Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Massacre, Memory, and the Half-Buried History of America's Total War in Korea

In recent days, I've done three articles for Asia Times concerning U.S.-China tensions, as expressed in the maritime venues of the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan, and the South China Sea.

South Korea reels as US backpedals

China turns netizen anger on Seoul

A third piece on the South China Sea kerfuffle should go up in the next couple days.  (Update: the piece US goes fishing for trouble is up)

One matter I touch on is ROK President Lee Myung-bak's determined and successful effort to ingratiate himself to the United States. 

I suppose that truth and history are the first victims of a forward-looking diplomatic alliance, but I feel that Lee went too far with by gutting the Truth and Reconcilation Commission investigating ROK and U.S. atrocities during the Korean War.

On the American side, things did not go well in the Korean War, particularly during the initial rout that drove U.S. troops back to the Pusan perimeter, and some shaken units responded with massacre to their unnerving exposure to "people's war" and enemy combatants out of uniform and mingling with refugees.

But more importantly, the ROK under Syngman Ree in 1950 was in large part a congerie of Japanese collaborators and borderline fascists, the most viable allies the U.S. could come up with to counter a peninsula-wide explosion of revulsion against the 35-year Japanese occupation, political division, and archaic land-holding system that Kim Il-sung, an anti-Japanese guerilla and communist, was in an excellent position to exploit.

The U.S. solution for the shortcomings of its ally was a crudely applied and devastating experiment in total war.

Social and economic revolution followed the northern forces' advance on Pusan.  When the tide turned and U.S. and ROK forces drove northward, counter-revolution and white terror followed in their train.

Not hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands allegedly died at the hands of ROK forces as the U.S. Army looked on.

AP, in the face of intense vituperation, has systematically covered the unearthing of this dark period in Korean history.

Now, if the Lee Myung-bak administration has its way, that history will die unrecorded as the last survivors perish.

I think that's a high price to pay for an alliance.

Here's an excerpt from a recent AP report.

July 11
U.S. escapes blame in Korean death probe

Panel rules that refugee killings after the war arose out of military necessity.

CHARLES J. HANLEY and HYUNG-JIN KIM Associated Press Writers

SEOUL, South Korea — In a political about-face, a South Korean commission investigating a century of human rights abuses has ruled that the U.S. military’s large-scale killing of refugees during the Korean War, in case after case, arose out of military necessity.

Shutting down the inquiry into South Korea’s hidden history, the commission also will leave unexplored scores of suspected mass graves believed to hold remains of tens of thousands of South Korean political detainees summarily executed by their own government early in the 1950-53 war, sometimes as U.S. officers watched.

The four-year-old Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea probed more deeply than any previous inquiry into the country’s bloody past. But a shift to conservative national leadership changed the panel’s political makeup this year and dampened its investigative zeal.

The families of 1950’s victims wanted the work continued.

“The truth about all these past incidents must be revealed, so this national tragedy won’t be repeated,” said Yang Won-jin, 82, whose father was believed shot and dumped into a mass grave 60 years ago.

But the commission’s new president said its work must end.

“Even if we investigated more, there’s not much more to be revealed,” said Lee Young-jo, a political science professor who took charge last December.

Attempt to reconcile the past

The commission was established in December 2005 under the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun to “reconcile the past for the sake of national unity.” It had a broad mandate to expose human rights abuses from Korea’s pre-1945 Japanese colonial period through South Korea’s military dictatorships into the 1980s.

The most shocking disclosures emerged from the war that began when communist North Korea invaded the south on June 25, 1950, to try to reunify the peninsula, divided into U.S.- and Soviet-occupied zones in 1945.

The commission was the first government authority to publicly confirm what long had only been whispered: The U.S.-allied South Korean military and police carried out a vast secretive slaughter of political detainees in mid-1950, to keep southern sympathizers from supporting the northerners. Up to 200,000 were killed, historians believe.

