Monthly Archives: October 2004

Land of Invisible, Unmentionable Women

WOMEN ARE OPPRESSED in all Moslem societies. But among the rural Pathans, women simply don’t exist. “They’re not even in the background. They’re just not there,” said a Pathan woman who left the Northwest Frontier to live in New Jersey. Here are three Pathan proverbs:

Women have no noses. They will eat shit.

One’s own mother and sister are disgusting.

Women belong in the house or in the grave.

You rarely see women on the Northwest Frontier or in Afghanistan; you do see moving tents with narrow holes for the eyes. Photographers who walked through minefields and sneaked into Soviet bases were afraid to take close-ups of Pathan women unless they were at least a hundred yards away and had a lens the size of a mortar–and provided not a single mujahid was looking. A close-up of a Pathan woman was more prized and difficult to get than a photograph of the undercarriage of an MI-24 helicopter gunship. The only Pathan females I was ever allowed to see were all five years old and younger. Some of those girls were beautiful, with long, dark hair, sharp cheekbones, and doe eyes. What Pathan women look like when they are older is a secret that only Pathan men know.

A desert Arab, after he gets to know you, may invite you to his home, where you may steal a brief glance at his wife while she serves the food. A Pathan may also invite you to his home, but either he or another man will carry in the food that has been prepared in the women’s quarters. The food, in turn, is often the traveler’s only clue to the presence of a woman nearby. If the dish is relatively clean and the meal appetizing, it means there is a woman in the adjoining room who cooked it; if the food is inedible, a Pathan man did the deed.

A Pathan won’t even tell you the names of his wife and mother. To ask him is an insult. It would be like asking him to undress in front of a crowd. “Women are as private to a Pathan as his private parts,” a Pathan lawyer remarked to me. “Women are the holy of holies in a culture where the men act as the barricades.” The first time I interviewed Abdul Haq I made the mistake of asking him the names of the men and women in his family. The names of the men he told me. Concerning the women, he blushed and turned away. “I wish you wouldn’t ask such personal questions,” he said. I felt ridiculous for days afterward and worried whether he would agree to see me again.

The very existence of women in a Pathan’s life is an intimate secret, sacred to him but also a source of shame. Women threaten the façade of splendid male isolation that is central to a Pathan’s sense of self. A Pathan knows women are needed for procreation, but that is an unfortunate and embarrassing fact to him, and if he could change it, he would. In the Arab world and even in Iran, pregnant women are a common sight. Among the Pathans, one never sees them, for as soon as a woman’s womb begins to expand, she is locked away in the house.

After enough time on the Northwest Frontier you forgot about Pathan women altogether. They became invisible. You forgot that the mujahidin had wives and mothers, because you never saw them and the men encouraged you to forget. Only rarely did that other, hidden world break through to the surface, as when a colleague of mine asked Abdul Haq why he always kept his hair short. “Because my mother would slap my face if I grew my hair long,” he said, turning his head away, embarrassed.

In Kabul and the other cities of Afghanistan, many women were educated, held proper jobs, and didn’t hide themselves in black sheets. That was more because of Westernization than Communist influence. The mujahidin were, for the most part, backwoodsmen, and they suffered no threats or complexities in any of their personal relationships. They inhabited a self-contained world of men, a world of sharp cutouts, where women were held in contempt and the only sure touchstones of masculinity were bravery, the ability to endure physical pain, prowess with a rifle, and the length and thickness of one’s beard.

Men without beards were distrusted by the mujahidin. After all, women didn’t have beards–and neither, thought the mujahidin, did homosexuals. Nor did the Soviets and their Afghan Communist allies. Nor, for that matter, did the more modern, secular mujahidin within the seven-party resistance–the ones who drank Coca-Cola with journalists at the Pearl Continental Hotel and who were thought to do little of the fighting. In Peshawar, a beard meant credibility. It was striking how many Western journalists and relief workers who had contact with the guerrillas had beards. You would grow one before you arrived in Pakistan and shave it off as soon as you went back home. Once, when I shaved off my beard before leaving Peshawar, a mujahid friend laughed at me and said, “You look like a woman–no, like a Christian!”

