SACW - 6 May 2013 / Shahbag and Islamists violence in Dhaka / Pakistan Elections, Taliban and Minorities / Sri Lanka: suppression of dissent / India: Gujarat conspiracy; No Bread
- South Asia Citizens Wire - 6 May 2013 - No. 2781
Bangladesh: Islamists Run Riot in Dhaka - selected press reports 5-6 May 2013
Pakistan: gun law - Editorial, The Guardian
Pakistan: Provide Security, protect 2013 elections from Taliban attacks - Human Rights Watch
Pakistan: Democracy under attack
India: Press Statement by Committee for Release of Political Prisoners - 3 May 2013
ADB challenged to ditch its Anti-People Policies and Projects, pursue Genuine Development
India: From Rags to Penury
Pakistan 2013 National Elections: Minority Seats Bought and Sold by Political Parties
India: Crumbs on the plate
India: No bread, lots of beer
Footprints Volume 1, Issue 2, 1st May 2013 1st May 2013
UK: East London community leader on war crimes charge in Bangladesh
Joint Statement by Indians and Pakistanis on the Demise of Sarabjit Singh
Whose side are you on?
Shahbagh no imperialist conspiracy, Mr Umari
Videos of CUNY Seminar: Understanding Shahbag - Bangladesh at a Crossroads
Sri Lanka: Amnesty International report on suppression of Dissent
Press Release: High Court Directs Bangladesh Bank to Freeze Accounts re Rana Plaza Collapse
India: recent posts on communalism watch
Hamas ‘Talibanising’ Gaza
The Tea Party and the Muslim Brotherhood: Twins Separated at Birth
Book Review: Advantage Pyongyang (Richard Lloyd Parry)
BANGLADESH: ISLAMISTS RUN RIOT IN DHAKA - SELECTED PRESS REPORTS 5-6 MAY 2013
1. Hefajat Strikes Horror
2. 13-point demand - Hefajat cuts off capital from country
3. Three dead in Dhaka as Bangladeshi Islamists protest for blasphemy law
4. 3 killed as Paltan turns battlefield - Police open fire to control situation
PAKISTAN: GUN LAW
Editorial, The Guardian
(The Guardian, Friday 3 May 2013)
The killing of Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali is a potent reminder that politicians work in the shadows of darker forces
Any number of people had an interest in killing the Pakistani prosecutor investigating the murder of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali represented the Federal Investigation Agency which has implicated the former military leader Pervez Musharraf in the security arrangements that led to Ms Bhutto's death. But the prosecutor was also involved in the trial of seven members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, accused of orchestrating the Mumbai attacks in 2008.
The brave fallen prosecutor had therefore three potent foes: Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistani Taliban known as the TTP) who are thought to have killed Bhutto; Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT); and, standing behind both, the Pakistan army's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). LeT was founded with help from the ISI. The army says it has cut all links with the group, although its alleged leader, Muhammad Hafiz Saeed, lives openly in Lahore. They claim, too, they have no control over the Pakistani Taliban, although again few believe that all connections have been severed, despite the fact LeT have repeatedly attacked military targets. The murder took place in a suburb of the capital Islamabad which is ringed by a security cordon. That only adds to the suspicion of collusion.
The killing therefore set any number of conspiracy theories going: that the military had been alarmed by Musharraf's arrest and imprisonment since returning to Pakistan; that they would lose face if their former commander were held accountable for security failings involved in Bhutto's murder; that this was a message being sent to Nawaz Sharif, the likely winner of the forthcoming election, and his chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, two of Musharraf's arch enemies, as the case against the former military leader hots up. No one will ever know. No one has been convicted of the murder of Ms Bhutto and it is more than likely that the same impunity will exist for the killer of the prosecutor pursuing the case.
This has long since ceased to be a free election, in the sense that three parties can not campaign. Since the Taliban declared the elections to be part of an un-Islamic system which serves only infidels and the enemies of Islam, the Pakistan People's party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National party (ANP) have ceased holding rallies. Human Rights Watch now puts the tally at over 80 killed and 350 injured in gun and bomb attacks on meetings and election offices.
