WikiLeaks Cables: Breaking Conventional Lies About the Coalition War in Yemen



North Korea’s Capture of the USS Pueblo Still Resonates

History of U.S.-North Korean Relations

On Jan. 23, 1968, North Korea seized a U.S. Navy ship that had allegedly strayed into its territorial waters. Fifty years later, as tensions flare between Washington and Pyongyang, we are republishing this column from January 2015 that recounts a visit to the captured vessel.

On Jan. 23, 1968, North Korea boarded and captured the USS Pueblo, an intelligence gathering ship belonging to the U.S. Navy. Pyongyang claimed the vessel had strayed into North Korean territorial waters, an allegation that Washington denied. The incident, already diplomatically embarrassing, was exacerbated by a number of factors, not least of which was the clandestine nature of the ship itself and the secret documents and recordings onboard. It would take almost a year for the United States to recover the 82 alive but traumatized Pueblo crewmembers from North Korea — with the notable exception of one man who lost his life during the boarding.

Although exasperating for the United States, when seen through North Korean eyes, the Pueblo incident was a major triumph against an overbearing and threatening global power. Pyongyang was able to achieve a substantial propaganda victory, extracting maximum satisfaction by compelling Washington to release a statement admitting culpability — though the statement was heavily caveated and the U.S. government quickly renounced it. The incident was deeply uncomfortable for Washington, but it was only one of many challenges that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration faced at the time. The U.S. government was contending with an increasingly problematic war in Vietnam, domestic social unrest and the ever-looming specter of the Cold War. For Pyongyang, however, the capture of the Pueblo resonated beyond its short-term implications, inspiring feelings of pride and tenacity in the North Korean population.

Originally a light cargo ship launched toward the end of World War II, the Pueblo was redesignated AGER-2 by the U.S. Navy and equipped to conduct signals and electronic intelligence gathering and surveillance operations. Its mission at the time it was boarded was to monitor Russian activity in the Tsushima Strait and intercept radio transmissions from Soviet ships as well as from North Korea.

Around midday on Jan. 23, 1968, a North Korean submarine chaser and three torpedo boats, supported by a MiG-21 pair overhead, approached the Pueblo. Ordered to heave to, the Pueblo showed its American colors and made full steam for the open sea. Unable to outrun the faster craft, the American ship attempted to prevent boarding action by taking evasive maneuvers, vying for time to destroy sensitive materials and cryptographic equipment onboard. Eventually the North Korean boats engaged the Pueblo with cannon and machine-gun fire, forcing its compliance. It was then boarded and escorted back to North Korea; any attempt to deviate course was met with more fire. One U.S. sailor was killed in the engagement and a number were wounded. Although the Pueblo had two .50-caliber machine guns for defense, they were not used. Only a fraction of the classified materials and equipment aboard the Pueblo were destroyed before its seizure.

The capture of the Pueblo came at a difficult time for Washington. Only two days before, a B-52G Stratofortress carrying four nuclear weapons crashed near the Thule Air Base in Greenland, causing the dispersal of nuclear material and a major diplomatic incident. Vietnam was not going as planned — in fact, the Tet Offensive would commence a week after the Pueblo was taken, sparking fresh pessimism about the war. The civil rights movement was in full swing, and Martin Luther King Jr. refused to let social injustice be sidelined. The space race had stalled, with both Russia and the United States suspending manned operations in 1967 after a number of fatalities. And, providing the backdrop for all of this, the Cold War between the Soviet bloc and the West continued to grind on. At that moment in time, the capture of a U.S. Navy surveillance ship and all its sailors by North Korea was the last thing Washington needed.

Exploring the USS Pueblo in Pyongyang

Vice President of Asia-Pacific Analysis Rodger Baker shares his impressions of a visit to the USS Pueblo, now a museum in Pyongyang, during a journey to North Korea in 2005. The following excerpt is taken from his personal journal.

Our tour guide aboard the USS Pueblo, it turns out, is Kim Jung Rok, who was part of the boarding party that took the Pueblo. He stands in his dark uniform, his chest covered in campaign ribbons under his Kim Il Sung badge, his wrinkled face under a shining white hat with black brim. He exudes pride; pride in his job, pride in his place in history and pride in his privilege to share his story and view with Americans on this day. It is a moment that makes you realize, whatever your ideology, that a veteran is a veteran.

USS Pueblo TourUSS Pueblo Tour
Stratfor Vice President for Asia-Pacific Analysis Rodger Baker with Kim Jung Rok.

The tour begins with the «invasion» of the «pirate ship» General Sherman in 1866. The General Sherman, we are told, was the first ship from America to invade North Korea, but certainly not the last. It was sunk by «our people,» the guide says, and then informs us that the citizens who attacked the General Sherman in the defense of Korea were led by none other than the great-grandfather of Kim Il Sung himself.