SOURCE: Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1990, 2000, 2001), pp. 49-51

Soldiers of God is a thoughtful, insightful, highly readable book. Battlefield smart, rock solid.” –Dan Rather

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan

Missiles Protected Food in Soviet Afghanistan

After daybreak the bombs came. The earth vibrated from the thousand-pounders dropped by the fighter jets overhead. Clouds of dust from exploding earth filled the air. The nearest bomb hit several hundred yards away from us and, as it turned out, nobody was hurt. It had been a useless exercise: the jets had taken off from the military air field at Jalalabad, dropped their bombs from about ten thousand feet, and flew home. The jets were flying so high that from the ground they appeared no larger than specks. Even with television-guided missiles–which these planes were not equipped with–hitting a target as small as a pup tent from that altitude is exceedingly difficult. It was another potent illustration of how the Stingers had changed the face of the war. Weighing only thirty pounds, the heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles were mobile and cost only $75,000 apiece, and in two out of three times that they were fired in Afghanistan, a Stinger destroyed a Soviet jet or helicopter that cost about $4 million each. So the Soviet and Afghan government pilots weren’t taking any chances….

The Kot Valley unrolled like a plush green carpet at the foot of Spinghar, a jungly world in sight of the snows. We alighted under a large plane tree on a raised table of earth about a hundred feet over the valley, providing a prospect from which to espy the terrain we were about to enter. A local farmer laid out a rush mat and Turkoman rug for us. His son, wearing a gold Sindhi cap, brought ceramic cups for tea. I took off my shoes and smelly socks and let the hot sun dry my feet while I drank tea under a blue sky on a rug I would have been proud to have in my living room back in Greece. It was the kind of moment that a traveler files away in his mind in order to impress people later on. But what I also remember about that moment was what the farmer told Wakhil about all the irrigation ditches that had been blown up by fighter jets, and the flooding in the valley and malaria outbreak that followed. Malaria, which on the eve of Taraki’s Communist coup in April 1978 was at the point of being eradicated in Afghanistan, had returned with a vengeance, thanks to the stagnant, mosquito-breeding pools caused by the widespread destruction of irrigation systems. Nangarhar was rife with the disease. This was another relatively minor, tedious side effect of the Soviet invasion that lacked drama and would only have numbed newspaper readers if written about or even mentioned in passing–which it never was.

We crossed rice, grain, and maize fields, walking along rebuilt irrigation embankments and down dusty trails partially shaded by apple and apricot trees. It was hot and, for the first time since I left Peshawar, a bit humid too. Almost every mud brick dwelling we saw had been hit by a bomb. Yet more civilians lived here than elsewhere in the Spinghar region, and women in colorful chadors were ubiquitous in the fields, separating the strands of grain and carrying bundles of it on their heads. Only since the end of 1986 had refugees started to come back to the Kot Valley from Pakistan. The upsurge in cultivation was the result of one thing: Stingers. High-altitude Soviet bombing notwithstanding, the missiles were providing enough air cover to frighten away low-flying gunships, allowing some peasant farmers to return and start growing crops. Relief workers in other parts of Afghanistan where the mujahidin had Stingers had also noticed this phenomenon. The antiaircraft missiles were actually putting food in people’s mouths.

We rested again in an apple orchard, and a farmer brought us the best meal I had eaten so far in Afghanistan: curds, lentils, greasy fried eggs, apples, and green tea. The heat, the greenery, the water slowly trickling in the stagnant canals, and the timelessness of the setting evoked a town in the Nile Delta in Egypt.