Hundreds of petitions to the commission told another story as well, of more than 200 incidents in which the U.S. military, warned about potential North Korean infiltrators in refugee groups, was said to have indiscriminately killed large numbers of innocent South Korean civilians in 1950-51.

Declassified U.S. documents uncovered over the past decade do, indeed, show commanders issuing blanket orders to shoot civilians during that period. In 2007-2009 the commission verified several such U.S. attacks, including the napalm-bombing of a cave jammed with refugees in eastern South Korea, which survivors said killed 360 people, and an air attack that killed 197 refugees gathered in a field in the far south.

The liberal-led commission, with no power to award reparations, recommended Seoul negotiate with the U.S. for compensation for survivors of what it agreed were indiscriminate attacks. But the government of President Lee Myung-bak, elected in December 2007, has taken no action.

Lee’s Grand National Party had warned during his election campaign that the truth panel’s work could damage the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

Commission shuts down

Late last year, expiring terms on the 15-member commission enabled the Lee government to appoint more sympathetic commissioners, who opted not to extend the body’s life by two years and instead to shut it down on June 30. Lee, the new panel chief, withdrew from distribution a 2009 English-language report on commission findings.

The commissioners also toughened the criteria for faulting U.S. wartime actions, demanding documentary proof U.S. forces in each case knew they were killing civilians, commission investigators told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of their sensitive position.

In a rush of final decisions June 29-30, the commission found no serious U.S. wrongdoing in the remaining cases of civilian killings, attributing them to military necessity.

With military operations nearby, “collateral damage may be inevitable,” commission President Lee told the AP, using the U.S. military’s euphemism for civilian casualties.

“In many cases, we did not have documented evidence enough to clear the fog of doubts,” he said.


It’s more difficult to assess the U.S. role in an even greater wave of killings, the mass political executions of mid-1950 carried out by President Syngman Rhee’s government.

Family survivors hold the U.S. partly responsible, since the South Korean military executioners were under overall U.S. command, and U.S. officers were sometimes present, even photographing the grisly events.

Witnesses say that in the weeks after North Korea invaded in mid-1950, southern authorities emptied the prisons of suspected leftists, lined them up and shot them in the head, dumping the bodies into hastily dug trenches, abandoned mines or the sea. Few had ever faced trial.

Last November, after investigating petitions from surviving relatives, the commission announced it had verified and identified 4,934 execution victims.

But historian Kim Dong-choon, the former commissioner who led that investigation, estimates at least 60,000 to 110,000 died, and similar numbers were summarily executed when northern troops were driven from South Korea later in 1950 and alleged southern collaborators were rounded up. “I am estimating conservatively,” he said.

Korean War historian Park Myung-lim, methodically reviewing prison records, said he believes perhaps 200,000 were slaughtered in mid-1950 alone.

And that doesn't even include the history effectively bottled up by our quarantine of North Korea, which will presumably also be lost if the Grand National Party controls the reunification process and buries the evidence, memories, and outrage surrounding the appalling American air campaign against northern Korea from 1950 to 1953.

The U.S.responded to "people's war" on the ground with total war from the air executed in a primitive, almost atavistic manner against an Asian enemy that seemed to be treated as less than human.

There were no hearts and minds to win in this counterinsurgency; there were only ashes.

MacArthur did not get the 34 atomic bombs he requested, but Curtis LeMay threw pretty much everything else at the northern half of the Korean peninsula, including napalm, incinerating entire cities in virtually unrestricted strategic bombing over three years and blowing up the dams that provided irrigation water for 75% of the North's food crop. 

According to historian Bruce Cumings, the United States dropped an eye-popping 635,000 tons of bombs on northern Korea plus 32,557 tons of napalm.  That's more than we dropped in the entire Pacific theater during World War II. Most of North Korea's above ground infrastructure was annihilated and the civilian casualties were staggering. 

During the war, approximately 1.5 million civilians died in the north (roughly equal to the total northern, southern, US, and Chinese military casualties and southern civilian casualties combined), largely as the result of the U.S. bombing campaign.