We are sat in front of a television in the ship’s galley and watch a propaganda film, loaded with glorious images reminiscent of a 1950s Cold War movie shown in elementary school to warn us of impending war with the Soviets. The music is a match. The narrator — with an accent more reminiscent of the comic French-English of Peter Sellers than the English-speaking North Korean it actually is — draws us into the story of the «Pueblo armed spy ship of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces.» The ship had a crew of 83 when captured, including six officers. One American sailor died in the capture.

My attention wanes as a mosquito drones around my ear. There appear to be parts of the galley wall that have been rebuilt with fiberglass, but otherwise the interior is relatively well maintained. «…the brazen-faced U.S. imperialists…» It is interesting that the video credits Kim Jong Il with handling the negotiations at the time — in 1968. «…the enemy kneeled down before the Korean people and made an apology…» A flag-draped coffin flashes across the screen — the one American who died in the action. «…the U.S. imperialists who kneeled down before the Korean People are now running on down hill…»

The Pueblo was moved to Pyongyang as a trophy — and opened for tours — in 1999, after North Korea carried out its first Taepodong launch attempt. It was part of Kim Jong Il establishing himself and his bona fides as the legitimate and strong leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In 2013, the ship was moved again to a new location as part of an expansion of North Korea’s military museum.

Starting the tour in earnest, we lead off through the officer’s mess, past the damage from the boarding action — the scarred metal is marked with red circles to highlight hits from gunfire and shrapnel. We see the Pueblo’s flag, a copy of the letter to Truman, and other items of interest. When we reach the bridge, it is time for another story. When the North Koreans captured the Pueblo’s captain, we are told, neither spoke the other’s language, prompting the North Koreans to draw a picture of a big-nosed man on a piece of paper. After making questioning gestures, the captain was prompted to write the number 83 (83 members of the crew). The Koreans then drew an eagle, by which the American wrote a «6» (six officers).

Bullet holes in the captured American ship in North KoreaBullet holes in the captured American ship in North Korea
Damage taken by the USS Pueblo after being engaged by North Korean vessels. 

Again we are told that the Koreans are so proud of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il for capturing the Pueblo — the only instance that a boat of seven soldiers has captured a ship with a crew of 83. Given that our guide was part of the seven that boarded the Pueblo (from their 12 person missile boat), one would think he would remember that neither Kim Jong Il nor Kim Il Sung were actually there with him, but no.

I have mixed feelings about my tour of the Pueblo. On the one hand, it is simply a trophy of a bygone conflict. On the other, here I am standing with one of the Koreans who actually took part in the action — not exactly bygone. Here, Kim Jung Rok is a hero; in America, he is a villain and a pirate. Having met Commander Pete Bucher (the Pueblo’s captain in 1968) in the past, I stand here where he defended his ship, and smirk as I remember his story of his «admission» of guilt, and his offering to paean Kim Il Sung, paean the North Korean military… (pronunciation being «pee on,» the word being one he said he heard as a child in a radio commercial for ice cream). With our trip complete, we are escorted off the ship.

The capture of the Pueblo speaks to deeper truths about the inherent nature of North Korea. From Pyongyang’s perspective, they are a small, embattled nation, surrounded on all sides, and overtly threatened by the most powerful country on earth. From their comparative zenith in the 1960s, Pyongang has watched its economy and global status decline, almost in parallel to South Korea’s rise through the 1970s to the present day. The Pueblo, like the General Sherman before it, is part trophy and part living testament to North Korea’s ability to overcome greater odds — to still be able to deal a humiliating blow to would-be aggressors.

As outwardly resilient and standoffish as North Korea appears, the country remains deeply insecure and acutely aware of its own precarious position. Yet, as innate as its diffidence is, Pyongyang’s belief in the ability of the Korean people to endure is supreme. The country will continue to act in what the West perceives as an aggressive manner because to show weakness is an invitation to be overrun, an unacceptable outcome for a nation that harbors such intensely illustrious sentiments. Also, from Pyongyang’s perspective, the United States is a bully, and a fickle one at that. Relationships and accords can change on a whim, depending on the geopolitical riffles and eddies that influence global power politics. Iraq was a U.S. ally in the 1980s, as was Afghanistan; Washington supplied arms and support to both countries but didn’t hesitate to invade them years later. North American history is littered with examples of broken accords, fractured relationships and aggressive military action.

This is why the continued military drills and cooperation between Washington and Seoul concern Pyongyang so much. North Korea may well be willing to curtail its nuclear activities, but it needs something in return: assurances from the West that the Democratic People’s Republic is not under direct threat. The North Korean administration is acutely aware that, in the current global picture, the United States lacks a clearly defined enemy. The Iraq and Afghan campaigns are officially over, barring small-scale training and advisory tasks. The Islamic State is turning into the world’s problem, not just America’s or the Middle East’s. The rapprochement with Iran is nullifying one traditional enemy, and although Russia continues to antagonize the West, it is economically too weak and too wary of provoking NATO to return to a Cold War level of menace. North Korea, on the other hand, remains very firmly in Washington’s sights. Beneath its inherent pride and outward veneer of audacity, Pyongyang is pragmatic; it cannot compete militarily or economically against a U.S.-supported South Korea, but the Pueblo is a living reminder that North Korea is still capable of surprises.

