all be legal or quasi-legal, with their owners gaming the IAEA and hiding behind the NPT, stroking the Europeans, relying on Chinese and Russian diplomatic cover in the Security Council, acquiring forbidden nuclear technology from venal, immoral, and indifferent Russians, North Koreans, and Pakistanis, and creeping inexorably toward weaponization.

For the purposes of this policy, the destruction of an undeclared, menacing nuclear structure pays many more dividends than allowing its existence to be declared, explained, and defended, repeating the excruciating boxstep of intimidation, sanctions, threats of attack and IAEA negotiation that is currently going on with Iran.

In summary, Israel's attack on the reactor might be seen as a pre-emptive strike—against the IAEA.

One thing that observers might note is that North Korea is getting a pretty free ride from the United States, considering it proliferated reactor technology into the Middle East.

Specifically, I am not seeing the signs of orgasmic release I would expect from John Bolton if this revelation was a bombshell that promised to destroy the Six Party Agreement and shatter the reputations of his detested adversaries inside the State Department.

So I'm thinking that Kim Jung Il revealed information about the plant as a confidence-building measure to advance North Korea’s agenda with US negotiators, while hanging the Syrians out to dry. Maybe those incriminating pictures inside the purported Syrian reactor were snaps by a North Korean technician that Dear Leader passed on to Chris Hill.

In fact, there seem to be a lot of photographs, not just a few furtive snapshots taken by a daring spy, according to the transcript of the April 24 Syria briefing available on Arms Control Wonk :

And just to hit a point I said earlier, you see the kind of crawlspace back there? If you have access to the wealth of photographs that we had, you can work from the crawlspace to the wall to the windows to the ventilation duct to the duct coming out the window, and now you’re looking at the overhead photography of that window in the right place with the duct coming out of it.[emph. added]

As for the Syrians, they might have thought they were acquiring a risky but potentially valuable foreign policy asset. But now it just looks like a liability.

Instead of the prestige and leverage that membership in the nuclear club bestows, Syria spent several million dollars on a pile of rubble and got the short end of the stick as the United States demands that Syria “come clean”, and renews its efforts to ostracize Syria from the Arab states and Europe.

Now Syria has to wrestle with a fresh PR debacle as it battles the Hariri investigation and tries to stall the selection of the new Lebanese president until 2009 and a new US administration.

Rely on North Korean assistance and discretion to build a clandestine nuclear reactor within range of the Israeli air force?

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The F117A Swan Song, the Fall of the Belgrade Embassy...and China Rising

On April 22 (Earth Day!), the Los Angeles Times reported on the”secret retirement send-off” of the last of the F117A Stealth fighters, “those mysterious aircraft that revolutionized aerial warfare”.

The Times article is a competent piece of triumphalist milspeak including the inevitable handwringing over southern California's shrinking aerospace industry.

But there's a lot more to the story of the F117A.

The F117A was stealthy, but it wasn't all that stealthy. A Serbian anti-aircraft battery shot one down, apparently using obsolete Russian radar.

And it wasn't that secret.

Russia (which had originally developed the mathematics for stealth geometry) got pieces of the downed F117A to study.

The Chinese probably did too.

As a result, it's been speculated the F117A's stealth technology was sufficiently compromised that its deployment in South Korea was cancelled and it had to be retired prematurely in favor of the F22A Raptor.

And Chinese possession of Stealth wreckage is still the most likely explanation for one of the formative events in the creation of China's current geopolitical and military mindset: the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

A more complete story of the F117A would probably go like this:

Every year on March 27 the 250th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, now part of the Serbian Air Force, holds a raucous party. The main event occurs when a large cake bedecked with candles is rolled out. On the top is a rendering of an F-117A Nighthawk in chocolate. At precisely 8:42 pm, the exact time of the shootdown, the first slice is cut—through the port wing, which is the one severed by the SAM barrage.

1960s tube amplifier enthusiasts will be thrilled to learn that the Yugoslavian air force attributes the shootdown of the F117A to P-12 type vacuum tube-technology Russian radars so old the U.S. considered them obsolete.

According to their account, the F117A Stealth fighter was detectable by antique radar operating at wavelengths of 2 meters—a detail that had supposedly escaped the Stealth designers, who operated on the assumption that the plane would only have to be invisible to modern centimeter and millimeter wavelength radars.

On the evening of March 27, 1999 Yugoslavia's anti-aircraft defenses detected an aircraft entering Yugoslavian airspace at a distance of 80 km. The radar was immediately shut off, since U.S. planes were armed with radar seeking missiles that would fire automatically within 20 seconds and track the signal to its source and destroy it. The Yugoslavian anti-aircraft crews had been rigorously trained to either acquire and fire on a target or turn off their radio within this 20-second window. The radar was switched on when the target was about 15 km away and a barrage of SA-2 SAM missiles were fired manually. The F117A fell to earth. Witnesses said, “It looked like a sparrow shot from the sky.”

The shootdown raised an important tactical and strategic issue for NATO. Bad weather had limited helicopter operations and the U.S. was relying on high-altitude bombing to advance its war objectives. Therefore, a great deal of attention was paid to identifying and disabling Yugoslavia's anti-aircraft facilities.