And that only got us back to the 38th parallel! 

The U.S. military has always been grudging in acknowledging the limits of military power. 

There are always the hardheads who say that the only problem is that we didn't go far enough. 

In the Korean Armageddon, MacArthur was sure that he could win if he could, as Nigel Tufnel put it, turn the dial up to 11.

In his history of modern Korea, Korea's Place in the Sun, Cumings quotes from an interview MacArthur gave in 1954:

[MacArthur] said he had a plan that would have won the war in ten days: "I would have dropped between 30 and 50 atomic bombs...strung across the neck of Manchuria."  Then he would have introduced half a million Nationalist troops at the Yalu and then "spread behind us--from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea--a belt of radioactive cobalt...[which] has an active life of between 60 and 120 years.  For at least 60 years there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the North."..."my plan was a cinch."

The U.S.--not just MacArthur-- was serious about using nukes in the Korean War.  A significant factor in Truman's relief of MacArthur was that the president did not trust the vainglorious old warrior to properly implement a nuclear strategy that the U.S. eventually came pretty close to executing.

With the exception of the nuclear option, the U.S. let it all hang out during the Korean War, but total war and strategic bombing didn't bring victory; just a draw.  And it left a legacy of bitterness that has persisted for decades.

Because the full history of the Korean War remains untold, the United States military has never been forced to confront that failure.  That probably didn't help us either in Vietnam or Iraq.

Burying that history would a high price for an alliance, and also a high price for America as it struggles to understand the genuine costs and contradictions involved in trying to reconcile democracy, counterinsurgency, and modern warfare.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Waterboarding--For Coloreds Only

It's interesting that the pro-torture lobby didn't push for more enhanced interrogation of those 10 Russian

Everybody seemed to be in a rush to dismiss those folks--especially that cute girl--as harmless dingbats.

Doubtless, the Obama administration soft-pedalled the case so it wouldn't throw a spanner into the U.S.-Russia reset.  Also, of course, Russia was holding some of our spooks, and we didn't want to see them thrown into the meatgrinder.

But spies are spies and Russians are Russians.  They were our sworn enemies for half a century, we spent the next 20 years containing them, relations have been warm for all of, what, 3 months?, and we shouldn't believe that they are going to be our buddies forever.  Once President Medvedev finds out his new iPhone4 keeps dropping calls, the Cold War will probably be on again.

You'd think we'd be sure to wring those spies dry of useful intel before we handed them back.

Where's the conservative pundit invoking Kipling's famous parable warning of lurking Russian treachery in a period of rapprochement, The Truce of the Bear?:

"Two long marches to northward, at the fall of the second night,
I came on mine enemy Adam-zad all panting from his flight.
There was a charge in the musket - pricked and primed was the pan -
My finger crooked on the trigger - when he reared up like a man.

"Horrible, hairy, human, with paws like hands in prayer,
Making his supplication rose Adam-zad the Bear!
I looked at the swaying shoulders, at the paunch's swag and swing,
And my heart was touched with pity for the monstrous, pleading thing.

Nearer he tottered and nearer, with paws like hands that pray -
From brow to jaw that steel-shod paw, it ripped my face away!


Over and over the story, ending as he began: -
"There is no truce with Adam-zad, the Bear that looks like a Man!"

I hold no brief for torture, bigotry, or paranoia, but they seem to be staples of American security discourse.

For some people at least.

Now, I wonder what would have happened if the Justice Department exposed, for instance, a Muslim sleeper cell.

Do you think we'd send those brown people back to their country with a dismissive pat on the rump?

Nope, neither do I.

For a look at what America does when it's serious about interrogation, here's a repost of a piece on the torture--and there's no ambiguity about the word, the Department of Defense called it torture--of the so-called 20th hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani, at Guantanamo (follow the link to the original post for all the links):

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Taliban Trains Monkey Terrorists!

All trivial matters have been set aside to pursue the biggest story in Chinese media.