This may be Pakistan's first transition from one democratically elected government to another. But all politicians are reminded every day that they exist in the shadows of darker and more powerful forces.
PAKISTAN: PROVIDE SECURITY, PROTECT 2013 ELECTIONS FROM TALIBAN ATTACKS - HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
(Islamabad) – Pakistan’s interim government should take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of candidates and political party activists at risk of attack from the Taliban and other militant groups, Human Rights Watch said today. Nationwide parliamentary elections in Pakistan are scheduled for May 11, 2013. Since April 21, when election campaigning formally began, the Taliban and other armed groups have carried out more than 20 attacks on political parties, killing 46 people and wounding over 190. Earlier in April, another 24 people were killed and over 100 injured in election-related attacks.
PAKISTAN: DEMOCRACY UNDER ATTACK
by I.A. Rehman
QUITE a few observers have declared that the 2013 elections have already been subverted. Worse, the ostriches in command have buried their little heads in the sand. The terrorist attacks on candidates, election meetings and political workers have certainly made holding a free and fair election nearly impossible. Except for Punjab, all parts of the country are disturbed, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Fata in an acute state of disorder. Thus, peaceful elections (...)
INDIA: PRESS STATEMENT BY COMMITTEE FOR RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS - 3 MAY 2013
We, the undersigned, wish to express our outrage at the manner in which the Press Club of India canceled the booking of the Press Conference called to condemn the illegal detention of Yasin Malik and the refusal to allow the fundamental right of democratic protest to Kashmiris (families of victims of “disappearance” and those languishing in jails over years) at Jantar Mantar today. Under the clear instructions of the Indian State, the Press Club officials (themselves journalists) canceled the booking for the Press Conference at the last minute.
ADB CHALLENGED TO DITCH ITS ANTI-PEOPLE POLICIES AND PROJECTS, PURSUE GENUINE DEVELOPMENT
As the Asian Development Bank's 46th Annual Governors' meeting unfolds today in Noida, India, the Asia Pacific Research Network challenged the ADB to abandon its anti-people and market-centric development framework that has led to massive disempowerment and impoverishment of the people.
INDIA: FROM RAGS TO PENURY
India's planners worry about ‘jobless growth', but perhaps nothing illustrates this phenomenon better than a policy of handing over the collection and disposal of the capital's refuse to large private corporations, leaving close to 50,000 ragpickers unemployed.
PAKISTAN 2013 NATIONAL ELECTIONS: MINORITY SEATS BOUGHT AND SOLD BY POLITICAL PARTIES (SELECTED PRESS REPORTS)
KARACHI: Civil society organisations termed the minorities' representation in upcoming general elections as inappropriate, further alleging that the reserved seats for minorities are being sold out at hefty prices to affluent individuals.
INDIA: CRUMBS ON THE PLATE
by Harsh Mander
It now seems increasingly unlikely that Parliament will consider the National Food Security Bill during this budget session. In a land which for centuries suffered devastating famines, where chronic hunger continues to stalk more than 200 million people, and which is home to every third malnourished child on the planet, this would be one more sad betrayal of the country's indigent millions, a reminder of how little they count.
INDIA: NO BREAD, LOTS OF BEER
by Jean Dreze
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has aptly described the persistence of mass undernutrition in India as a “national shame”. What is even more shameful, however, is the passivity of the government — and of the country — towards this humanitarian emergency.
FOOTPRINTS Volume 1, Issue 2, 1st May 2013 1st May 2013
Contents: 1) The Maharashtra Irrigation Scam 2) Policy Watch: Street Vendors Bill 3) Aggravated Patriarchal Violence under Neo - Liberalisation - Gabriele Dietrich 4) Movement Profile - Parayavaran Suraksha Samiti 5) Protest Updates - FootPrints
UK: EAST LONDON COMMUNITY LEADER ON WAR CRIMES CHARGE IN BANGLADESH
(BBC News Report - 2 May 2013) A community leader from east London has been charged with war crimes in Bangladesh. Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin denies the charges which relate to the country's struggle for independence in the 1970s. A court has issued an arrest warrant for him and if he is sent back he could face the death penalty. Asif Munier, who is a son of a victim; documentary producer Gita Sahgal and defence lawyer Toby Cadman react to the charges.