The headquarters of the 126 Mid-Air Detection and Anti-Aircraft Battalion—which had detected the plane—was attacked 11 times, each time with 5 JDAM bombs. The 250th Battalion—which fired the offending SAMs--was attacked 22 times.

The Yugoslavs assert that the 3rd Brigade of the 250th Battalion, whose missiles actually brought down the plane, suffered no fatalities or casualties during the war, leading them to brag: “We're the real Stealth”.

For whatever reason—scientific countermeasures, espionage, or design flaws--it transpired that the F-117 was not as stealthy as the United States had consistently professed. In the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, the Yugoslavians contended that its radar signature was only reduced by 50%. Chinese scuttlebutt claimed that the United States withdrew F-117s from South Korea because it was believed they could not effectively evade Chinese detection measures.

In any case, the Air Force did its best to consign the F-117 to the boneyard before the service life it originally promised to the U.S. Congress for this aircraft has expired, and replace it with the F22A Raptor.

Turning to the matter of the downed plane, in 2001 the Russian government acknowledged they had obtained access to F 117A wreckage and stated they used it primarily to improve the anti-Stealth performance of their anti-aircraft missiles.

As is now known, Yugoslavians did not turn the entire wreck over to the Russians.

Portions are on display in the Museum of Aviation in Belgrade today and I came across an unconfirmed traveler's tale that tourists can even purchase souvenir fragments at the museum.

As to what could have been divied up with the Chinese, the advanced targeting, sensor, and communications systems that the Russians were purportedly interested in neatly dovetail with the reported Chinese take of INU, engine nozzle, and fuselage chunks.

It certainly is plausible that the Yugoslavian government would seek to extract as much propaganda, financial, military, and geopolitical advantage as possible from the F-117A carcass, selling the biggest piece to the Soviet Union but also sharing a few juicy scraps with the PRC, the junior partner in the de facto anti-NATO alliance.

As to whether or not the United States would deem it necessary or desirable to bomb the Chinese embassy to flinders in order to destroy the F-117A wreckage, the Clinton administration suffered a certain amount of criticism for not bombing the wreckage in the wheat field where the plane had fallen order to deny it to other unfriendly parties.

Analyzing the experiences of the Kosovo conflict, RAND opined:

Heated arguments arose in Washington and elsewhere in the immediate aftermath of the shootdown over whether USEUCOM had erred in not aggressively having sought to destroy the wreckage of the downed F 117 in order to keep its valuable stealth technology out of unfriendly hands and eliminate its propaganda value...Said a former commander of Tactical Air Command...”I'm surprised we didn't bomb it because the standard operating procedure has always been that when you lose something of real or perceived value—in this case, real technology, stealth—you destroy it.”

...Reports indicated that military officials had at first considered destroying the wreckage but opted in the end not to follow through with the attempt because they could not have located it quickly enough to attack it before it was surrounded by civilians and the media.

It's also interesting to note that the stated reason for not ordering an attack on the crash site was that it was overrun not only with Yugoslavian military types but also local rubberneckers and international journalists.

Instead of obliterating a white, Western audience the Clinton administration might have turned to a measure it had employed in the past, after the USS Cole bombing, when it faced criticism for being insufficiently martial and excessively dilatory: knocking down a Third World asset, in this case the Chinese embassy instead of a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant.

Maybe the U.S. honestly believed that there was some top secret stuff in the Chinese embassy, or maybe the Clinton administration was eager to forestall G.O.P. criticism of its handling of the F-117A shootdown and decided to respond with a showy if meaningless foray against an adversary that was proving somewhat nettlesome, but was chosen because it was vulnerable and unlikely to retaliate.

It is also worth recalling that, by CIA Director Tenet's own admission, of the 900 targets struck during the Kosovo war, the CIA was responsible for only one targeting package—the bombing that was ostensibly meant to take out an insignificant Yugoslavian paper-shuffling operation and ended up destroying the Chinese embassy's intelligence directorate instead.

An investigative report confirmed that, not only was the target selected by the CIA, the entire mission was flown by the United States outside of standard NATO channels (NATO, of course, was the vehicle for European and American intervention in the Kosovo conflict; it was not a U.S.-directed war).

China's Ambassador to Yugoslavia at the time, Pan Zhanlin, has written a Chinese-language memoir entitled My Encounter with War .

Living in Belgrade during the NATO bombing campaign, Ambassador Pan became something of an expert on precision-bombing tactics, and he reports on the effect of the five bombs in detail:

The first bomb entered the side of the building at an angle near the roof and tore through to the first floor and detonated at a bottom corner at the dormitory, tearing a pit several meters deep. One of the fatalities and many of the injuries occurred here.

The second bomb hit the middle of the roof and went through to the first floor auditorium, causing no fatalities but giving Ambassador Zhan food for thought by incinerating his office and melting the frame of his day bed.

The third bomb hit the northwest corner and blasted through several floor, killing two people.

The fourth bomb came in a window of the half basement, exploded, destroyed the embassy clubhouse and shattered the building's structural members.

The fifth bomb crashed through the roof of the ambassador's villa. Fortunately for Ambassador Pan, who was there at the time, it didn't explode.

Since B2s supposedly drop their bombs in even numbers to keep the plane balanced, there was speculation that perhaps a sixth bomb had also entered the basement; but it was never found.

The embassy bombing was quite traumatic to China.