Published Jan 25, 2015, by Strafor

Danish PM Løkke Rasmussen Cries for Istanbul Attack Victims forgets His Sponsorship of Terrorism

nsnbc : Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen responded to the terror attack on the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, “tweeting” that he is crying with the Turkish people who once again are witnesses to a cowardly terrorist attack. The Danish PM, conveniently, forgets his background as fundraiser and supporter of Afghanistan’s “mujahedeen”; And then there was the unexplained rape-murder of a female anthropologist who stayed at the hotel in Peshawar that Lars Løkke used.

lars-Løkke-Rasmussen_NEO_2015_DenmarkThe death toll after Tuesday night’s terrorist attack at the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul has according to announcements made by the local governor risen to 41. At least 239 have been injured.

The victims reportedly included at least 10 foreign nationals and three people with dual citizenship.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen not only “tweeted” that he is crying with the Turkish people.

He also conveniently forgot that he denounced a cowardly act of a terrorism that he has, indeed, helped to unleash.

The So Called War on Terror - Dansih PM Lard Løkke Rasmussen with Taleban 1988Lars Løkke Rasmussen was Denmark’s Prime Minister during NATO’s bombardment of Libya that led to the ousting and ultimately the sodomizing and murder of Libya’s head of State Muammar Qaddafi by Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda linked terrorists.

In a nonchalant fashion, the Danish PM forgets that the disaster in Libya created the foundation for the massive proliferation of weapons from Libya, via Turkey to Jabhat Al-Nusrah and ISIS in Syria.

Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s moral engagement with the victims in Turkey is only paralleled by his apparent selective moral disengagement, and his track record with regard to sponsoring terrorism and it does not stop nor did it begin with Libya.

Løkke Rasmussen has “literally” participated in laying the foundation of the very Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda linked terrorism that is terrorizing Europe, the Midle East, Asia and Africa today.

He was one of the most active fundraisers for Afghanistan’s Taliban (and by implication Al-Qaeda) during the 1980s.

Danish P.M. Lars Løkke Rasmussen Declares Holy War on Libya in ChurchIn 1988 Lars Løkke Rasmussen, proudly let himself be photographed alongside Taliban friends in Afghanistan, clinching an AK 47 assault rifle. Lars Løkke would cross the borders into Pakistan and Afghanistan on horseback and deliver 600,000 DKK to the “mujahedeen”.

The money had been raised by Afghanistan youth committees within Løkke Rasmussen’s Venstre and Pia Kjærsgaard’s Fremskridspartiet that was transformed into today’s Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party).

There is one fact, besides the fundraising for terrorists, that may be of interest.

After returning from Pakistan, the now PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen was detained by police and charged with the rape and murder of a female anthropologist who had been living at the same hotel in Peshawar that Lars Løkke Rasmussen stayed in.

Police released the then 25-year-old while the charges against him were upheld. It is noteworthy that the young female anthropologist was opposed to the “freedom fighters’” increasingly radical, fundamentalist and chauvinist policies. In 2011 Lars Løkke would use the pulpit of a Danish church to justify the war on Libya.

CH/L – nsnbc 29.06.2016


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Saudi Arabia wants US to kill 9/11 bill, threatens to dump US assets worth $750 bn – report

Saudi Arabia appears to be blackmailing the US, saying it would sell off American assets worth a 12-digit figure sum in dollars if Congress passes a bill allowing the Saudi government to be held responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The warning was delivered by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir last month during a visit to Washington, the New York Times reported. He said his country would sell up to $750 billion in US treasury securities and other assets before the bill puts them in jeopardy.

The newspaper said Riyadh’s resolve to actually deliver on the threat is dubious, since selling off those assets would be technically challenging and would damage the dollar, against which the Saudi national currency is pegged.

Under the current US law, foreign nations have a degree of immunity from being sued in American courts. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 is one of the reasons why families of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks largely failed to bring to court the Saudi royal family and charities over suspicion of financially supporting the attacks.

The bill introduced in the Senate would waiver the immunity for cases involving terrorist attacks that kill US citizens on US soil. Introduced by Republican Senator John Cornyn and Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer, it managed to overcome partisan divisions in the US legislation and passed without dissent through the Judiciary Committee in January.

“As our nation confronts new and expanding terror networks that are targeting our citizens, stopping the funding source for terrorists becomes even more important,” Senator Cornyn said last month.

Possible links between the perpetrators of the attack and Saudi Arabia may be hiding in 28 classified pages of the 2002 congressional report on 9/11, which allegedly describe how Saudi Arabian nationals with links to the government financially assisted the 19 hijackers who flew airplanes into World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Many people, including the co-author of the redacted pages, former Florida Senator Bob Graham, have been campaigning for years to make them public.