SOURCE: Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1990, 2000, 2001), pp. 126-129

Soldiers of God is a thoughtful, insightful, highly readable book. Battlefield smart, rock solid.” –Dan Rather

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan, malaria

The Moros and Muslim Separatism in the Philippines

Although Spain never achieved lasting sovereignty over the Moros, Mindanao and Sulu were included in the territory ceded to the United States in 1898. By 1913 Moro resistance to US rule in Mindanao and Sulu had been effectively subdued and administration of the predominantly Muslim areas was transferred from the US army to civilian authorities.

Although US officials made some attempt to accommodate Philippine Muslim customs and Islamic law, US policy was nevertheless aimed essentially at assimilating the Moros into mainstream Christian Filipino society. From 1914 integration was pursued through a ‘policy of attraction’. In Muslim areas, the government allocated substantial spending to roads, schools, hospitals and other services; education was made compulsory, and scholarships were provided for Muslims to study in Manila and in the United States. Muslims began to participate in the emerging political system. The United States administration also encouraged migration to Mindanao from the populous northern islands of Luzon and the Visayas through the provision of timber and mining concessions and land for plantations and cattle ranches. Between 1903 and 1939 the population of Mindanao, estimated at around 500,000 at the end of the Spanish period, had grown by 1.4 million. Increasingly, the new settlers encroached on ancestral Muslim and tribal lands.

In 1920 control of Mindanao and Sulu was passed from the United States administration to the Philippine legislature, and in 1935 to the newly established Commonwealth. In the latter year a group of 120 Moro datus [community leaders] from Lanao petitioned the US president, repeating earlier requests either to give the Moros political independence or to let them remain under US rule. Christian Filipinos, they claimed, discriminated against Muslims and treated them abusively. Under an administration dominated by Christian Filipinos, the ‘policy of attraction’ did indeed lapse, and there was an increasing incidence of clashes between Muslims and Christian settlers.

Following independence in 1946, there was a further heavy influx of settlers into Mindanao, doubling the population in several provinces between 1948 and 1960. By the end of the 1960s disputes over land between the Muslim population, tribal peoples and Christian settlers were becoming more frequent and more violent, and the growing number of settlers was threatening the electoral bases of several Muslim politicians.

In 1954 a special committee of the Philippine Congress was set up to report on ‘the Moro problem’, especially with regard to peace and order in Mindanao and Sulu. Partly as a result of its report a Commission on National Integration (CNI) was established in 1957. The CNI, however, was regarded with suspicion by most Philippine Muslims, who resented being referred to as a ‘national minority’ and saw the real objective of the commission to be the destruction of Philippine Muslim identity under the guise of ‘national integration’. Apart from providing scholarships to Muslim students, the CNI achieved little before its abolition in 1975. Two further reports were produced in 1963 and 1971 by a Senate Committee on National Minorities, which identified in-migration and land-grabbing as the major sources of conflict in Mindanao, but the Senate comrnittee maintained the view that the solution to the Moro problem should be sought through social and political integration and economic development.

In 1968 tensions between Muslims and Christians were heightened by an incident in which a number of Muslim recruits to the armed forces, reportedly being trained for an invasion of the Malaysian state of Sabah, were shot during an alleged mutiny. That year a Muslim (later Mindanao) Independence Movement was created to push for a separate Bangsa Moro (Moro nation). From this point, armed clashes between Muslim and Christian groups escalated, and by 1971 Muslim Mindanao and Sulu were in a state of rebellion. A government task force was sent to Mindanao to mediate between the rival groups, but had little success. Official sources acknowledged that by the end of the year clashes between Muslim and Christian groups and the military had killed over 1,500 people.

In the early 1970s the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) emerged at the forefront of the Moro movement, demanding a separate homeland, the return of ancestral land to Muslims and reform within Muslim traditional society. The leader of the MNLF, and its military arm, the Bangsa Moro Army (BMA), was Nur Misuari, one of several young Philippine Muslims who had received guerrilla warfare training in West Malaysia in the late 1960s. The international Islamic community also became involved in the conflict, supplying arms and finance to the MNLF, sending two fact-finding missions to Mindanao, accusing the Marcos government of genocide and threatening to cut off oil supplies.