However, when the attack occured, triggering official and popular anger within China, the West was disbelieving, dismissive—and defensive.

It was considered rather churlish of the Chinese to intrude their crude and manufactured nationalistic outrage into our “good war” narrative of the Kosovo conflict by trying to make political capital out of our honest mistake.

And even if we were willing to entertain the possibility that the bombing was intentional, the “precision bombing” meme offered the comforting idea that we had simply given a misbehaving office in the embassy an admonitory plink.

In this context, it is interesting to point out an inaccuracy in both the Observer and Air Forces Monthly accounts.

From the Observer: “The Chinese may have calculated that Nato would not dare strike its embassy, but the five-storey building was emptied every night of personnel.”

From AFM via Venik: Despite the fact that the embassy building was evacuated of all nonessential personnel during the hours of darkness to avoid any potential casualties, three Chinese were killed and more than 20 injured.

As both the casualty reports and Pan's account makes clear, the embassy was filled with people at night, including members of the staff who were afraid to go home because their residences were too close to NATO bombing targets in Belgrade.

In any case, both investigative reports erred on the side of credulity in minimizing the human cost of the attack—and the impact it might have on Chinese perceptions and policy.

Today, with further information on the attack and the benefit of perspective, it is difficult to dismiss the shock the Belgrade bombing inflicted on the Chinese.

Post 9/11, Ambassador Pan's description of the attack is depressingly familiar, and more difficult to disregard.

Pan's account reawakens dark memories of our own as he conveys the shock and fear as the embassy explodes into flames, “the loudest sound I ever heard”. Survivors found the stairwells blocked by rubble and fire and desperately improvised escapes down the exterior of the building using knotted drapes. Pan saw his friends and colleagues stagger from the ruins of the embassy dazed and bloody, crying out for help.

Amid the chaos everybody ducked in fear of a follow-up attack as NATO bombers thundered overhead (May 7 was one of the busiest nights for aerial bombing). Then came the frantic ad hoc attempts to rally the survivors, account for the living, and search for the missing.

First responders were at first unable to enter the compound because the electric gate was disabled when the bombing cut the power; ambulances raced up to the shattered structure with sirens howling to rush away the injured willy-nilly; embassy staffers mounted a frantic search through the local hospitals for the injured.

Finally, there was the extraction of the dead and the consoling of the wounded; the grieving; and the defiant patriotic oration.

Again viewed through a post-9/11 lens, Pan's account also paints a picture of a privileged elite that has been stripped of the illusion that it is immune to attack, and realizing with anger, shame, and disgust that at that moment it is helpless, vulnerable, and unable to retaliate.

My intention is not to evangelize the idea that there was F-117 wreckage in the basement of the Chinese embassy. Somebody in China knows what was really in the embassy, and I suppose one of these days they'll go public and we'll find out.

As the F-117 and its secrets fade into oblivion, what is worthy of further mulling over is the role that the Belgrade bombing seems to play as the creation myth of the birth of the 21st Chinese strategic military doctrine, founded on the assumption that the U.S. will unscrupulously use its military, diplomatic, and propaganda advantages not only to contain China but even to attack it when need, desire, and circumstances permit.

In this context, the Belgrade embassy is holy ground, and there are as many versions of the Truth as there are books in the Bible.

The recollections of China's ambassador Pan imbue a certain incident after the bombing with a heroic and close to mythic character.

The two comrades in charge of the embassy's important assets were Little Wang and Little Zheng. One slept in the duty office on the fifth floor, one slept in the dormitory on the fourth floor. Little Wang pierced through the dust and smoke and by the light of the flames descended from the fifth floor to the fourth floor. At this time, Little Zheng emerged from the bedroom. Little Wang grabbed hold of Little Zheng and ran back upstairs. Little Zheng had already been injured and his face was flecked with blood. People who ran into them urgently asked: “Why are you going back up?” Little Wang replied: “There is something that needs doing. This is our job.” They picked up four cases of national important assets and battled through smoke and pierced through flames to get downstairs. The stairwell was cut off, they stumbled down to the third floor. Ahead of time, the embassy had made various preparations for an emergency, so these four cases of important things had already been prepared. If any untoward event had occurred, they could be picked up and moved immediately. They knew, these things were more important than life.

Maybe the Chinese defense industry studied the wreckage and profited greatly from it; or got the fragments, threw millions of dollars at the problem, and was unable to do anything useful with it, which is probably not an uncommon fate in Chinese reverse-engineering boondoggles; or the spooks on the ground did get the stuff from the Yugoslavs but were unable to extract it from the burning embassy; or they never got it in the first place but, for reasons of national pride, want people to think that they did.

Whatever the real outcome, the “F-117 wreckage in the embassy” story has a lot of legs inside China.

For psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists as well as political scientists, I think a fruitful field would be the study of compensatory psychological mechanisms of weaker countries that have endured American military attack.

As I've noted above, we don't know if the Chinese were able to extract any intelligence treasures from the embassy, or even if the embassy was actually attacked on purpose, for that matter.

What we do know is that the embassy attack excited fears of anger and impotence within the Chinese elite, because they could not prevent or deter the attack, defend against the attack, or retaliate after the attack.