The Obama administration is opposing the bill, saying it would make foreign nations retaliate by passing similar legislation and target American citizens and corporations in their national courts. Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate panel in February that the bill, in its current form, would “expose the United States of America to lawsuits and take away our sovereign immunity and create a terrible precedent.”

Ironically, sovereign immunity didn’t stop a US judge from last month ordering Iran to pay $10.5 billion in damages to families of the 9/11 victims. The ruling was passed because Iran didn’t defend itself against the allegations. These put the blame on Iran over its links with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which, plaintiffs argued, aided Al-Qaeda. The argument is based on the same congressional report, which also said no link between the hijackers and Iran had been found.

None of the 19 hijackers were Iranian citizens. Fifteen were citizens of Saudi Arabia, while two were from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Egypt and Lebanon.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitter regional rivals, adhering to competing sects of Islam and battling for position in the Muslim world. The US had been a stalwart supporter of Saudi Arabia and opponent of Iran, which overthrew the US-backed Shah in 1979 and became an Islamic republic.

Washington’s cordial relations with Riyadh chilled somewhat as it sought a thaw with Tehran last year, participating in a deal to resolve the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program.


A Kurdish fighter surveys the border between Turkey and Iraq

Early in 2014, Isis released one of its first videos. Largely unseen in Europe, it had neither the slick, cutting-edge professionalism of its later execution tapes nor the haunting “nasheed” music that accompanies most of its propaganda. Instead, a hand-held camera showed a bulldozer pushing down a rampart of sand that had marked the border between Iraq and Syria. As the machine destroyed the dirt revetment, the camera panned down to a handwritten poster lying in the sand. “End of Sykes-Picot”, it said.

Like many hundreds of thousands of Arabs in the Middle East, for whom Sykes-Picot was an almost cancerous expression, I watched this early Isis video in Beirut. The bloody repercussions of the borders that the British and French diplomats, Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, drew in secret during the First World War – originally giving Syria, Mount Lebanon and northern Iraq to the French, and Palestine, Transjordan and the rest of Iraq to the British – are known to every Arab, Christian and Muslim and, indeed, every Jew in the region. They eviscerated the governorates of the old dying Ottoman empire and created artificial nations in which borders, watchtowers and hills of sand separated tribes, families and peoples. They were an Anglo-French colonial production.

The same night that I saw the early Isis video, I happened to be visiting the Lebanese Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt. “The end of Sykes-Picot!” he roared at me. “Rubbish,” I snorted. But of course, I was wrong and Jumblatt was right. He had spotted at once how Isis captured symbolically – but with almost breathtaking speed – what so many Arabs had sought for almost exactly 100 years: the unravelling of the fake borders with which the victors of the First World War – largely the British and the French – had divided the Arab people. It was our colonial construction – not just the frontiers we imposed upon them, but the administrations and the false democracies that we fraudulently thrust upon them, the mandates and trusteeships which allowed us to rule them – that poisoned their lives. Colin Powell claimed just such a trusteeship for Iraq’s oil prior to the illegal Anglo-American invasion of 2003.

We foisted kings upon the Arabs – we engineered a 96 per cent referendum in favour of the Hashemite King Faisal in Iraq in 1922 – and then provided them with generals and dictators. The people of Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt – which had been invaded by the British in the 19th century – were subsequently blessed with mendacious governments, brutal policemen, lying newspapers and fake elections. Mubarak even scored Faisal’s epic 96 per cent election victory all over again. For the Arabs, “democracy” did not mean freedom of speech and freedom to elect their own leaders; it referred to the “democratic” Western nations that continued to support the cruel dictators who oppressed them.

Thus the Arab revolutions that consumed the Middle East in 2011 – forget the “Arab Spring”, a creature of Hollywood origin – did not demand democracy. The posters on the streets of Cairo and Tunis and Damascus and Yemen called for dignity and justice, two commodities that we had definitely not sought for the Arabs. Justice for the Palestinians – or for the Kurds, or for that matter for the destroyed Armenians of 1915, or for all the suffering Arab peoples – was not something that commended itself to us. But I think we should have gone much further in our investigation of the titanic changes of 2011.

In my own reporting of the uprisings, I attributed them to increased education and travel by the Arab communities throughout the Middle East. While acknowledging the power of social media and the internet, something deeper was at work. The Arabs had woken from a deep sleep. They had refused any longer to be the “children” of the patriarchal father figure – the Nassers and the Sadats and the Mubaraks and the Assads and the Gaddafis and, in earlier years, the Saddams. They awoke to find that it was their own governments that were composed of children, one of whom – Mubarak – was 83 years old. The Arabs wanted to own their towns and cities. They wanted to own the place in which they lived, which comprised much of the Middle East.

But I think now that I was wrong. In retrospect, I woefully misunderstood what these revolutions represented. One clue, perhaps, lay in the importance of trade union movements. Where trade unions, with their transnational socialism and anti-colonial credentials, were strong – in Egypt and Tunisia – the revolutionary bloodshed was far less than in the nations that had either banned trade unionism altogether – Libya, for example – or concretised the trade union movement into the regime, which had long ago happened in Syria and Yemen. Socialism crossed borders. Yet even this does not account for the events of 2011.