As People's Daily Online put it:  Monkeys trained as battlefield killers in Afghanistan

Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents are training monkeys to use weapons to attack American troops, according to a recent report by a British-based media agency.

Reporters from the media agency spotted and took photos of a few "monkey soldiers" holding AK-47 rifles and Bren light machine guns in the Waziristan tribal region near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The report and photos have been widely spread by media agencies and Web sites across the world.

According to the report, American military experts call them "monkey terrorists."

As a form of cruel political means, wars are launched to meet political goals through conquest, devastation, assaults and other means.

In a sense, the emergence of "monkey soldiers" is the result of asymmetrical warfare. The United States launched the war in Afghanistan using the world's most advanced weapons such as highly-intelligent robots to detect bombs on roadsides and unmanned aerial vehicles to attack major Taliban targets. In response, the Taliban forces have tried any possible means and figured out a method to train monkeys as "replacement killers" against American troops.

Analysts believe that apart from using "monkey killers" to attack the American troops, the Taliban also sought to arouse Western animal protectionists to pressure their governments to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

An American official responded that the Taliban forces have started training "monkey soldiers" after suffering heavy losses, implying that they have exhausted their tricks. Nevertheless, the Taliban believe that the emergence of "monkey soldiers" indicates that they have found smarter and more effective ways to cope with American troops.

Ironically, the initiators of "monkey soldiers" are the Americans. Between the 1960s and the 1970s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trained massive "monkey soldiers" in the Vietnam War and dispatched armed monkeys to dangerous jungles to launch assaults on Vietnamese soldiers. Today, the Taliban forces have given the American troops some of their own medicine.

When armed animals enter interpersonal wars, what kind of world will we face? This cannot but arouse our reflections and concerns.

This article has sparked a firestorm of derision around the globe. Nobody can locate the "British-based media agency" circulating the report, and the general impression is that People's Daily got punked.

It seemed to be off the People's Daily website for a while, but now it's back.

Amazingly, this was not the first appearance of the story in People's Daily.

On June 28, People's Daily ran the first story:

Taliban trains 'monkey terrorists' to attack U.S. troops

Afghanistan's Taliban warlords have developed a bizarre way to deal with foreign forces: they have trained monkeys who love to eat bananas and peanuts to be killers.

Taliban forces have taught monkeys how to use the Kalashnikov, Bren light machine gun and trench mortars. They also teach them how to identify and attack soldiers wearing U.S. military uniforms.

Ironically, the idea of training monkeys to fight was first invented by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA in the Vietnam War initiated a program that used the peanuts and bananas as prizes to train some "monkey soldiers" to kill Vietnamese in the jungle, according to a report by British media on June 27, 2010.

It is reported that these monkey soldiers are mainly composed of macaques and baboons hunted at an early age in the jungle and sold to the Taliban. These monkey babies who lost their mothers are sent to a secret Taliban training base one-by-one to become killer monkeys. Taliban militants use a series of rewards and punishments to gradually teach them how to use the lethal weapons.

Recently, a British journalist went to Pakistan and Afghanistan border of Waziristan’s tribal region where he witnessed a few of the monkey soldiers armed with an AK-47 rifle and Bren light machine gun. Taliban militants in the past have strictly kept the program secret.

However, Taliban leaders have recently taken the initiative show monkey soldiers to tourists of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area. Apparently, the Taliban look on monkeys as "propaganda tools."

"If a person who loves animals knows the monkeys may be injured in the war, they might pressure the government to force the withdrawal of western forces in Afghanistan," said one Taliban insider.

A senior U.S. military source confirmed the existence of the Taliban monkey soldiers, military experts call armed monkeys "monkey terrorists."

At the time, Apple News' CGI department--legendary for its digital imagining of Al Gore's alleged sexual encounter with a masseuse in Portland--took on the killer monkey story, and added the detail that the monkeys were first trained with wooden guns before graduating to the real thing.

A Shenzhen outfit called China Time further amplified the story, stating that:

"The KGB let the secret out; the ex-Soviet Union also studied monkey training and the secret fell into the hands of the Taliban". 