As an object lesson in the perils of military and geopolitical weakness, the Chinese probably paid some attention to the fact that somehow it was their embassy, and not that of Serbian ally Numero Uno and Most Plausible and Afterwards Officially Certified F-117 Wreckage Holder, a.k.a. the U.S.S.R., that got bombed.

Regardless of U.S. motives for bombing the Belgrade embassy or what treasures of military intelligence the Chinese were able to save from the wreckage, if anything was needed to focus Chinese attention on the dangers of the US GPS satellite network—and perhaps to alert the Chinese leadership to the shattering effectiveness of a sudden, unexpected strike--getting its embassy, intelligence directorate, and military attache blown up in Belgrade in 1999 probably did it.

On the psychological level, the Chinese coped with the bombing both by venting their outrage and by fixating on theories that China was able to claim a victory by extracting something of enormous value—F 117A parts, a Tomahawk missile, a JDAM—that mitigated the blow and “saved China ten years” in its military development.

A Chinese poster writes:

I believe that the U.S. attack on our embassy came from the fact that China's accurate reporting of the Yugoslavia war provoked America to anger and retribution. At the very least we can say that China’s strength really was incapable of hindering America's risky move. Now we know, and it causes us to appreciate even more profoundly that a nation, when it is poor and weak, is without recourse and pitiful (How helpless and evoking bitterness in people's hearts were the tears of Premier Zhu Rongji as he wept at the airfield when the remains of the martyrs were transported back to China).

I might add that Zhu Rongji projected a tough git’er done persona as Premier that would make an emotional expression like crying at the airport a memorable and significant image.

On a more practical level...well, I'll let the Chinese poster describe the consequences for military planners—and military contractors—both in China and the United States.

Detailing a litany of high-tech armaments from fighters to cruisers to nuclear submarines funded with a RMB 50 billion allocation, he concludes:

Afterwards we learned that after the bombing China engaged in deep reflection and understood reality more clearly...all of these [developments] transmit this single message to the world—China yearns to be strong and great!

Note to readers: In the spirit of Earth Day recycling—and to commemorate the retirement of the F117A—this post is a pastiche of two lengthy pieces I wrote last year on the F117 shootdown and the bombing of the Chinese embassy: The Belgrade Bombing, the F-117 Cake, and the Tears of Premier Zhu Rongji and Why China Hates Satellite-Guided Munitions, Part I: The Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999 : Readers interested in more information on the Belgrade embassy controversy and the full links are invited to refer to these articles.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

China Hand Article on Iran Sanctions Up at Japan Focus...

...and Bonus OTFI Anecdote for China Matters Readers

I have an article up on Japan Focus concerning the U.S. financial sanctions campaign against Iran and the resultant shift of Iran’s financial, economic, and diplomatic focus toward Asia and, in particular, China.

There’s a lot of information on the resistance and evasion the sanctions inspire, both in Asia and Europe, and I think it provides a healthy corrective to the one-sided America-centric “noose is tightening” narrative in the U.S. media.

It invites the reader to consider the iron law of unintended consequences, which in this case dictates that our adoption of a short-term tactic with a dubious track record and a dim prospects for success is causing not only a shift of tens of billions of dollars of trade toward Asia but also a fundamental and perhaps irreversible Iranian realignment toward China.

The piece is entitled US Sanctions Send Iran Into the Arms of Asia

I thank the editors of Japan Focus for the opportunity to contribute, and for their assistance in whipping the article into shape.

Because of the august character of the publication, and limitations of theme and space, I passed up several opportunities to snark on Stuart Levey and the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

But here, with no limits on topic, length, or the patience of my readers, I feel I can enlarge on the topic of OTFI’s questionable effectiveness as a projector of American “soft power” and illustrate my point with an unintentionally amusing anecdote from Stuart Levey concerning the Iranian outrage he exposed simply by opening his morning paper.

Certainly, Treasury is doing the Lord’s work in cracking down on international money laundering, particularly with respect to the oceans of cash that drug dealers attempt to move through the system.

But, as a March 24 article by Josh Meyer in the Los Angeles Times entitled Terrorism Money Still Flowing pointed out--as a column left front page story! and, to my mind, the first instance of less than adulatory coverage for Stuart Levey and OTFI in big media-- --OTFI has not demonstrated its ability to effectively interdict the relatively insignificant sums needed to mount a terrorist operation.

In my mind, the situation is even more dismal when considering the use (or abuse) of OTFI as a tool of American anti-diplomacy i.e. applying tools developed for the multi-lateral perfection of anti-money laundering measures to pressure foreign governments and international banks to promote U.S. financial embargos that they don’t necessarily support.

Wrong doctrine, wrong organization, wrong mission, in my view.

When it comes to the matter of breaking North Korea and Iran’s back with sanctions, OTFI is long on frequent traveler miles and short on accomplishments.

OTFI’s Stuart Levey is routinely lionized in the financial press as the suave, implacable Harvard lawyer who criss-crosses the globe (he’s visited 74 countries!) putting righteous fear of the United States Treasury into bad banks and nefarious regulators.

However, when he touts one of his signature achievements, the impression is less than overwhelming.

From Levey’s March 6 remarks to the ABA:

Let me give you an example I sometimes share to illustrate how the Iranian government will deceive and abuse banks that do business with them.