What really manifested itself that year, I now believe, was a much more deeply held Arab conviction; that the very institutions that we in the West had built for these people 100 years ago were worthless, that the statehood which we had later awarded to artificial nations within equally artificial borders was meaningless. They were rejecting the whole construct that we had foisted upon them. That Egypt regressed back into military patriarchy – and the subsequent and utterly predictable Western acqiescence in this – after a brief period of elected Muslim Brotherhood government, does not change this equation. While the revolutions largely stayed within national boundaries – at least at the start – the borders began to lose their meaning.

Lines in the sand: The Sykes-Picot Plan, 1916

Hamas in Gaza and the Brotherhood became one, the Sinai-Gaza frontier began to crumble. Then the collapse of Libya rendered Gaddafi’s former borders open – and thus non-existent. His weapons – including chemical shells – were sold to rebels in Egypt and Syria. Tunisia, which is now supposed to be the darling of our Western hearts for its adhesion to “democracy”, is now in danger of implosion because its own borders with Libya and Algeria are open to arms transhipments to Islamist groups. Isis’s grasp of these frontierless entities means that its own transnational existence is assured, from Fallujah in Iraq to the edge of Syrian Aleppo, from Nigeria to Niger and Chad.

It can thus degrade the economy of each country it moves through, blowing up a Russian airliner leaving Sharm el-Sheikh, attacking the Bardo museum in Tunis or the beaches of Sousse. There was a time – when Islamists attacked the Jewish synagogue on Djerba island in Tunisia in 2002, for example, killing 19 people – when tourism could continue. But that was when Libya still existed. In those days, Ben Ali’s security police were able to control the internal security of Tunisia; the army was left weak so that it could not stage a coup. So today, of course, the near-impotent army of Tunisia cannot defend its frontiers.

Isis’s understanding of this new phenomenon preceded our own. But Isis’s realisation that frontiers were essentially defenceless in the modern age coincided with the popular Arab disillusion with their own invented nations. Most of the millions of Syrian and Afghan refugees who have flooded into Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan and then north into Europe do not intend to return – ever – to states that have failed them as surely as they no longer – in the minds of the refugees – exist. These are not “failed states” so much as imaginary nations that no longer have any purpose.

I only began to understand this when, back in July, covering the Greek economic crisis, I travelled to the Greek-Macedonian border with Médecins Sans Frontières. This was long before the story of Arab refugees entering Europe had seized the attention of the EU or the media, although the Mediterranean drownings had long been a regular tragedy on television screens. Aylan Kurdi, the little boy who would be washed up on a Turkish beach, still had another two months to live. But in the fields along the Macedonian border were thousands of Syrians and Afghans. They were coming in their hundreds through the cornfields, an army of tramping paupers who might have been fleeing the Hundred Years War, women with their feet burned by exploded gas cookers, men with bruises over their bodies from the blows of frontier guards. Two of them I even knew, brothers from Aleppo whom I had met two years earlier in Syria. And when they spoke, I suddenly realised they were talking of Syria in the past tense. They talked about “back there” and “what was home”. They didn’t believe in Syria any more. They didn’t believe in frontiers.

Far more important for the West, they clearly didn’t believe in our frontiers either. They just walked across European frontiers with the same indifference as they crossed from Syria to Turkey or Lebanon. We, the creators of the Middle East’s borders, found that our own historically created national borders also had no meaning to these people. They wanted to go to Germany or Sweden and intended to walk there, however many policemen were sent to beat them or smother them with tear gas in a vain attempt to guard the national sovereignty of the frontiers of the EU.

Our own shock – indeed, our indignation – that our own precious borders were not respected by these largely Muslim armies of the poor was in sharp contrast to our own blithe non-observance of Arab frontiers. Saddam was among the first to show his own detestation of such lines in the sand. He cared nothing about international law when he invaded Iran in 1980 – with intelligence help from the Americans – or Kuwait in 1990, when he tore up the old frontier of the emirate and claimed it as an Iraqi province. But the West has now launched so many air strikes across the Middle East’s borders since the 1991 liberation of Kuwait that we scarcely need to search for precedents now that Arab air forces are regularly criss-crossing the Middle East’s national boundaries – along with our own fighter-bombers.

Quite apart from our mournful Afghan adventure and our utterly illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, our aircraft have been bombing Libya, Iraq and Syria along with the aircraft of various local pseudo-democracies for so long that this state of affairs has become routine, almost normal, scarcely worthy of a front-page headline. The Saudis are bombing Iraq and Syria and Yemen. The Jordanians are bombing Syria. The Emiratis are bombing Yemen. And now the French are bombing the Syrian city of Raqqa even more than they bombed the Syrian city of Raqqa two months ago – when President François Hollande did not tell us that France was “at war”. The point, of course, is that we had grown so used to attacking Arab lands – France had become so inured to sending its soldiers and air crews to Africa and the Middle East to shoot and bomb those whom it regarded as its enemies – that only when Muslims began attacking our capital cities did we suddenly announce that we were “at war”.