CIA specialists used peanuts and bananas and other rewards and punishments to train monkeys to use firearms as correctly as US solders, and also trained them how to discriminate enemy soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam and fire in the proper direction. KGB moles inside the CIA leaked the secret of the training of the "Monkey Army" to high levels in Moscow. Within a few months, the GRU, the military intelligence organization of the ex-Soviet Union had started to train its own monkey army. After the Soviet Uniion collapsed, those trainers of the "monkey solders" were suddenly unemployed. At that time they sold the secret of how to "train monkeys to become killers" to various military organizations. Now, it appears, they have also sold the "monkey training secrets" to the Taliban.

Rhesus monkeys are native to Afghanistan.  However, the Western literature seems to be silent on the monkey army issue, Operation Banana, or any other variations, and there is nothing like a "June 27 report from a British-based media organization" touting the Taliban monkey-training-terrorism angle.

The fact that People's Daily would not only release so absurd-seeming and thinly-sourced an article, but would do so twice and in the face of widespread ridicule is a most interesting and puzzling story in itself.

Friday, July 09, 2010

It's Official: America Has a China-Containment Policy

Official, as far as one can get based on a carefully briefed backgrounder U.S. Tomahawk Missiles Deployed Near China Send Message to Time magazine's Mark Thompson, that is.

If China's satellites and spies were working properly, there would have been a flood of unsettling intelligence flowing into the Beijing headquarters of the Chinese navy last week. A new class of U.S. superweapon had suddenly surfaced nearby. It was an Ohio-class submarine...[which holds] up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles...capable of hitting anything within 1,000 miles with non-nuclear warheads.

...alarm bells would have sounded in Beijing on June 28 when the Tomahawk-laden 560-ft. U.S.S. Ohio popped up in the Philippines' Subic Bay. More alarms were likely sounded when the U.S.S. Michigan  arrived in Pusan, South Korea, on the same day. And the Klaxons would have maxed out as the U.S.S. Florida surfaced, also on the same day, at the joint U.S.-British naval base on Diego Garcia, a flyspeck of an island in the Indian Ocean. In all, the Chinese military awoke to find as many as 462 new Tomahawks deployed by the U.S. in its neighborhood.

With all due respect to Mr. Thompson's skills in tracking and interpreting the movements of America's nuclear submarine fleet, I would imagine he may have needed a heads-up from sources in the U.S. government, especially in the matter of keeping a bead on the location of the Florida and defining its appearance at Diego Garcia as a message to China. 

It seems that the Florida has, as "America's first forward-deployed guided missile sub from the Atlantic fleet"  been calling at Diego Garcia and swapping crews for a couple years.  Also, Diego Garcia ("flyspeck" a.ka. supersecret military base created by secretly leasing the island and deporting all its inhabitants)  is closer to hot spots Somalia, Iran, and Afghanistan than it is to China.

Anyway.  Message received.

The move forms part of a policy by the U.S. government to shift firepower from the Atlantic to the Pacific theater, which Washington sees as the military focus of the 21st century.

The submarines aren't the only new potential issue of concern for the Chinese. Two major military exercises involving the U.S. and its allies in the region are now under way. More than three dozen naval ships and subs began participating in the "Rim of the Pacific" war games off Hawaii on Wednesday. Some 20,000 personnel from 14 nations are involved in the biennial exercise, which includes missile drills and the sinking of three abandoned vessels playing the role of enemy ships. Nations joining the U.S. in what is billed as the world's largest-ever naval war game are Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, Singapore and Thailand. Closer to China, CARAT 2010 - for Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training - just got under way off Singapore. The operation involves 17,000 personnel and 73 ships from the U.S., Singapore, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.