The Marcos government’s response to the MNLF was multi-faceted. Its primary response was a military one. The decision to impose martial law in the Philippines in 1972 was partly rationalized in terms of the conflict in Minadano, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) launched a major offensive against the MNLF/BMA, which resulted in heavy casualties on both sides and a massive displacement of people. The AFP was assisted in this by local Civil Home Defense Force (CHDF) units, which acquired a formidable record for human rights abuses and general indiscipline, and extremist Christian right-wing vigilante groups. Marcos also announced a package of social and economic measures intended to placate separatist demands, including a commitment to the codification of Shari’a law and the creation of a Southern Philippines Development Authority to promote and coordinate economic development in the region. A third strategy , encouraged by reports of surrenders of BMA soldiers in the mid-1970s, was the commencement of a series of peace negotiations with the MNLF, through the mediation of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the Islamic Council of Foreign Ministers (ICFM), and Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi. These initiatives culminated in the signing of an agreement in Tripoli in December 1976, which provided for a ceasefire and set out tentative provisions for a broader political settlement. The latter included Muslim-dominated political autonomy in thirteen provinces of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan, which the MNLF considered to be the minimum claim for a Moro homeland. Further talks were scheduled for early 1977 to discuss the details of implementation, but negotiations collapsed and the ceasefire was abandoned.

The main sticking point in negotiations in 1976-7 concerned the geographical boundaries of Moro autonomy. By 1980, as a result of heavy in-migration, the proportion of Muslims in Mindanao’s population (which had been estimated at 76 per cent in 1903) had fallen to 23 per cent. Of the (then) twenty-three provinces in Mindanao and Sulu, only five (and in Mindanao only two) still had a Muslim majority. The MNLF, which had already compromised on its original claim to the whole of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan, nevertheless insisted that the area of Muslim autonomy should include the thirteen provinces of historical Muslim dominance. In 1977 Marcos proposed to put the issue to a plebiscite in these provinces. Realizing that this would produce a negative vote, Misuari accused the government of violating the Tripoli Agreement. Marcos nevertheless proceeded to appoint a provisional government and to organize a referendum on the form of the autonomy. The MNLF rejected an invitation to participate in the provisional government and boycotted the referendum, which predictably rejected the MNLF’s claim and endorsed a more limited proposal put forward by President Marcos. Marcos’s proposal involved the creation of two small autonomous regions in the Muslim-dominated areas of Western Mindanao and Sulu, and Central Mindanao. Elections for the two regional assemblies in 1979 were boycotted by most Muslim groups, and, with limited powers, inadequate funding and low levels of perceived legitimacy, the two regional autonomous governments were largely ineffective and did nothing to overcome the grievances of Philippine Muslims.

At about the same time, the Moro movement began to lose momentum. A number of Moro fighters surrendered to the Philippine government under amnesty arrangements, while others, as part of ‘lost commands’, turned to brigandage. More significantly, the MNLF split into three factions, along personal, ethnic and ideological faultlines. The main MNLF group, under the leadership of Misuari (a Tausug) and with the support of the OIC, was geographically centred in Sulu and ideologically the most progressive of the three….

The Moro movement received a boost, however, following the overthrow of President Marcos in 1986. Marcos’s opponents had earlier held talks with Misuari, promising to address Muslim demands if elected. In September 1986 Misuari returned to the Philippines and met with new President Aquino in Sulu. Subsequently, talks were held in Jeddah under the auspices of the OIC, at which Misuari and the Philippine government agreed to continue negotiations on autonomy through a joint commission….

Negotiations between the MNLF and the Aquino government broke down in mid-1987. By this time, however, a new Constitution had been enacted, which made specific provision for the creation of an Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and a Cordillara Autonomous Region in the north…. Despite President Aquino’s good intentions, the new autonomy arrangements thus did little to satisfy the demands of Philippine Muslims.