A bulldozer cuts through a sand rampart at the Syrian border in the early Isis video (AFP)

There were no code reds or code oranges in Arab capitals. They existed in a permanent state of code red, their people cringing beneath “emergency laws” imposed by dictators supported by the West, legislation even more iniquitous than those our European political masters now wish to impose on us. Of course, since the Iraqi catastrophe, we like to use local militia forces to do the dying for us. So the Kurds become our foot soldiers against Isis, or the Iraqi Shia militias or the Iranians or – though we must not admit this – the Syrian army and the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Isis has weirdly replicated this gruesome policy. However many atrocities in Europe have been committed by men who have supposedly been “radicalised” in Syria, the killers have usually been local proxies; British Muslims in the UK, French Muslims who were citizens of France or residents of Belgium. The significance of this – that Isis clearly intends to provoke a civil war within Europe, especially between France’s huge Algerian-origin Muslims and the police and political elite of France – has been spoken of in whispers. Indeed, much of the media coverage of the Paris massacres has often avoided the very word Muslim.

Just as any incomprehension we express about the borderless world into which the Arabs think they are moving carries no reference to that most borderless of Middle East nations, Israel. Arthur Balfour’s declaration, which gave the UK’s support to a Jewish homeland in Palestine during the same war that Mr Sykes and M. Georges-Picot were plotting to divide up the Arab world, anticipated new frontiers within Palestine itself, borders which, to this day, are largely undefined. Israel’s internationally recognised frontiers are ignored by the Israeli government itself because it will not even say where its eastern border lies. Is it along the old Jerusalem frontline? Is it along the grotesque Israeli wall that has effectively stolen West Bank Palestinian land? Does the state of Israel include every Jewish colony built on land thieved from the Palestinians of the West Bank? Or does it run along the entire length of the Jordan river, thus destroying any Palestinian state that might ever exist? When Israelis ask their critics to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, they should be requested to state which particular Israel they are talking about: the legal one recognised by the UN – or “Israel proper” as we call it – or an Israel that includes the entire West Bank, or “Israel improper” as we assuredly do not call it?

Our support for an Israel that has not told us the location of its eastern border runs logically alongside our own refusal to recognise – unless it suits us – the frontiers of the Arab world. It is, after all, we who are allowed to draw “lines in the sand” or “red lines”. It is we Europeans who decide where civilisations begin and end. It is the Prime Minister of Hungary who decides exactly where he will draw up his forces to defend “Christian civilisation”. It is we Westerners who have the moral probity to decide whether national sovereignty in the Middle East should be obeyed or abused.

But when the Arabs themselves decide to dispense with the whole fandango and seek their future in “our” lands rather than “their” lands, this policy breaks down. Indeed, it is extraordinary how easily we forget that the greatest frontier-breaker of modern times was himself a European, who wanted to destroy the Jews of Europe but who might well – given his racist remark about Muslims in Mein Kampf – have continued his holocaust to include the Arabs. We even have the nerve to call the murderers of Paris “fascislamists”, as the great French pseudo-philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy has just written in the press. Nazis Isis undoubtedly are – but the moment we utilise the word “Islam” in this context, we are painting the swastika across the Middle East. Levy demands more assistance to “our Kurdish allies” because the alternative is that “no boots on their ground means more blood on ours”.

But that’s what George W Bush and Tony Blair told us before marching into the graveyard of Iraq in 2003. We are always declaring ourselves “at war”. We are told to be merciless. We must invade “their” territory to stop them invading ours. But the days are long gone when we can have foreign adventures and expect to be safe at home. New York, Washington, Madrid, London, Paris all tell us that. Perhaps if we spoke more of “justice” – courts, legal process for killers, however morally repugnant they may be, sentences, prisons, redemption for those who may retrieve their lost souls from the Isis midden – we would be a little safer in our sceptered continent. There should be justice not just for ourselves or our enemies, but for the peoples of the Middle East who have suffered this past century from the theatre of dictatorships and cardboard institutions we created for them – and which have helped Isis to thrive.

By Robert Fisk, published in The Independent, Thursday 19 November 2015


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Who is responsible for the Pakistan school massacre?

Nafeez Ahmed – 19 DECEMBER 2014

Depends who you ask.

The Pakistan Taliban (TTP), the breakaway group that is spearheading an insurgency against the Pakistani state, has proudly admitted to having executed the horrifying atrocity that took the lives of 148 innocents, including over 130 children.

US officials have been quick to point the finger at Pakistan, noting the role of the notorious ‘S Wing’ of state military intelligence, the ISI, in covertly sponsoring various Taliban factions inside Afghanistan.

And Prime Minister Nawar Sharif, clearly feeling the pressure, has for the first time ever conceded the ISI’s duplicitous strategy and now vows that he will no longer distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban, but will bravely fight them all “until the last terrorist is killed.”