China is absent from both exercises, and that's no oversight. Many nations in the eastern Pacific, including Australia, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam, have been encouraging the U.S. to push back against what they see as China's increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea. And the U.S. military remains concerned over China's growing missile force - now more than 1,000 - near the Taiwan Strait. The Tomahawks' arrival "is part of a larger effort to bolster our capabilities in the region," Glaser says. "It sends a signal that nobody should rule out our determination to be the balancer in the region that many countries there want us to be." No doubt Beijing got the signal.

If, after all that, anybody believes that the joint US-ROK exercises in the Yellow Sea are primarily a response to the Cheonan sinking or, for that matter, part of an effort to deter the apparently undeterrable North Koreans, well, I have in my possession a stately edifice spanning the swelling bosom of the East River to link the County of Kings to the Island of the Manhattoes, available for purchase exclusively by such trusting souls.

The South Koreans get it, and Chosun Ilbo weighed in with an uncharacteristically cautious editorial on July 6:

These developments are showing signs of creating a Cold War atmosphere where South Korea, the U.S. and Japan face off against China and North Korea.

The U.S.-South Korea alliance forms the cornerstone of the South's national security and diplomacy. But China is South Korea's largest trading partner, and it also has a huge influence on peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula. The time has come for Seoul to factor into its diplomacy and security policies both China and its intensifying competition with the U.S.

The code word for "containment" in the Asian press, by the way, is "Cold War atmosphere".

The message that the Time article was meant to send was that the U.S. Navy are now devoted to defining, countering, and to some extent creating a Chinese threat in the Pacific in order to preserve the scale of its forces and protect its budget. 

The Chinese government, given the concerted efforts by the Obama adminstration to rollback China's influence throughout the world diplomatically and economically as well as militarily, will undoubtedly draw more sweeping conclusions.

I would take issue with two statements in Williams' article.

First, especially but not exclusively on the issue of the Korean peninsula, the U.S. is there as an unbalancer, not a "balancer" as Bonnie Glaser put it. 

The tilt away from the Six Party Talks structure including China to a strengthened ROK-USA security condominium is a signal that a Western response to instability on the peninsula, be it from "provocations" or the demise of Kim Jung Il, will not include China as an equal partner.

The U.S. media has largely ignored the vitriolic response in the Chinese press to America's military moves, but the Chinese clearly see that the pendulum has swung away from stability--with the U.S. presence precluding a rush to rearmament by Japan---to containment.

Containment, to China, implies that the U.S. will continue to fan fears of China's military ambitions to encourage the rise of India and the the creation of pro-American governments and policies throughout Asia and turn a blind eye or, even worse, extend an enabling hand to Asian states that develop adventurist ambitions in challenging China on the issue of the uninhabited but contested islands that dot the region.

I guess we'll find out if the Obama administration has a long-term plan sees an upside in a near-open breach of relations with China beyond giving the opportunity for the U.S. to play to its military strength in Asia and cooperate with local political leaders like South Korea's Lee Myung-bak, who want to use Washington as a counterweight to Beijing. 

My guess is that containment is pretty much a default strategy since the United States has not found a way to incorporate China as an effective partner in the U.S.-conceived international order, and the attractions of beating up on an undemocratic, opaque, and somewhat threatening--but not too dangerous--regime were too strong to resist.

I think Mr. Steinberg of the NSC et. al. decided that China was an easy mark because of its dependence on peace, global prosperity, and access to markets to advance its economics-based strategy of national development.

Also, I expect the fact that the Chinese military is a paper tiger figured into U.S. calculations.

The PLA has not fought a war since the border conflict with Vietnam in 1979.  It didn't do particularly well then, and the current generation of officers has never been "blooded" (experienced the routine chaos and catastrophe of actual battle) and is unlikely to seek out on-the-job training by engaging the world's biggest and most experienced military in a genuine conflict.

But I wonder if going zero-sum with China in Asia is really where we want to be.

I'd say that Chinese distrust of the Obama administration is now terminal, its anxiety palpable, and its determination to come up with effective countermeasures implacable.  I expect they'll come up with something interesting and, perhaps, unexpected.