An affiliate of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran – an entity that was designated by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1737 – placed an ad in the International Herald Tribune requesting bids to build two nuclear power plants in Iran.

It is hard to imagine a transaction with bigger and brighter red flags for a financial institution. Bidders were asked to deposit a non-refundable fee in an account at a particular bank.

I have spared that bank, which is a well-established, high-quality bank, the embarrassment of identification here.

When I saw the ad, I called them, and they told me that this account had been opened at the request of the Iranian Foreign Ministry to support Iranian diplomats accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. They said they were dismayed when they saw the ad and learned that the Iranians were attempting to use their bank for this purpose.

The picture of Levey unfolding his IHT and spitting out his morning coffee in outrage at Iranian presumption is amusing.

Especially when one considers that, even though we spend about $90 million per year on the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network—of which OTFI is an important part—it’s also somewhat disturbing to think that this dastardly ploy might have escaped our notice if the boss man had hurried through his morning cruller and skipped straight to the comics.

But I suspect we had some help from our loyal allies as well.

What probably happened is that Israel’s Ehud Olmert spit out his morning coffee when he unfolded his copy of Ha’aretz—with the local edition of the International Herald Tribune containing the offending ad--neatly wrapped inside.

The Jerusalem Post and other Israeli outlets gave conspicuous and indignant play to the story.

One outlet reproduced the ad, permitting the curious to frustrate Stuart Levey’s efforts to shield the offending but ultimately undoubtedly contrite bank from international obloquy.

Courtesy of Aratz Sheva here it is:

Austria Bank—Creditanstalt

Deal with it!

Levey’s pride in his stunt is questionable on so many levels.

First of all, on the merits of the case, it appears Iran has a right to pursue nuclear power for electrical generation using light-water technology, even through a sanctioned organization.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1737 designating the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, which Levey cites, states:

“13. Decides that the measures imposed by paragraph 12 above do not apply to funds, other financial assets or economic resources that have been determined by relevant States:

(d) to be necessary for activities directly related to the items specified in subparagraphs 3 (b) (i) and (ii) and have been notified by the relevant States to the Committee

What’s listed under 3 (b) (ii), you might ask.

Exemptions for “the supply, sale or transfer of:
(i) equipment covered by B.1 when such equipment is for light water reactors;

(ii) low-enriched uranium covered by A.1.2 when it is incorporated in assembled nuclear fuel elements for such reactors.”

In other words, it seems all Iranian organizations, including those designated in the UN sanctions, are still free to engage in business relating to light water reactors using low-enriched uranium.

Of course, the intended beneficiary of this exemption was undoubtedly Russia, which is in the midst of executing the Bushehr contract and would not condone sanctions that would entail mandated non-payment for the millions of dollars of equipment Russia has shipped and is shipping to the site.

But the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency is allowed to engage in light water reactor-related activities, and that’s what we want to encourage, isn’t it?

Second, as a matter of geopolitics, some strategists might consider the fact that the Iranian government was willing to open competition for subsequent reactors at Bushehr to international bidding to be an interesting opportunity to wean Iran away from Russia and increase Iranian transparency and engagement with the West on nuclear issues.

Third, Levey by his own account saw fit to put the kibosh on this Iranian gambit at his own initiative. Consulting with State Department moderates and even NSC hawks was apparently unnecessary.

And there, in my mind, you have the OTFI problem in a nutshell.

Prone to error, answerable to no one, ill-suited to self-reflection, apparently oblivious to its own misjudgments.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

While the World Wasn’t Watching...

Pakistan Went Straight to Hell

Observers in the West, yours truly included, have been distracted by a series of shiny objects—Hillary! Obama! Tibet! Iraq!-- since Pakistan’s elections apparently put that country on the road to democracy by creating a parliamentary majority dominated by a coalition of the two main anti-Musharraf parties, the PPP and the PML-N.

While we were away, however, Benazir Bhutto’s widower and PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari has been working non-stop to remove his political rivals and solidify his place on top of the political heap—and make peace with Musharraf—at the expense of Pakistan’s democracy.

Zardari apparently sees himself as the rightful heir to the deal his wife had made with Washington—that the PPP would form a government after the election that would include Musharraf and his allies, exclude Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, and enjoy US support.

The United States has not been idle, of course. Once again the United States has found itself in the position of ostentatiously calling for democracy overseas, then energetically undermining it when the results don’t yield the outcome it desired.

At the end of March, National Security Advisor John Negroponte and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Boucher rushed to Pakistan on an unscheduled visit, to meet with the key political players and, presumably, insert America’s guiding hand in Pakistan’s politics.

US has assisted and enabled—if not guided—Zardari’s critical move to reach out to the MQM, the gangsterish party that controls Karachi and holds the key to Musharraf’s political survival.

MQM is responsible for the rioting and murder that convulsed the Karachi yesterday—and provided the first sign that Musharraf and the United States see a road out of their dilemma by fomenting a political crisis, probably with the help of Asif Zardari.

Zardari correctly sees virtually every politician and political force more popular than him as an obstacle and threat to his objective of riding a Musharraf/US alliance to political domination of Pakistan.

That puts a great deal on his plate because the removal of Pervez Musharraf is extremely popular—polling at about 70%--and Asif Zardari himself is not very popular man.