Some in Pakistani diaspora communities in the west, however, have a different view. “Mossad did it,” I’ve heard from a surprising number of people. “To make Muslims look bad.” Others blame the CIA, or MI6, or both – indeed, all three.

This sort of pathetic, ignorant denialism is almost as bad as the pathetic official finger pointing.

The sad truth is that none of these actors are free of responsibility for the murky origins of the TTP.

The double game

It is, of course, a matter of record that the Pakistani ISI has secretly supported the Afghan Taliban for more than a decade, a matter I have tracked and documented since even before 9/11. Yet from the very inception of this policy, it has been pursued with tacit and selective US support.

In the run-up to 9/11, the idea was to use the Taliban as a proxy on behalf of two US energy companies, Unocal and Enron, to achieve sufficient stability to permit the construction of the Trans-Afghan pipeline project – the Pakistani ISI, was the chief conduit of US logistical, financial and military aid to the Taliban during this period.

Yet even after 9/11, despite US intelligence agencies being intimately familiar with ongoing Pakistani ISI support for the Afghan Taliban fighting NATO troops in the country, Pakistan has continued to receive billions of dollars of military aid in the name of counterterrorism.

Yet throughout all this US counter-terrorism assistance, the ISI’s support of the very factions NATO forces are fighting in Afghanistan has gone on, unimpeded. Two declassified US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reports dated two weeks after 9/11, found that al-Qaeda had been “able to expand under the safe sanctuary extended by Taliban following Pakistan directives” and ISI funding.

In 2006, a leaked US Ministry of Defence report showed that the British government was fully aware of how: “Indirectly Pakistan (through the ISI) has been supporting terrorism and extremism” – including being involved in the 2005 London bombings, and insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Confidential NATO reports and US intelligence assessments circulated to White House officials in 2008 further confirmed ongoing ISI support for Taliban insurgents, tracing the complicity to senior ISI officials including Pakistan’s head of military intelligence, in providing extensive military support to Taliban camps in Balochistan and the ‘Haqqani’ network leading the insurgency around Kabul. Despite these reports being circulated around the highest levels of the White House, senior Obama administration officials went to pains to persuade US Congress to extend military assistance to Pakistan for five years, with no need for assurances that ISI assistance to the Taliban had ended.

So it continued, with US support. In 2010, the massive batch of classified US military cablesreleased via Wikileaks documented how from 2004 to 2010, US military intelligence knew full well that the ISI was supporting a wide range of militant factions in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, even while receiving billions of dollars of US counterterrorism assistance. And a NATO intelligence report leaked in 2012 similarly showed that the ISI was directly sponsoring the Taliban, providing them safe havens, and even manipulating fighters and arresting only those believed to be uncooperative with ISI orders.

So if it is, indeed, accurate to accuse Pakistan of playing a «double game» in the ‘War on Terror’, what about the United States? The US Congressional Research Service last year pointed out that after 9/11, “the United States has viewed Pakistan as a key ally, especially in the context of counterterrorism and Afghan and regional stability. Pakistan has been among the leading recipients of US foreign assistance both historically and in recent years.”

This year, Pakistan received $1.2 billion in US economic and security aid. Next year, while the civilian portion of aid is being slashed over concerns about misuse of funds, the US will still provide a total of around $1 billion. The military portion of this will help the Pakistan military “to conduct counterinsurgency (COIN) and counterterrorism (CT) operations against militants and also encourage continued US-Pakistan military-to-military engagement.”

Calibrating violence

US military aid in the name of counterterrorism assistance has in other words directly supported the ISI even while it has covertly sponsored the insurgency in Afghanistan. Why?

In 2009, I obtained a confidential report commissioned by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which provided a shocking explanation for this seemingly contradictory policy. The report, authored by respected defence consultant Prof Ola Tunander who had previously contributed to a high-level Danish government inquiry into US covert operations during the Cold War, concluded that US strategy in AfPak is to “support both sides in the conflict” so as to “calibrate the level of violence,” ironically to prolong, not end, regional conflicts. This counterintuitive strategy, the report argued, appears to be motivated by a wider geopolitical objective of maintaining global support for US interventionism to maintain regional security. By fanning the flames of war in AfPak, US forces are able to “increase and decrease the military temperature and calibrate the level of violence” with a view to permanently “mobilize other governments in support of US global policy.”

While pundits are now claiming that the TTP, which broke away from the Afghan Taliban to begin targeting the Pakistani state, is the avowed enemy of the ISI, the situation remains complicated. The TTP still maintains relations with its Afghan counterpart for some operations, members of which often flock to the TTP. And in 2009, an Independent on Sunday investigation reported that despite having burned down 200 girls’ schools and conducted 165 bomb attacks against Pakistani security forces, local politicians fleeing the attacks claimed that “elements of the military and the militants appear to be acting together… The suspicion of collusion, said a local government official in the largest town, Mingora, is based on the proximity of army and Taliban checkposts, each ‘a mile away from the other.’”