JOINT STATEMENT BY INDIANS AND PAKISTANIS ON THE DEMISE OF SARABJIT SINGH
Pakistan and India should especially ensure that all steps are taken for complete protection and safeguarding all human rights of the prisoners of other country in their jails.
by Afiya Shehrbano
To suggest that all people are equal, in all respects, regardless of race, class, gender or religion (including intra-faith sects), is now taken by some as an attack on the exceptionalism of Muslims.
WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?
by Javed Anand
Leaders and the led from a host of rightwing Indian Muslim organisations – Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JEI), All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, All India Milli Council, All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, West Bengal Sunnat Al Jamaat Committee included – have not been sleeping well in the last several weeks. Their angst is on two counts. One, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) set up by the ruling Awami League in 2009 to investigate and prosecute suspects for the genocide committed in 1971 by the Pakistan army and their local collaborators, Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Two, the “atheist conspiracy” to banish Islam from Bangladesh that is supposedly behind the lakhs who have been thronging Shahbagh.
SHAHBAGH NO IMPERIALIST CONSPIRACY, MR UMARI
by Subhash Gatade
Today it might be the case that people in many of the Muslim majority countries are veering around the idea of giving more space to Islam in governance but it has not been the case earlier. In fact, during the 1960s, the predominant ideology within the Arab world was in fact pan-Arabism which deemphasized religion and emphasized the creation of socialist, secular states based on Arab nationalism rather than Islam. And in many other newly independent countries, with a significant population of Muslims which had their own genesis in leading anti-colonial struggles, there was still more space for running governments on secular principles.
VIDEOS OF CUNY SEMINAR: UNDERSTANDING SHAHBAG - BANGLADESH AT A CROSSROADS
recordings from Panel Understanding Shahbag: Bangladesh at a Crossroads held at City University of New York on May 2, 2013 (Time: 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm)
SRI LANKA: AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT ON SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT
The document, “Assault on Dissent”, reveals how the government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa is promoting an official attitude that equates criticism with “treason” in a bid to tighten its grip on power. Journalists, the judiciary, human rights activists and opposition politicians are among those who have been targeted in a disturbing pattern of government-sanctioned abuse, often involving the security forces or their proxies.
PRESS RELEASE: HIGH COURT DIRECTS BANGLADESH BANK TO FREEZE ACCOUNTS RE RANA PLAZA COLLAPSE
The High Court today directed the Bangladesh Bank to issue a circular on concerned commercial banks imposing restrictions on withdrawal or transfer of money by the owners of Rana Plaza in Savar and by owners of the five RMG factories located there. It noted that the salaries of the workers should nevertheless be paid from these accounts under BGMEA's supervision.
INDIA: RECENT POSTS ON COMMUNALISM WATCH
7/11 Mumbai train blasts case: Big holes in Maharashta Anti Terrorism Squad
Two Best Bakery accused arrested for Ajmer Sharif blasts
PIL against Koi Po Che for "biased" portrayal
Biases about Identity of terrorists
Two books on Narendra Modi establish why it is silly to hope that the bigot will ever be any less bigoted
Indian Americans welcome USCIRF's recommendation to deny visa to Narendra Modi
Sick Report - editorial, The Telegraph
Ishrat Jahan encounter: Court clears way for arrest of top cops
Sajjan Kumar acquitted in a 1984 riots case, but legal options against him not exhausted yet
Gujarat State BJP President and Rajya Sabha MP forged documents to malign Anhad
The CSDS professor cum Modi publicist going full steam
Gujarat: Contours of a conspiracy
Tales told by the anti-terrorism squad
Indian National Pushkin Agha's arbitrary arrest
On the Purge and Sanskritization of Khari Boli
HAMAS ‘TALIBANISING’ GAZA
by Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank, May 3 2013 (IPS) - The Islamist resistance group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is being accused by its Palestinian Authority (PA) rivals in the West Bank of Talibanising Gaza and turning the coastal territory into a new Muslim Brotherhood neighbourhood.