Second, Mark, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam, are in the western Pacific, not the "eastern".  That grinding sound you hear is Henry Luce churning unhappily in his grave.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Backgrounder on Bombing of Data Darbar Shrine in Lahore, Pakistan

The bombing of the Data Darbar shrine--tomb of the Sufi master Datta Ganj Bahksh--in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province, is a big deal.

It's like setting off a bomb in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Data Durban is at the core of Punjabi cultural identity.

When Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia to join the general election contest in 2008, one of his first acts was to pay a high profile visit to Data Darbar.  (For comparison purposes, Benazir Bhutto patronized a Sufi shrine at Qalandar in her family's power base in Sindh.)

The visit not only cemented Sharif's image as a son of Punjab--his electoral base.  It also showed that he was not in thrall to the anti-Sufi bigotry of his Saudi Wahabbi patrons.

The Deobandi school of Islam to which the Taliban subscribe view Sufi observance as a form of heresy.  Indeed, Deobandi doctrine emerged as a reaction to Sufism and still retains some Sufi elements, particularly in the areas of charismatic leadership (the Taliban expects miracles of living exemplars like Mullah Omar, not dead mystics).

Sufism also has its political element, since the guardians of Sufi shrines--the pirs--are a bulwark of the conservative power structure. 

The Data Darbar atrocity may have been committed by the little-known Punjab Taliban as part of an effort to shatter the religious and social foundations of the province.  Or it may have been a conventional Taliban operation to punish Pakistan for its acquiescence to US-led military campaigns and drone strikes on the Afghan frontier.

Interestingly, the Punjab Taliban disavowed responsibility for the attack, though this may have been simply a response the widespread revulsion the attack evoked throughout the province.  Via The News:

PESHAWAR: The Punjabi Taliban on Friday denied their involvement in the devastating terrorist attacks at the Data Darbar in Lahore and condemned the killing of innocent worshippers in the shrine and the adjacent mosque.

Also, the Urdu-speaking militants’ spokesman termed the suicide attacks as acts of intelligence agencies and the US security firm Blackwater aimed at tarnishing the image of Mujahideen.

“We cannot even think of taking the life of a single innocent human-being. This brutality to defame the Mujahideen should be expected from spy agencies and Blackwater,” Mohammad Omar, the spokesman for the Punjabi Taliban, stressed. Omar called The News from an undisclosed location to clarify the position of his militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, about the Lahore attacks.

So did the Pakistani Taliban, according to the Daily Times:

TTP denies role in Lahore blasts

MIRANSHAH: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Friday denied any involvement in a triple suicide bombing on the Data Darbar shrine in Lahore that killed 42 people and wounded 175 others. “We are not responsible for these attacks, this is a conspiracy by foreign secret agencies, you know we do not attack public places,” Azam Tariq, a spokesman for the TTP told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location. “We condemn this brutal act. Our target is very clear and we only attack police, army and other security personnel,” he added. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack in Lahore, a cultural hub considered a playground for the country’s elite and home to many military and intelligence top brass.

If the attack was a Pakistan or Punjab Taliban plot to spark a sectarian war inside Pakistan, they've changed their tack pretty quickly.

No denials from the Afghan Taliban yet.

In any case, AP reported a remarkable deficit in Taliban-directed outrage.  Anger has focused on the security and policy shortcomings of the Pakistan government.

It might have something to do with a Pakistan perception that they are being asked to endure the consequences of religiously-defined Pashtun extremists, while unable to deal with the root cause of the problem.

Pakistani opinion seems to believe that a successful war of extermination against extremist Pashtuns, either in Afghanistan or in Pakistan's NWFP and tribal areas, is doomed to failure.  All things being equal, I think that they would prefer to struggle against Taliban extremism by unambiguously occupying the moral and tactical high ground of religious moderation in a purely domestic political and social struggle.

Currently, the anti-Taliban campaign in Pakistan is hopelessly tangled up with the U.S. effort in Afghanistan to prop up a government perceived as pro-US and pro-Indian in order to exclude the Taliban from power.