As a result, Zardari’s been working overtime to discredit and marginalize more popular figures like the PPP Old Guard and the lawyer’s movement, led by respected barrister—and PPP member--Aitzaz Ahsan,who is the touchstone for courage and integrity in the battle to democratize Pakistan.

At the same time, Zardari has reached out to anybody less popular than he is, a remarkable slate of despised figures including President Pervez Musharraf, the PML-Q party that the PPP and PML-N routed in the parliamentary elections, the murderous MQM—and the United States--to cobble together a ruling bloc.

At first, Zardari’s moves were almost laughably self-serving .

Despite a pledge to restore the pre-November 3 judiciary (that Musharraf had removed in order to get an unconstitutional second term as president while still in uniform), Zardari eagerly availed himself of the existing courts to get the outstanding corruption and murder charges (relating to highly plausible accusations that he had connived at the murder of his brother-in-law—and Benazir Bhutto’s brother!— black sheep radical politician Mir Murtaza Bhutto) against him dismissed.

Wiping the slate clean with the help of the Musharraf judiciary let the media ironically describe Zardari, the man universally known as “Mr. 10%” for his grafting ways, as “the cleanest man in Pakistan”—and removed the last legal obstacle to Zardari running for parliament in a by-election from his wife’s safe constituency, entering parliament, and becoming Prime Minister.

Zardari promoted a cringe-inducing cult of personality surrounding Shaheed (martyr) Benazir Bhutto while presenting himself as the ordained heir to her sacred nation-saving mission.

He presided over a meeting of the newly-elected PPP members of parliament and, instead of briefing them on the party’s platform for the upcoming session, orchestrated a performance in which Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, a senior PPP official who had once disrespected Zardari while the latter was in prison, now allowed himself to be seated in a chair before the puzzled assembly to recant and acknowledge Zardari was now “my leader”.

Zardari then delayed the calling of parliament to give him a chance to sideline Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the respected functionary who, as head of the PPP organization that contested the election, was both the constitutional and logical choice to be Prime Minister.

Instead, Zardari launched a whispering campaign against Fahim, accusing him of disloyally holding secret meetings with Musharraf—an accusation Fahim indignantly denied. The accusations reached a surreal pitch—and revealed Zardari’s anxiety about his legitimacy as Bhutto’s political heir—as Zardari’s creatures spread the allegation that Fahim had rushed off to meet Musharraf after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

Fahim, of course, had been at Benazir Bhutto’s side in the Land Rover when she was assassinated-- while Zardari was out of the country.

Zardari also addressed the threat from the lawyer’s movement led by Aitzaz Ahsan, flying in the face of history to dismiss the significance of the lawyer’s movement—which had stood up to Musharraf’s extra-legal maneuvers since March of 2007, gutted his popularity, and created the political crisis that forced him to allow Bhutto (and Zardari) and Sharif to return to Pakistan from exile to contest the elections.

Instead, Zardari claimed, the victory of democratic forces in Pakistan was the result of the martyrdom of his wife—and he dismissed lawyers as corrupt and self-serving.

Another meeting, this time of the PPP central committee, was transformed into a prolonged exhibition of Zardari’s pathological self-regard and tender pride as he discussed his resistance to reinstating the pre-November 3 judges as he had promised the PML-N and Nawaz Sharif:

Zardari said these were the same judges who had earlier taken oath under the PCO and validated the military rule. Referring to his jail life, a source quoted him as saying that he was let down by these judges, who had even refused to release him on parole to attend the funeral of his nephew. He said he was allowed only a two-hour parole despite Farooq H Naek's pleading before the same judges.

He said the then Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed had also refused him a parole. He termed the same judiciary biased, which he said was responsible for his eight years in jail. Party sources reported that Asif Ali Zardari was quite emotional while speaking on the judges' issue. One source said he talked of the restoration of the judges but linked it to a constitutional package. He said the party was interested in the independence of the judiciary and not in personalities.

A party leader said he was disappointed to hear what he termed the charge-sheet issued by the PPP co-chairperson against the deposed judges. According to him, almost 60 per cent of the co-chairman's speech was on Aitzaz Ahsan and the judges.

Zardari also went out of his way to widen a rift between himself and Aitzaz Ahsan.

Aitzaz Ahsan, who sought the restoration of the deposed judges, told the meeting that it would be in the interest of the party to get the judges restored.

Zardari, according to sources, came hard on the issue of the judges’ restoration. According to one source, Zardari snubbed the widely-respected lawyer leader and said he knew the worth of the judges whose restoration was being sought by the lawyers' community.

Zardari also purportedly claimed he feared a return to legal jeopardy for himself if the pre-November 3 judiciary was restored and perhaps decided to revisit the charges that the Musharraf judiciary had so complaisantly dismissed.

In my opinion, a more likely explanation for Zardari’s widely reported insistence on forgoing automatic restoration of the judiciary, replacing it with parliamentary review and control over judicial re-appointments, and under any and all scenarios implementing a “minus one” arrangement that would at the very least block the return of Supreme Court justice and national hero Iftikhar Chaudhry to his original eminence, is that Zardari desires a cowed and compliant judiciary that will not only decline to take the initiative in challenging the Musharraf presidency--it will also decline to dismiss the criminal cases that continue to hamstring Zardari’s main political rival, Nawaz Sharif.