Pakistani investigative journalist Amir Mir noted that far from being staffed by mullahs, the TTP’s shura councils are filled with former Pakistani military and intelligence officials. The “large number of ex-servicemen, including retired commissioned officers, as its members,” raised disturbing questions about the extent to which disgruntled extremists inside the ISI have been using the movement to impose their brutal Islamist ideology not just in northwest Pakistan, but within the Pakistani state itself.

Silent killings

Yet as TTP violence has escalated, the Pakistani army has accelerated local military operations in response, just as Obama has accelerated indiscriminate drone strikes across the region. Both these approaches have tended to target not terrorists, but civilians. According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, Pakistani security forces have conducted major offensives in the northwest Swat Valley and neighbouring areas, killing “civilians with mortars, direct fire, and with bombs… In some years, it appears that Pakistani security forces were responsible for the majority of civilian killings,” as opposed to the TTP, which is clearly brutal enough.

Indeed, while the TTP’s latest wanton massacre of school children has captured public attention, the media has remained essentially silent on the Pakistani military’s slaughter of up to a hundred plus civilians through the first half of this year. No one knows the true scale of the casualties, but the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, analyzing public record news reports (which themselves are conservative due to being based on official government claims), found that the Pakistani airstrikes killed up to 540 people, and that as many as 112 of these could have been civilians. Not a peep of condemnation from either the mainstream media, or Pakistani diasporas in the west.

The CIA’s drone strikes are equally counterproductive. A secret CIA Directorate of Intelligencereport just released via Wikileaks, reviewing the record of drone strikes and counterinsurgency operations over the last decades, admits that these “may increase support for the insurgents, particularly if these strikes enhance insurgent leaders’ lore, if non-combatants are killed in the attacks, if legitimate or semi-legitimate politicians aligned with the insurgents are targeted, or if the government is already seen as overly repressive or violent.”

Militarisation is no solution

The rise of the TTP, which appears in some ways even more extreme than its Afghan counterpart, is a direct result of the massive, indiscriminate violence deployed by both the US and Pakistan in the region – which feeds the grievances driving locals into the TTP’s ranks. Denying that this violence radicalizes people on the ground is futile. The fact is that the TTP was spawned as an ultra-extreme reaction to the ongoing militarised approach to the region, which itself has slaughtered thousands of civilians.

Yet the frankly disgusting double-game of the US and Pakistani governments in the violence does not absolve the Taliban and its offshoots from their own responsibility for mass murder. The twisted ideology they use to justify their terrorist attacks against civilians, and children no less, must be countered and de-legitimised.

But equally, the rampant expansion of this ideology in areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan has been enabled by the comprehensive breakdown of local institutions and basic economic infrastructure, where alienation and resentment find their outlets through a violent extremism fed by a fatal cocktail of covert foreign finance and selective ISI sponsorship. The short-sighted obsession with military solutions coming from both the US and Pakistani establishments, in this context, merely throws fuel on the fire. Who will counter the entrenched ideologies behind these failed military policies?

In theory, there is a way out. The US must wind-down its self-serving obsession with military aid to Pakistan, much of which is being used to finance the very enemies we are supposedly fighting. Instead of providing billions of dollars of ‘counterterrorism’ focused aid to a hopelessly corrupt government, such billions could be used in coordination with the state to empower genuine grassroots networks like the Rural Support Programmes and others with a proven track-record in enfranchising communities in self-development and poverty alleviation. Only be empowering the Pakistani people, can the country hope to begin moving towards a genuine democracy based on a vibrant and engaged civil society.

From here, we may begin to see Pakistanis themselves further developing their own indigenous conceptions of Islam, drawing on the well-established Pakistani spiritual-cultural traditions of peace and inclusiveness represented in the musical movements of eastern classical, folk, qawwali, bhangra, Sufi and contemporary hip hop, rock and pop, and represented by nationally-acclaimed cultural icons like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Junoon, among countless others. Such Pakistani cultural icons demonstrate that truly populist approaches to Islam and spirituality are not regressive, but progressive. The militant madrassas preaching exclusionary violence and totalitarian politics in the name of Islam, are being propped up not by local traditions, but by vast inputs of foreign finance exporting an alien ideology over decades from the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia.

And there is a role in this for diaspora communities to mobilize their wealth, expertise and resources to help build the long-term capacity of Pakistani communities to resist and counter the alien ideologies represented by movements like the Taliban – but the focus here must be on crafting positive visions for the future, through meaningful institution-building. More than that, diaspora communities, indeed western citizens in general, need to recognize their fundamental responsibility to engage critically and relentlessly to pressure western government institutions and hold them to account for failed foreign policies pursued in our name that are aggravating the AfPak quagmire.

Extremists are gleefully filling a vacuum of despair cultivated by ruthless domestic corruption and callous international geopolitics. It is never too late to begin cultivating the seeds of hope.


One Response to Geopolitics

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