In 1992 Aquino was succeeded as Philippines’ president by General Fidel Ramos, who had been closely involved with the Mindanao conflict as head of the Philippine Constabulary under Marcos. In his first year of office he visited Libya and, with backing from Qaddafi and others, revived negotiations with the MNLF. In 1996 these efforts were rewarded with the signing of a Peace Agreement between the Philippine Government and the MNLF….

In some quarters the 1996 Peace Agreement was hailed as an historic breakthrough, ending decades–if not centuries–of Muslim-Christian conflict. Among Christian communities within the SZOPAD [Special Zone of Peace and Development], however, the agreement aroused deeply entrenched fears and distrust. Some Christian leaders denounced the agreement and opposed it in Congress. The legality of President Ramos’s action in securing the agreement was even challenged in the Supreme Court. As a result of this opposition, the executive order intended to give effect to the Peace Agreement was a significantly watered down version of the document signed with Misuari….

Another limitation of the 1996 Peace Agreement was that it was specifically an agreement with the MNLF. The [more religiously oriented Moro Islamic Liberation Front] MILF, which during the early 1990s appears to have grown significantly in strength and militancy and which was said to be undergoing a transition from a guerrilla force to a ‘semi-conventional army’, was not party to the negotiations leading to the 1996 agreement and continued the armed struggle for a separate Bangsa Moro. Intermittent attempts were made during the Ramos presidency to establish a dialogue with the MILF, and formal peace talks were resumed under Ramos’s successor, Joseph Estrada. Following MILF attacks on non-Muslim communities in early 2000, however, Estrada abandoned the talks and declared ‘all-out war’ against the MILF.

In August 2001, despite objections from Misuari and the MNLF, the long-awaited referendum on the proposed expansion of the ARMM was held. Not surprisingly, of the (now) fifteen provinces and nine cities covered by the SZOPAD, only five provinces and one city voted in favour. Shortly after this, elections for the ARMM took place and in the election for governor, Misuari was displaced by a rival candidate supported by the newly incumbent president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Misuari subsequently made good his threat to return to the hills, launching an armed attack on government troops before fleeing to Malaysia, where he was arrested and repatriated.

Meanwhile, in the early 1990s another renegade Muslim group emerged in the western Mindanao-Sulu area. The Abu Sayyaf was founded by a former MNLF supporter, Abdurajak Janjalani, who had received religious training in Libya before returning to the Philippines where he became a charismatic preacher and advocate of a separate Islamic state in the south. He recruited a small but committed following, some of whom had fought with the mujahideen in Afghanistan and appear to have had links with radical Muslim groups overseas, including al-Qaida. A confrontation with police in 1998 killed Janjalani but his group survived, primarily carrying on kidnapping and extortion. In 2000 Abu Sayyaf attracted international publicity with a series of kidnappings, which included several Europeans and Americans. Its ransom demands included recognition of an independent Islamic state, the release of international terrorists held overseas, the banning of foreign fishing vessels from the Sulu Sea and protection for Filipinos in Sabah, as well as payments of up to $US1 million per hostage. Some hostages were executed. Others were released following intervention by President Qaddafi.

Initially other Muslim groups, including the MNLF and the MILF, condemned Abu Sayyaf and dissociated themselves from it. Following the destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, however, the situation became more complex. The United States was already providing specialist military advisers to assist with training in counter-terrorism after Abu Sayyaf groups had taken American hostages. As US air strikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan began, there was a protest rally in the Islamic City of Marawi, during which crowds burned an American flag and shouted support for Osama bin Laden; hundreds of Philippine Muslims reportedly volunteered to go to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. Increasingly, Philippine Muslims have accused the Macapagal-Arroyo government of joining the United States in a war against Islam.

These developments, along with the arrest of Misuari and the continuing slow progress in talks with the MILF, are a reminder that many Philippine Muslims have little identification with the government in Manila, and retain a strong sense of being part of the international community of Islam.