After Amin Fahim capitulated and a more tractable PPP functionary, Yousaf Raza Gillani---regarded by many as merely a place-holder until Zardari entered parliament and became eligible for the PM slot-- had finally been elevated to the prime ministership, progressive Pakistani opinion was promptly horrified by a series of events.

Without consulting the coalition partners, Gillani called for and obtained a vote of confidence from Musharraf’s PML-Q—an indication that Zardari was engaged in covert dealings with the despised faction.

Zardari also unilaterally reached out to the MQM, a gangsterish political outfit that runs Karachi, has been an indispensable prop of Musharraf, and is despised by the PPP rank-and-file both for as status as the PPP’s bitter rival in Sindh and for its acts of mayhem and murder against PPP members.

Then Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, the very person who had groveled so gratifyingly before Zardari in the meeting of PPP parliamentarians and had been rewarded with the position of Minister of Defense in the new government, reportedly praised Musharraf as “a national asset”, apparently endorsing Musharraf as the indispensable ATM through which American aid must flow.

It became clear Zardari was assembling an alternative coalition of Musharraf allies against the day that Nawaz Sharif pulled the PML-N out of the coalition.

And it also became clear that PML-N withdrawal was inevitable because Zardari was prepared to break the bargain that had sealed the PPP-PML-N coalition: restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary within thirty days of the formation of the federal government, a move that would almost certainly involve in the removal of Musharraf and a decoupling from the United States on security matters.

If the PML-N withdrew from the coalition, Nawaz Sharif would become the logical focus of the anti-Zardari forces, which would probably include significant elements of the PPP old guard and supporters of the lawyer’s movement as well as his own party—in other words, the three most popular forces in the country.

Sharif—who perhaps had, with an excess of complacency, anticipated that Zardari’s venality and unpopularity would easily redound to the political benefit of the PML-N—is probably now calculating rather anxiously whether Zardari is going to try to neutralize him politically (Gillani’s most salient qualification as prime minister was perhaps that he had defeated Sharif in an election in the 1990s), legally (unlike Zardari, Sharif still has some legal vulnerabilities relating to his previous stint in power) or worse.

I’m not the only one who thinks Nawaz Sharif has to watch his back.

However, the most pressing priority for Musharraf and Zardari is discrediting the lawyers’ movement to restore the judiciary.

The lawyers have promised the embarrassment of renewed nationwide agitation—agitation that would force Zardari to take the profoundly unpopular position of standing with Musharraf against the lawyers--if the judiciary is not restored within thirty days of the formation of the coalition government, as per the Murree Declaration negotiated between Zardari and Sharif in March.

In an interesting illustration of what can happen to a vaguely worded agreement when bad faith is the order of the day, Nawaz Sharif believes that the 30 day clock began ticking when the new National Assembly was sworn in on March 17. Most people date the kickoff to March 25 , when the new prime minister was sworn in. But the PPP’s Rehman Malik, who has jurisdiction over the matter in his role as Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior,doesn’t even pretend he’s not stalling: he says the clock starts when the cabinet is sworn in—which hasn’t happened yet.

April 16, April 24, whenever, the lawyers are already getting ready to hit the bricks again.

In this unsettled environment, with Musharraf, Zardari, and the PPP digging in to block the lawyers, a truly remarkable event occurred on April 8: Dr. Sher Afgan Niazi, the parliamentary affairs minister in the previous government responsible for some of the more tortured legal justification for Musharraf’s rule, was apparently attacked in Lahore by a gang of...lawyers.

Aitzaz Ahsan went to the scene and tried unsuccessfully to calm the crowd.

Instead, the mob pelted Sher Afgan with tomatoes and worse, invaded the ambulance that was trying to drive him away, threw away the ignition key, and pounded him with shoes and shattered the windows as Good Samaritans tried to push the ambulance down the street.

The old man’s ordeal was captured on TV cameras and broadcast to a horrified nation.

Afgan, previously a figure of amused contempt, attracted widespread pity.

As for the lawyers, it was claimed that they had forfeited their claim on the nation’s sympathy.

A mortified Aitzaz Ahsan announced his resignation as head of the Supreme Court Bar Association—the prestigious pulpit from which he had championed the cause of the pre-November 3 judiciary.

Sher Afghan, who was not seriously hurt, returned to his home town of Mianwali, which showered him with rose petals, burned tires on the main roads, blocked the train tracks, held a general strike, and trashed the law offices of his local opponents, all in his honor.

Sher Afghan proclaimed his undying loyalty to Musharraf as the man who brought democracy back to Pakistan and accused the PML-N and the fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami of orchestrating the attack.

Almost immediately suspicions of a government conspiracy began bubbling up.

The PML-N’s parliamentary leader, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi offered accusations of his own :

What happened with Dr Sher Afgan Niazi,it is condemnable, he said "My servants had recognized those who had mistreated Dr Sher Afgan Niazi. They are intelligence agencies personnel. This is all brain child of agencies, he added.