Earlier in the year Hamas launched a “virtue campaign” aimed at spreading Islamic Sharia and fighting against “Western dress and behavior.”
Following a recent law passed by Hamas, when the new school year begins from September this year, it will now be illegal for male school teachers to teach Palestinian girls in Gaza’s schools. Furthermore, girls and boys from the age of nine upwards will be forcibly segregated throughout the Gaza Strip, including those in private and Christian schools where co-education exists to a certain degree.
The law will affect the seven percent of schools in Gaza that are private, including Christian schools. They will need to finance the expansion of their buildings to be able to hold special classes for each gender. Gaza has 690 schools with 466,000 students for a population of 1.7 million.
“This is ridiculous. What is wrong with boys and girls learning together?"
Another article of the law regulates relations between Palestinian educational institutions and Israel, by banning schools from receiving aid meant to encourage or promote the normalisation of relations with Israel.
This latest crackdown on civil liberties follows earlier campaigns which have seen women banned from riding on the back of motorcycles, a common form of transport in the territory where fuel is scarce. Women have also been banned from smoking water pipes in public, and couples on the streets have been subjected to interrogations by Hamas security members.
Male hair stylists are forbidden from styling women’s hair while female runners were banned from taking part in a marathon organised by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, leading UNRWA to cancel the event. The marathon went ahead in the West Bank, attracting international competitors and Palestinian women.
In the West Bank there is no law segregating boys and girls in early school. However, apart from some schools including private and Christian schools, there is a general segregation of the sexes in high school.
But choice is an issue for many Palestinians, and Hamas legislation on “how to be a good Muslim” is seen as enforcement of the Hamas political agenda.
“This is ridiculous. What is wrong with boys and girls learning together? As a Muslim and a parent I want the choice as to whether I send my children to a mixed school or a gender segregated one,” says Rana Atta from the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee (WATC) in Ramallah in the West Bank.
Atta, who wears a head scarf, says that the new legislation introduced by the Hamas authorities not only violates human rights but is contrary to the spirit of education which should be promoting gender equality and an inclusive society representative of all.
“It’s illogical that male teachers will now be forbidden from teaching girls. Just as boys should be exposed to female teachers as an integral part of our society, so should girls be exposed to male teachers. I seriously wonder about the educational background of the people who are introducing these new laws in Gaza,” Atta tells IPS.
In a press statement, the Gaza Centre for Womens’ Legal Research and Consulting condemned the decision as “gender-based discrimination.”
When Hamas took over full control of the Gaza Strip it promised to respect the civil liberties of Palestinians, a promise that the Islamic movement has increasingly broken with growing militancy.
“Hamas is slowly engaging in a process of the Islamisation of Gaza. A process which is not constitutional on the one hand and neither is it popular with Gazans on the other,” says Dr Samir Awad, a political analyst from Birzeit University, near Ramallah.
“They have gone so far as to threaten the Palestinian contestant of Arab Idol with legal action and accusing him of engaging in illegal and immoral behaviour,” Awad tells IPS.
“Hamas’s draconian legislation is unwarranted, neither by the constitution nor the Palestinian population. These latest developments are further entrenching the political divide between the West Bank and Gaza.
“Those schools in Gaza were there long before Hamas and will be there long after Hamas is no longer around. Palestinians have stated repeatedly that they want self-determination and that applies to Gazans too.”
THE TEA PARTY AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD: TWINS SEPARATED AT BIRTH
by Carlos Alberto Torres
truthout.org - 04 May 2013
Torres postulates, "On two different continents, two conservative social movements, which on the surface may seem to have nothing in common, are conspiring against democracy to derail any progress of individual freedom and community solidarity for the sake of their own agenda."