Given the conspicuous if temporary faltering of the US effort in Afghanistan, Pakistanis might be questioning if its worth enduring such savage blowback from US drone attacks and military operations just to give the Karzai regime a few more months in office until the whole US adventure collapses or, as appears more likely, he negotiates a political settlement with the Afghan Taliban.

I think many Pakistanis feel that, if the Taliban returned to Kabul, it might be bad for Afghanistan but good for Pakistan.  The Taliban, secure in Afghanistan and no longer needing havens in the Tribal Areas, would be able to accommodate their patrons in the Pakistani intelligence services and rein in the indigenous Taliban movements inside NWFP, Punjab, and Karachi.  Taliban extremism does not travel well beyond its Pashtun heartland, the theory goes, and could be sliced and diced, divided and conquered, and rolled back to the mountains.

This may explain why Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz, Chief Minister of Punjab, have yet to weigh in with an outraged denunciation of the forces suspected of executing the bombing.  Sharif's PML-N, though secular, pointedly distances itself from U.S. policy goals in Afghanistan and has been suspected of a willingness to work with and accommodate Islamic extremist parties.

I haven't seen any statements by Nawaz Sharif in the Pakistani press similar to the rather brave condemnation  he made of attacks on Ahmadis--an Islamicist sect explicitly disenfranchised by the Pakistan constitution for some spectacular and unpopular heresies-- by extremists on May 29.  Organized assaults killed 100--twice the number of fatalities as inflicted at the Data Darbar horror--at two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore.

The dominant confession in Pakistan's urbanized heartland is Barelvi--a pacifistic Sunni sect sympathetic to Sufism--not Deoband.

However, the minority Deobands punch far above their weight in Pakistan politics, thanks to government intelligence agency sponsorship (a by-product of the whole Pashtun/Afghanistan strategy), support from Saudi Arabia, and violent tendencies that, in the context of Pakistan's impoverished society and corrupted polity, resonate with too many unhappy people.

Local media reported that the Punjab police had succeeded in apprehending some miscreants involved in the May 29 attacks.  The extremists are astoundingly well-equipped.  Police seized 100 assault rifles, 18 suicide vests and more than 40,000 pounds of explosives during their raids.

Below the fold, more background on the religious landscape in Pakistan mined from two previous posts, Things Fall Apart (covering a similar attack on the most important Sufi shrine in NWFP, that of  Rehman Baba, in March 2009) and Blood on the Moon  (a discussion on how skirmishes over how to determine the appearance of the new moon and end of Ramadan reveal dangerous religious rifts within Pakistan).  Interested readers can click on the links for the full articles and hyperlinks.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Exclusive! Full Text of The Korean Peninsula: Gunshots Cut Across 60 Years

I have an article up at Asia Times, China smarts at US slap concerning the US and ROK's highly successful effort to put China behind the 8-ball for refusing to join the chorus of condemnation of North Korea over the Cheonan sinking.

An interesting sidelight to the article is China's halting attempts to establish an enlightened, honest broker position on matters pertaining to the Korean peninsula.  In particular, I discuss after-the-fact Chinese censorship of an article in Xinhua's International Herald Leader that, for one brief, shining moment, acknowledged that North Korea actually started the Korean War on June 25, 1950.

I was smart enough, fast enough, and, darn it, good enough to find and download the text of the original International Herald Leader article before it disappeared down the memory hole.

Back on June 25, I'd found the article on 17 sites through Google.  About half the sites had the full text; the rest had either pulled the article, edited out the reference, or truncated the article to remove the timeline where the offending fact resided.

Interestingly, it took a few days before the order to quash the article propagated through the Internet.  But last I checked on June 28, none of the bulletin boards and aggregaters that had originally pasted the new article still had it.

The image to the upper right shows the front page of the print edition of the International Herald Leader.  After the break, for readers who cannot get enough of Korean War history and ham-fisted exercises in government censorship, is the full text of the original article.  Heck, if Politico and Time can do it, why can't I?