The pro-government Daily Times obliged conspiracy theorists with a ham-fisted editorial depicting the lawyers as an out-of-control creature of the media now ready to be poked back in its cage, while significantly praising the PPP:

The power that the lawyers’ movement felt was based on the aggression of the bars, but the courage of its leadership to challenge and threaten the court and government came from the profile they had acquired on the TV channels. (The channels tended to ignore the early manifestation of violence among the lawyers as a sop to a growing solidarity between the two.) After the 2008 elections, however unfortunately and incorrectly, most of the channels developed a consensus that the mandate of the people was not in favour of the parties that won but the restoration of the judges and the ouster of President Musharraf. The two mainstream parties registered this with a slight variation of response. The PMLN embraced the new situation completely and began to reap media dividends; the PPP felt that it was being pressured too much by the “countdowns” handed down by the lawyers and sought a middle ground.

Another pro-Musharraf outlet, the Pakistan Observer, eagerly entitled its editorial “Is this the Beginning of the End? “(for the lawyers’ movement, that is), opining:

All this shows that the situation was moving in the wrong direction and it is time that the lawyers’ movement and the issue of restoration of judges is brought to a swift closure. Advisor to Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik has already ordered an inquiry, which would fix the responsibility, but it is quite obvious that those behind the unfortunate incident were none else but black-coat wearing lawyers.

Propaganda this crude and arrogantly blatant has all the marks of the Pakistan intelligence services, so I’m inclined to agree with the people who see the attack on Sher Afgan as an initial salvo in the campaign to discredit the lawyers and keep Musharraf in power.

Commenters on Pakistan political comment boards pointed out that it didn’t make sense that the lawyer’s movement, which had showed admirable restraint over the last year in the face of tear gas and baton charges, somehow had lost its discipline at the moment of its greatest triumph.

Also, during this prolonged, agonizing, and televised incident only one policeman showed up, an indication that this incident was allowed to happen. The Punjab government, it was pointed out, is still in the hands of the pro-Musharraf PML-Q.

The drift of the accusations seems to be that the attack was orchestrated by pro-Musharraf elements to discredit the lawyer’s movement and give Musharraf (and, many posited, Zardari as his silent partner) a pretext for not heeding its demand to restore the pre-November 3 judiciary.

Aitzaz Ahsan subsequently decided that the beating of Sher Afgan had actually been a government provocation. He withdrew his resignation and described the chaos in Lahore at a press conference:

"I came to know about Sher Afgan incident on Tuesday evening through media. I rushed there even at the risk of my life. But no government functionary turned up. Police did not stop the demonstrators despite my request. I tried to talk through megaphone from balcony. Only 40 per cent lawyers were found present there and the remaining were some other people. I appealed to lawyers to disperse and they did so. But the other people remained there.

He further said "I asked the police officers present over there to call in more contingent of police but it was not done so. I asked police officers to call police van and bring it close to door so that Sher Afgan could be pulled out from there. But police did not do so. I asked the police officers to remove a plain clothed man but they told he was a policeman. I knew he was not policeman and was some terrorist.

When I brought out Sher Afgan then police disappeared. When I took Afgan inside van, we came to know driver of the van was not there. People in plain clothes were found involved in the acts of sabotage. My friends and I tried to rescue Dr Sher Afgan even at the risk of our lives. But all happened under a planned conspiracy. People in plain clothes subjected Dr Afgan to violence".

Things quickly got worse.

The theatrical roughing up of Sher Afghan by pretend “lawyers” was followed up by the genuine murder of real lawyers in Karachi by the MQM.

Downtown Karachi was brought to a standstill by a bizarre and bloody and much more serious incident—another “lawyers riot”—in this case “lawyers” affiliated with the MQM claiming they were attacked while peacefully but rather inexplicably protesting the insult to Sher Afgan, who hails from a distant town in Punjab, not Sindh.

The MQM “lawyers” retaliated by setting fire to an office building and killing five lawyers within. Subsequent rioting and arson paralyzed the heart of Karachi and claimed several more lives.

Pakistan’s News editorialized:

One is the strange absence of any administrative authority in Karachi...and Lahore, where police and authorities had hours to mobilize themselves and mount a rescue operation to release Dr Afgan and other hostages. Why did it become necessary for Aitzaz Ahsan to intervene? Why did police not use force when no party or group had owned the siege? Why were large parts of Karachi engulfed in flames after a minor clash between lawyers? Whose interests are being served by this chain of tragic events and who is the target? Likewise everyone must see who, if anyone, is benefiting from the turmoil.

The good news is, following the initial dismay of the Sher Afghan incident and Aitzaz Ahsan’s abrupt if temporary resignation, the legal community and educated opinion have closed ranks, repudiated claims that the lawyers’ movement is out of control, and pressed forward with the agenda of complete restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary.

The bad news is, these are times of extraordinary danger for the more progressive forces in Pakistan politics.

With the entry of the PPP into the government, international attention has turned away from Pakistan.

Musharraf has the opportunity to put paid to the lawyers’ movement to restore the judiciary with the right combination of violence, slander, American support, MQM terrorism, and political cover from Zardari.

After the shock of the Sher Afghan incident, Aitzaz Ahsan must be viewing his future with a combination of determination and deep disquiet.

Again, from The Post’s report on his press conference:

Aitzaz Ahsan said that he will contest by-elections from constituency NA-55, if Pakistan People's Party (PPP) issued him the ticket. He said that PPP and Asif Ali Zardari have taken bold steps but there is a hidden power that is intriguing against the democracy.

Dark, dark days, indeed.