If one were to attend a rally of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt today, one would find faces resembling the uniform phenotype of the Arab world: Women carefully conforming to a self-effacing code of dress with the niqab - a cloth to cover the face - as an emblematic sign of modesty, along with deeply pious followers holding the Misbaha, prayer beads by which to count the 99 Names of Allah. Everyone would adhere to the values of Sharia, a guide to Islamic Law that not only dictates behavior for one's personal or spiritual life but for one's political and social life as well.
The political methodologies of the Muslim Brotherhood employ mass mobilizations, confrontation, and heavy-handed negotiations whereby political capital serves as leverage to preach to and reach the poor while coalitions are driven with other political parties. A key demand for the faithful is the unquestioned application of Sharia law. The Muslim Brotherhood demands that foreign powers cease and desist from any interventions in the Arab world. It seeks to delegitimize the state of Israel. While the Brotherhood has stood in the shadows of Egyptian life for a long time, the Arab Spring of 2011 fueled its participation in electoral politics and opened the door for it to take control of Egypt's parliament and presidency.
If one were to attend a Tea Party rally, however, on the surface one would see a crowd that looks very different: a group of white middle-aged and older men and women, many of whom are retired. One would find people who vote with the Republican Party, and large numbers related to some form of Christian conservatism or born-again philosophy, and who hail largely from the South. These folks reflect middle-to-upper-class America.
Tea Party members participate massively in Republican primaries, and push for selecting highly ideologically pure candidates. Politically, they want to repeal Obamacare and oppose any and all stimulus programs. They reject not only taxes of any kind but also any form of political cohabitation with Democrats.
If one were to look at the Muslim Brotherhood and the Tea Party and see two contemporary social movements that are very different, one must look again: They are twins who were separated at birth. How so? Their contempt for the democratic process, for one, their explicit and overt attempt to undermine any form of a democratic welfare state if they do not explicitly benefit from it, for another. Then there is their inability to establish a democratic dialogue given their vocal distaste for any expression of bipartisan cooperation.
Democracy is a messy system, but it has survived because there is a sphere for debate and a set of rules that people follow even if they don't benefit from them. For educators, schools and universities are considered democratic communities, and as such, they must be fully committed to expanding the democratic discourse and challenge the inequalities that emerge from the workings of capitalism. If the Tea Party and the Muslim Brotherhood were to achieve their goals, then education as a means of promoting democracy and democratic citizenship will wither because without a serious exploration of the intersections between cultural diversity, affirmative action, and citizenship, the plural basis of democracy and the democratic discourse per se is precipitously at risk.
On two different continents, two conservative social movements - which on the surface may seem to have nothing in common - are conspiring against democracy to derail any progress of individual freedom and community solidarity for the sake of their own agenda. The Tea Party's and Muslim Brotherhood's views on race, gender, class and religion egregiously undermine the entire social context of democracy.
Without a technically competent, ethically sound, empirically engaging, and politically feasible theory and practice of democratic multicultural citizenship, people will be lost. As the Book of Proverbs says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." (King James Bible Cambridge edition 29:18). If the Muslim Brotherhood and the Tea Party reach their goals, democracy will perish and, along with it, the people will perish, as well. We should not let that happen. We should not let them succeed.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Carlos Alberto Torres
Carlos Alberto Torres is a critical social theorist and Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and Director of the Paulo Freire Institute at UCLA.
Richard Lloyd Parry
London Review of Books
Vol. 35 No. 9 · 9 May 2013
pages 3-7 | 5390 words
Richard Lloyd Parry is Asia Editor of the Times. People Who Eat Darkness, about the murder of Lucie Blackman in Tokyo, is out in paperback.
The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha
Bodley Head, 527 pp, £14.99, August 2012, ISBN 978 1 84792 236 6
You are invited to read this free book review from the London Review of Books. Register for free and enjoy 24 hours of access to the entire LRB archive of over 12,500 essays and reviews.