SOURCE: “Ethnicity in the Philippines,” by R. J. May, in Ethnicity in Asia, ed. by Colin Mackerras (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), pp. 142-149

2 Comments

Filed under Philippines, religion, Spain

Lions Win the Series!

That’s the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions, of course, who dispatched the Central League’s Chunichi Dragons after 7 Games in the Japan Series.

NAGOYA (AP) Takashi Ishii went six strong innings and Alex Cabrera hit a two-run homer Monday as the Seibu Lions defeated the Chunichi Dragons 7-2 in Game 7 of the Japan Series to win their first championship since 1992.

Ishii gave up just three hits over six scoreless innings at Nagoya Dome as the Pacific League champion Lions won two straight on the road after being down three games to two in the best-of-seven series.

“I just tried to build on the momentum from yesterday’s win,” said Ishii, who finished the Japan Series with a 0.00 ERA. “It’s not often that I get to pitch in these situations. I just tried to pitch as I always do.”

It was the ninth Japan Series championship for the Lions.

The Pacific League will shrink to five teams after the highly controversial merger of the Orix Blue Wave and Kintetsu Buffalo, but help is on the way. Two Japanese internet companies are bidding to start a new team based in the northeastern city of Sendai, to be named either the Sendai Livedoor Phoenix or the Tohoku [Northeast] Rakuten Golden Eagles.

TOKYO — Internet service provider Livedoor Co, which has applied to own a professional baseball team, said Tuesday its ball club will be called Sendai Livedoor Phoenix. Livedoor conducted Internet voting to decide the name for its baseball team, with Phoenix proving the most popular among a list of 10 candidates.

Rival Internet shopping mall operator Rakuten Inc, which has also applied to own a professional ball club, on Friday named its team the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The name Eagles was second on the list of votes for Livedoor’s team. (Kyodo News)

Oh, and congratulations to the Boston Red Sox! What can we expect next year? The Cubs vs. White Sox?

Leave a comment

Filed under baseball

The Peripatetic Remains of a French Explorer

On 5 June 1866, a party of French explorers began heading up the Mekong under the leadership of a distinguished naval veteran of the Crimean campaign, Commander Ernest Doudart de Lagrée (no relation to the fictional Simon Legree). Unfortunately, Lagrée’s health got worse and worse the farther they traveled upriver.

By the time the explorers left Kunming, on 9 January 1868, Lagrée’s condition had worsened markedly, and after five days travel he was no longer able to remain seated on the horses they had with them and had to be carried on an improvised litter. When on 18 January, the party reached Dongchuan, a minor settlement close to Huize, the district capital of this sparsely settled region, it was apparent that Lagrée was gravely ill. He was suffering from severe dysentery, a fever that was probably malaria, and was again troubled by the chronic problem of his infected throat.

So he stayed behind with a naval doctor, Joubert, while his second in command, Garnier, set out to find the Mekong again.

The end came on 12 March. Believing that Lagrée’s body would lie forever in China, Joubert removed his heart and fashioned a lead casket in which to carry it back to France. Conscious of his medical responsibilities, he performed a post-mortem examination and found the second abscess on Lagree’s liver that had escaped his surgical intervention. Then, with Lagrée’s body placed in a heavy Chinese coffin, Joubert supervised its burial in the grounds of a pagoda outside Dongchuan’s walls…. There was now nothing more to do but to wait in the cold, isolated settlement whose only active commerce seemed to be in wooden coffins….

This was both the practical and symbolic end of the expedition…. Determined that Lagrée’s body should be laid to rest in French soil in Saigon, [Garnier] ordered the coffin to be exhumed and carried with the party as they continued northwards. Another thirteen days of slow and exhausting travel were necessary before the party reached the Yangtze and the opportunity to continue their travel down to the coast by boat.

They sailed downriver to Shanghai, then down the coast to Saigon, arriving on 29 June 1868.

Lagrée’s body was laid to rest with funerary pomp in Saigon, with his friend from the time of his posting in Cambodia, Bishop Miche, officiating at the burial service. But this was not the end of travels for his mortal remains. When, in 1983, the local authorities in Saigon, by this stage officially known as Ho Chi Minh City, declared their intention of building over the French colonial-period cemetery in which Lagrée’s remains lay; the French government arranged for the coffin to be transported to France and taken, eventually; to Saint-Vincent-de-Mercuze, to be placed in the family mausoleum.

SOURCE: The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future, by Milton Osborne (Grove Press, 2000), pp. 103-108

Leave a comment

Filed under China, malaria

North Korea’s Man-made Famine

NKZone‘s Andrei Lankov’s latest article, Eating Away the Truth, in his “Another Korea” series for the Korea Times is about North Korea’s long-running famine.

Few people would doubt that the famine of 1996-2000 was the worst disaster in the history of post-war Korea. However, nobody knows for sure how many people lost their lives.

Stalinist states have never been famous for openness, and important statistical data in North Korea has been classified from the early 1960s. Officialdom always insisted that the North is a “socialist paradise” where nothing could possibly go wrong.

In the mid-1990s, the North Korean officialdom grudgingly changed the pattern. It gradually dawned on Pyongyang that complaints are necessary to attract donors….

In 2001, Goodkind and West, two researchers from the International Center of the U.S. Census Bureau published what is, perhaps, the most reliable estimate available. They used both data released by the North Korean government and materials obtained from the refugees. Their initial estimates range from 200,000 to 3,000,000. To narrow the range, they also used the indirect evidence, including some Chinese materials from the era of Mao-made famines, and the WFP studies of the North’s nutritional situation. This indirect data allowed them to conclude that the Great Famine took between 600,000 and 1,000,000 lives.

The 600,000 or 900,000 do not sound as dramatic as the oft-cited “two million.” But for a country with a population of some 23 million this is a huge number. Some 3-4 percent of the entire population perished in the disaster. For the U.S., it would be equivalent to wiping out some 10 million people–a far greater proportion than America lost in any war during the twentieth century. And the disaster was entirely man-made; the result of deliberate political decisions.

However, the outside world did not care much. The North Korean famine did not become the major news issue, and outside East Asia only a handful of people really took notice. This seemingly strange indifference reflected the silent but dramatic change in the perception of North Korea that took place in the 1990s. No major player in international politics wanted to attract too much public attention to the mistakes and crimes of the Pyongyang rulers. While people were dying, powers great and small were busy playing their political chess games.

Leave a comment

Filed under Korea

Kaplan on Musharraf in September 2000

Pakistan has never been well governed. After the military fought its catastrophic war with India in 1971, hopes were placed on the new democratic leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a wealthy landlord from Sind. But Bhutto turned out to be a divisive populist who sowed fear with his security service and surrounded himself with sycophants. His 1977 re-election was marred by fraud; riots broke out and Bhutto declared martial law. Soldiers fired on people in the streets. The military wasn’t happy; the army chief of staff, Zia ul-Haq, led a coup.

It was Zia who released the fundamentalist genie: though moderate himself, he allied the military with Sunni radicals in order to win support for his new regime. After his death, in 1988 in an air crash that has yet to be explained, democracy returned with the election of Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, as Prime Minister. Though educated at Harvard, Benazir had no political or administrative experience and had made what by all accounts was a disastrous marriage to Asif Ali Zardari, who later became her Investment Minister. Zardari’s large-scale theft of public funds undermined his wife’s government. Elections next brought the Punjabi businessman Nawaz Sharif to power. Together with his brother, Shabaz, Sharif ran Pakistan as a family enterprise; the brothers’ reputation for taking huge kickbacks and other financial malfeasance outdid even that of Benazir’s cabinet. By his second term, reportedly, Sharif was amassing so much money that it was feared that he could perpetually buy off the members of the National Assembly and create a virtual dictatorship. The Sharif and Bhutto governments stand accused of stealing $2 billion in public money, part of some $30 billion smuggled out of the country during democratic rule.