The Choco Pie is a mouth-drying, individually wrapped slab of cake, marshmallow and chocolate, and in South Korea it is as important a part of childhood as Britain’s Mars bar or the American Twinkie. It is manufactured by the Orion company of Seoul, exported across Asia, and consumed in an arc of countries from Japan to Uzbekistan. In 2004, South Korean manufacturers began to set up factories in the North Korean city of Kaesong, an unprecedented experiment in co-operation between the fraternal enemies, and the core of what the South Korean government called its Sunshine Policy. Along with South Korean managers, manufacturing technology, telephone lines and a motorway, they brought the Choco Pie.
Within a few months, the bosses from Seoul began slipping their North Korean workers a Choco Pie or two as a perk. In part, this was a response to the Kaesong wage regime: rather than being paid directly, salaries were processed by the North Korean authorities, which then handed over the money minus hefty deductions. The Choco Pies were a small piece of South Korean largesse, but it was difficult at first to know how enthusiastically they were being received. The fact that Orion wrappers were nowhere to be found in the rubbish bins of Kaesong might have suggested indifference, but the opposite was true: the local workers, most of them women, had quickly realised that the Choco Pies were too delicious and valuable to eat. Kaesong employees, the best paid in North Korea and among the worst paid in Asia, were hoarding their pies, and selling them on at remarkably inflated prices: as high as the equivalent of $10 a piece, a large proportion of their monthly take home pay. The cakes found their way onto the black market in Pyongyang; corrupt soldiers in Kaesong, who routinely exacted ‘fines’ from the South Korean managers, began to accept, and sometimes require, payment in chocolate and marshmallow. By some estimates, 150,000 Choco Pies were being dispensed in Kaesong every day.
Stripped of its cuteness, the story contains two lessons. The first is a reminder of what should be obvious: ordinary North Koreans are in most ways just like everyone else. For all their affected concern for human rights, this is overlooked with depressing frequency by people who should know better. North Koreans are not a ‘zombie nation’ (Martin Amis), an undifferentiated mass of ‘racist dwarfs’ (Christopher Hitchens), but 24 million individuals, as virtuous and vicious as the rest of us, and just as keen on sweet and sticky snacks.
The Choco Pie story also reveals a susceptibility to outside influence in a society commonly regarded as impenetrable. For the government in Pyongyang, ‘engagement’ in Kaesong was a means of extracting hard currency from its rich and despised southern neighbour, and it did all it could to isolate the incoming South Koreans from the rest of the country. But complete quarantine is impossible, and whenever they have been given the opportunity to sample the products of the outside world, North Koreans have seized it. DVDs of South Korean television are smuggled across the porous northern border with China. Students in Pyongyang risk their freedom by rigging up TV sets to pick up the news from Seoul. And in Kaesong, they buy and sell Choco Pies.
It was the vision of consumer luxury glimpsed on West German television which encouraged Easterners to pull down the Berlin Wall. This was the secret hope at the heart of the Sunshine Policy: that, slowly and at first undetectably, it would infect the North Korean body politic with the virus of information, self-consciousness and, eventually, rebellion. The dungeon in which North Koreans languish is more impenetrable than the Iron Curtain ever was, and Choco Pies alone will never have the allure of Levis and Audis. But seeds have germinated at Kaesong which could not have been sown in any other way. Far from the surrender to extortion which their enemies made them out to be, the engagement projects of the Sunshine Policy were covertly offensive. And they had begun to work, as even Victor Cha, an opponent of the policy, has to acknowledge. ‘Choco Pies,’ he writes,
tell a larger story of how even the smallest opening can encourage an entrepreneurial spirit … Because of Kaesong, tens of thousands of North Korean women today, though not paid market wages, still have the experience of working in a modern South Korean-made factory and receiving three meals a day in a clean cafeteria. These women will not revolt against the government, but they will tell others of their experiences … With each expedient nod to the market by the cash-strapped economy, the regime is unwittingly exposing mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts and uncles to capitalism, to the generosity of outsiders, and to the flaws of its own economic policies. The change is microscopic but it is real, so that the next time the government tries its old ways of reasserting control over the economy … there will be a different response … Anger mounts when the government allows the people to fend for themselves, they succeed in some small fashion, and then the state tries to reassert control by taking this away … It is hard to imagine enlightenment [emerging] out of utter poverty, but that is what is happening slowly in North Korea.
Or as the defector and journalist Ha Tae Keung put it, ‘It’s an invasion of the stomach.’
The conservative South Korean government of Lee Myung Bak formally abandoned the Sunshine Policy in 2010. Two years earlier, it had dropped its other central element, a jointly run holiday resort in the Diamond Mountains, after a North Korean soldier shot dead a middle-aged South Korean tourist who had strayed off limits. On 3 April, following weeks of verbal threats and military bluffing, North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers from Kaesong and suspended operations in the zone. The events of the past few weeks have demonstrated more clearly than ever the dismal shortage of options which the rest of the world has in dealing with the last military confrontation of the Cold War. When the present surge of aggression and alarm has spent itself, the world will face the same old questions about what to do about North Korea, and some form of active engagement remains the only practical hope for altering the status quo.
Put out of mind any notion of a decisive second Korean War. An escalation from small beginnings cannot be ruled out, but none of the parties with a military presence on the peninsula – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the North), the Republic of Korea (the South) or the United States – will embark on a full-scale attack because it would end catastrophically for all of them. North Korea – which in the Korean War became the most intensively bombed territory in history – would once again face full-scale aerial and armoured assault by the US. Its undertrained, underfed, ill-equipped and technologically unsophisticated armed forces would be overwhelmed, and its leadership destroyed. But before this, it could inflict intolerable damage, not so much with its dozen or so nuclear warheads, which it may not be able to aim accurately at its enemies, but by conventional methods.
Commandos infiltrated by submarine would cause terror and havoc in coastal cities in South Korea. Thousands of artillery pieces secreted in tunnels just over the border would bombard Seoul; some of the shells would be armed with poison gas. When Bill Clinton was contemplating a ‘surgical strike’ on the Yongbyon nuclear plant in 1994, he was told that the war that would almost certainly follow would kill as many as a million people (including a hundred thousand Americans), cost the United States more than $100 billion, and cause a trillion dollars’ worth of damage in north-east Asia, most of it in South Korea – and those figures are two decades old. The guerrilla insurgency and prolonged civilian resistance, which would follow even a swift victory, would make Iraq look like a simple mopping up operation. Each side knows that it would ruin its enemy and be ruined by him; and the result is a bizarre stability behind a façade of glowering aggression. Clinton called the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas ‘the scariest place on earth’; but it has proved less dangerous over the last sixty years than the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia and broad swathes of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.
No one expected this, and no one – except the North Korean government itself – believed the DPRK would survive into the second decade of the 21st century. Two things made this possible: China and nuclear weapons. The plutonium reactor at Yongbyon came into operation in the 1980s, but it was the removal of spent fuel rods, capable of being processed into the raw material of nuclear warheads, which precipitated the crisis in 1994. It is startling to remember now, when North Korea’s possession of nuclear bombs, and perhaps the means to deliver them, are facts of life, that to Clinton the mere act of reprocessing was unacceptable. As the White House contemplated a call-up of reservists and the evacuation of Americans from South Korea, there was panic buying in Seoul, where the stock market fell by 25 per cent. The situation was defused by a brilliant and near-treasonous intervention by Jimmy Carter, who negotiated a compromise face to face with Kim Il Sung and then bounced the administration into accepting it by announcing it live from Pyongyang on CNN.
The result was the Agreed Framework, an elaborately programmed sequence of reciprocal steps under which an international consortium would provide North Korea with ‘safe’ nuclear reactors, fuel, political normalisation and economic engagement, in return for a nuclear freeze and eventual disarmament. Conservatives disliked the idea of giving away nuclear technology to the Koreans, but Clinton’s people didn’t worry: it was part of their calculations that before the time came to honour their promises, the government in Pyongyang would have collapsed anyway.
There was bad faith on both sides. Even as it shut down the reactors at Yongbyon, the North was secretly enriching uranium elsewhere. But the Agreed Framework averted war, placed Yongbyon under international monitoring, and prevented the construction of two much bigger reactors which would have provided enough fuel for thirty nuclear warheads every year. Four years later, with the election of the former dissident and political prisoner Kim Dae Jung, came the Sunshine Policy, and the most sustained warming in relations on the peninsula since the Korean War. In 2000, Kim Dae Jung flew to Pyongyang for a summit with Kim Il Sung’s son and successor, Kim Jong Il. In October that year, Madeleine Albright travelled to the North and spent six hours with the second Kim (whom she described as ‘a very good listener’) in preparation for a presidential visit. A fortnight later, George W. Bush won the election.
Bush does not lack detractors, but his vandalism of the delicate architecture of US policy on North Korea has been insufficiently recognised. His first secretary of state, Colin Powell, came to office reassuring reporters that ‘we do plan to engage with North Korea to pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off.’ Within 24 hours neocon pressure forced a humiliating retraction. A year later Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ speech implicitly identified the North as a potential target for pre-emptive attack, alongside Iraq and Iran. In a meeting with a group of senators, he called Kim Jong Il ‘a spoiled child’ and a ‘pygmy’. When Bob Woodward raised the subject, he feared the president was about to vault out of his chair. ‘I loathe Kim Jong Il,’ Bush told him, ‘waving his finger in the air’.
Human rights in North Korea became a political weapon, wielded by the right as a means of undermining those, including the elected government of South Korea, who favoured continued engagement. Of course, the plight of many ordinary North Koreans is unspeakable, and Victor Cha, who spent three years on Bush’s National Security Council, duly recounts the horrors of the great famine of the late 1990s, a catastrophe comparable to those in Rwanda or Cambodia, and one of which the outside world still has only the sketchiest understanding. He describes the gulags where entire families are consigned for crimes committed by dead forebears, and where newborn babies are pulled from their mothers’ arms and thrown into buckets to die.
Bush was right to loathe Kim Jong Il, but disapproving of one of the cruellest regimes on earth is no mark of moral or intellectual distinction. The first Bush administration had powerfully articulated attitudes towards North Korea, but nothing that could be dignified by the word ‘policy’. With noses held high, unwilling to sully their hands by dealing with the North, for the first two years Bush and his people effectively chose to do nothing.
Cha puts the best possible face on the works of his former master, describing Bush’s later efforts to ‘humanise’ the suffering of ordinary North Koreans, and his White House meetings with defectors. But while the hunt was on for a ‘poster child’ for human rights, everything else was falling apart. The US seized on the covert uranium programme as a reason for not delivering the oil it was contracted to supply under the Agreed Framework. The North, which already thought the US wasn’t meeting its obligations, responded by restarting the Yongbyon plant, throwing out inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and eventually announcing that it did indeed have nuclear warheads and was working on more. Clinton had prepared, reluctantly, for war; having averted it, he had energetically concluded three separate diplomatic agreements with North Korea, with a fourth (on limiting ballistic missiles) in the works. After four years of Republican government all those agreements, and the safeguards they incorporated, had collapsed, with nothing to take their place. This was the sum achievement of George Bush, foe of rogue states and protector of the nation: to allow the world’s most isolated government to acquire the Bomb.
In the second term, Condoleezza Rice supervised a chastened and hopeless effort to squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube. The Bush government vowed not to negotiate with the North Koreans one-to-one: hence the Six-Party Talks, which brought together the North and South, alongside the United States, China, Russia and Japan. American demands were represented by the initials CVID: Complete, Verifiable and Irreversible Dismantling of the North’s nuclear programme. Until that happened, North Korea would be a pariah: in a much repeated phrase, there would be ‘no reward for bad behaviour’. Everything, therefore, depended on the Chinese government, which controls the cross-border oil pipeline and rail and road traffic in and out of North Korea, and could quickly choke any government to death if it chose.
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