When, in October 1999, General Musharraf toppled Sharif’s government in a bloodless coup, the West saw it as a turn for the worse. However, Pakistanis saw the accession of General Musharraf as a rare positive development in a country where almost all trends are bad. The local media are (at least for now) freer under the military than they were under Sharif, whose aides frequently intimidated journalists. Musharraf has initiated no extensive personality cult. He has said more to promote human rights than have the officials of recent democratic governments, working to end such abhorrent tribal and religious practices as “honor killings” and “blasphemy laws” (though radical clerics have forced him to back down on these issues). Mehnaz Akbar, of the private Asia Foundation, in Islamabad, says, “This is the most liberal time ever in Pakistan.” Musharraf, an admirer of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, is a like-minded modernizer. He shakes hands with women in full public view, and one of the first pictures taken of him after he assumed power shows him holding his two poodles, even though dogs are considered unclean by traditional Muslims. Most important, as one Pakistani journalist told me, “Musharraf speaks with conviction and people believe him, whereas Benazir, though an intellectual, was never believed.”

President Bill Clinton’s visit to Pakistan in March was not a public-relations success. Clinton, who was opposed to the military takeover, refused to shake hands with Musharraf for the television cameras. A day later Pakistanis saw Clinton, on television in Geneva, clasping the hands of the Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad–whose regime, they knew, was far more repressive than that of any Pakistani military ruler since the founding of their state.

Musharraf is characterized in the West as a dictator who supports fundamentalist terrorists in Afghanistan and Kashmir and who is not moving fast enough to restore democracy. The truth is somewhat different. Musharraf, one of the last British-style aristocratic officers in the Pakistani army, is a man in the middle. The West demands that he stop supporting Islamic militants; his fellow generals, who carried out the coup in his name, are Islamic hardliners, capable of staging another coup if Musharraf puts too much distance between himself and the Taliban and the Muslim fighters in Kashmir. Moreover, some analysts in Islamabad worry that Musharraf might be moving too fast on too many fronts in his drive to reform Pakistan. In addition to promoting human rights, a free press, and local elections that threaten tribal mafias, he has challenged the smugglers throughout Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier. As the gun battle I saw in Quetta demonstrated, Musharraf has struck hard against various ethnic nationalists and criminal groups. Unlike previous anticorruption drives in Pakistan’s history, Musharraf’s has indiscriminately targeted officials from all political parties and ethnic groups. And Musharraf has not relied on fundamentalist organizations like the Maududi-influenced Jama’at-I-Islami (“Islamic Society”) for support, as Zia did. He has in fact alienated many vested interests, who have the will and the means to fight back–which is why, despite his liberal instincts, Musharraf may yet declare martial law.

Even if Musharraf’s reformist plans succeed, one crucial element will remain: the military itself, which with its own factories, agribusinesses, road-construction firms, schools, hotels, and so on, constitutes a parallel state. No less than the civilian sector, the military is mired in corruption, and yet it is exempt from investigations by the courts. Tanvir Ahmad Khan, a former Foreign Secretary, told me that Pakistan’s only hope may be “a genuine hybrid system in which the army accepts responsibility for poverty and illiteracy in return for limited political power.” A successful hybrid system, he went on, would “democratize the army.” Rifaat Hussain, who chairs the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies at Quaid-Azam University in Islamabad, agrees: “I will not rule out a formal constitution on the Turkish model in order to create a national-security council and give the army constitutional privileges. We must find a way to legally stabilize civil-military relations.”

SOURCE: Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1990, 2000, 2001), pp. 249-252

Soldiers of God is a thoughtful, insightful, highly readable book. Battlefield smart, rock solid.” –Dan Rather

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan