Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Korean crisis and the threat of a wider war

This week marks the 60th anniversary of China’s entry in force into the Korean War. The attack carried out by some 300,000 Chinese troops resulted in one of the most stunning defeats suffered by the US military in its entire history.

What followed was a protracted and bloody stalemate that ended only with the armistice declared in July 1953. The war had claimed the lives of more than four million people, the vast majority of them Korean civilians.
Six decades after US and Chinese troops waged bitter hand-to-hand combat south of the Yalu River, tensions on the Korean peninsula are arguably at their highest since the end of the Korean War. They are being fed by and are in turn exacerbating great power conflicts between Washington and Beijing.
The arrival in the Yellow Sea this weekend of a naval battle group led by the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, signals another escalation in the current crisis.
The dispatch of the giant warship was announced in the immediate wake of the North Korean shelling Tuesday of the island of Yeonpyeong, killing two South Korean marines and two construction workers.
North Korea has said that its bombardment was in response to shells fired into its territorial waters by the South Korean military during war games held only a few miles from the North’s coastline. South Korea launched a retaliatory barrage that it claimed inflicted significant damage, but no casualty reports have been issued in the North. Now new war games—this time with a massive US component—create the conditions for another clash.
Incendiary rhetoric has accompanied the crisis on both sides of Korea’s demilitarized zone. On Friday, North Korea denounced the planned joint US-South Korean exercises as a provocation and warned, “The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war.”
In the South, the government replaced its defense minister with a former chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and announced the adoption of new rules of engagement that would allow the military to respond with disproportionate force to attacks from the North. The garrison on Yeonpyeong (just seven miles from the North Korean coast), meanwhile, has been reinforced with more troops and heavy weapons.
Right-wing legislators, meanwhile have denounced the government of President Lee Myung-bak for failing to take more aggressive action, including the use of air strikes, against the North.
Lee and his Grand National Party (GNP), the party of the former military dictatorships that ruled South Korea with US support, came into office promising a hard-line stance toward North Korea. Its cutting off of aid and rejection of the “Sunshine Policy,” through which previous South Korean governments sought reconciliation via investments and aid, have played a significant role in provoking the escalating conflict. Now Lee is under pressure from his own supporters and elements within the military to make good on his hard-line rhetoric.
The potential for a catastrophic confrontation on the Korean peninsula is high. It is difficult to imagine another armed confrontation not provoking a major retaliation by the South Korean military.
What makes the situation all the more fraught with danger is the way in which it is being exploited by Washington to pursue its own strategic aims in the region, particularly vis-à-vis China.
US officials have acknowledged that the dispatch of the USS Washington and its accompanying destroyers and other escort ships to the Yellow Sea is aimed as much, if not more, at China as at North Korea.
“Mr. Obama’s decision to accelerate the deployment of an American aircraft carrier group to the region is intended to prod the Chinese,” the New York Times reported Thursday. “American officials hope that by presenting Beijing with an unpalatable result—the expansion of American maneuvers off its shores—China will decide that pressing North Korea is the lesser of two evils.”
A senior administration official told the New York Times on Wednesday: “To the Chinese, the message is that if North Korea undertakes actions such as uranium enrichment or the attack on the South that threaten our equities, the US will respond in ways that negatively affect China’s perceived interests. The response is directed at messaging North Korea and reassuring South Korea, but China clearly does not like to see US aircraft carriers, for example, in the Yellow Sea.”
Washington had threatened to carry out joint US-South Korean military exercises in the Yellow Sea last July, ostensibly in response to the sinking of a South Korean warship in which 46 sailors lost their lives. South Korea has charged North Korea with having sunk the vessel, which went down near the disputed maritime border imposed by the US at the end of the Korean War, but Pyongyang has denied any responsibility.
In the face of Beijing’s sharp protests, the Obama administration shifted those exercises to the Sea of Japan, away from Chinese waters.
This time Washington is deploying one of its most powerful warships in the Yellow Sea as a demonstration of its military supremacy against China.
While the Chinese government issued a measured warning over the exercise, declaring that it opposed “any military acts in our exclusive economic zone”—which extends 200 miles from the Chinese coast—others close to the Beijing government and its military vigorously denounced the US maneuvers.
While the immediate pretext for the provocative exercise is the Korean conflict, it is in line with an increasingly aggressive US policy in Asia. This has included the US attempt to insert itself into territorial conflicts in the South China Sea, backing Japan, Vietnam and other ASEAN countries against China. Washington’s aim in the region has been the pursuit of a series of alliances and assertions of military power directed against China that stretch from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to Southeast Asia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
In the wake of the world capitalist financial meltdown, geostrategic offensive has been coupled with increasingly aggressive demands for Chinese currency revaluations and trade concessions.
Fundamentally, the growing US-China tensions are rooted in deep-going shifts in the world economy and the global balance of forces: China’s rise to the position of the world’s second-largest economy, eclipsing Japan, on the one hand, and the relative economic decline of US imperialism, combined with its growing use of military force, on the other.
This conflict threatens to turn Northeast Asia and the entire planet into a tinderbox. Much as in the period preceding the First World War, seemingly isolated regional confrontations between minor powers have the potential of precipitating a global conflagration, this time between nuclear-armed adversaries.
Such a catastrophe can be prevented only through the political mobilization of the international working class in the struggle for socialism. (WSWS)

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Friday, 26 November 2010

North & South Korean Crisis; Q & A

What has led to the current crisis?

North Korea has fired artillery shells onto a South Korean island across its disputed western maritime border, injuring both civilians and soldiers and property. South Korea has returned fire and raised its military alert to its highest non-wartime status. The Northern Limit Line (NLL) is  disputed by North Korea and comes as South Korea’s annual Hoguk military exercises get under way. The incident took place with renewed talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme, including revelations of an active uranium enrichment site and preparations for another nuclear test.
Taken together, the nuclear demonstration and the attack are widely interpreted as an effort to bolster the credentials of Kim Jong-un, the heir apparent as the country’s leader, and the son and grandson of the only two men who have run the country. When his father, Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s ailing leader, was establishing his credentials, the North conducted a similar series of attacks.
Is this not common in the region?
Yes, this is not the most serious incident between the two nations. This incident comes eight months after the sinking of a South Korean warship. In March 2010 the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, was sailing close to the disputed maritime border when an explosion split it in two. 46 soldiers were killed. Investigators concluded that what sank the ship was a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine.
Why are their tensions between North and South Korea?
Tensions go back to the manner in which the victorious allies determined the division of the Korean Peninsula. Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and ruled over it until 1945. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the UN constructed the administration of Korea. The UN divided the peninsula into two zones of administration: the Soviet Union to the north and the US to the south. North Korea refused to participate in a UN supervised election held in the south in 1948, which led to the creation of separate Korean governments for the two occupation zones. Both North and South Korea claimed sovereignty over the Korean Peninsula as a whole, which led to the Korean War.
North Korea invaded the South, using Soviet tanks and weaponry, China also joined the war on the side of Communist North Korea, the threat of communist expansion led to the US to defend South Korea and by 1953 the US ended the war in a ceasefire agreement at more or less the same boundary, with South Korea making slight territorial gains. The two countries never signed a peace treaty, the two Koreas remain technically at war, since no peace treaty was signed after the conflict. Today the Korean Peninsula remains divided, the Korean Demilitarized Zone acts as the de facto border
Ever since, tensions have remained between the two Korea’s. During the Cold war both were patrons of external powers but border skirmishes and assassination attempts have become the norm. The North failed in several assassination attempts on South Korean leaders, most notably in 1968, 1974 and the Rangoon bombing in 1983. Tunnels were frequently found under the DMZ and war nearly broke out over the Axe Murder Incident at Panmunjeom in 1976. In the late 1990s, with the South having rapidly developed and with North Korea having strong rulers with a firm grip on the country, the two nations began to engage publicly for the first time, in what has come to be known as the Sunshine Policy.
North Korea thereafter began a uranium enrichment program in order to possess nuclear weapons which have exacerbated tension between South Korea and the North.
Is there any international dimension to the crisis?
International involvement on the Korean peninsula is the fundamental problem in the region and continues to infuriate the conflict. The Korean War ended with The UN declaring the Korean peninsula divided between North and South between the Soviet Union and China on one hand and the US on the other.
Whilst the highest-level contact the government of North Korea has had with the US was with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who visited Pyongyang in 2000, the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations. Then in 2002, George W. Bush labeled North Korea part of an ‘axis of evil’ and an ‘outpost of tyranny,’ which has defined US actions against North Korea ever since.
With North Korea developing Nuclear weapons the US position has always been very clear. The US in 1986 demanded detailed information on North Korea’s nuclear programme, which North Korea refused to hand over to the US, instead it gave those detailed documents running into 19,000 pages to China. An agreement was reached between the US and North Korea in 1994 regarding North Korea’s nuclear reactors. This agreement called for North Korea to bring to halt its nuclear programme and shut down its Yongbyon reactors. This was in exchange for the US supplying two light-water type reactors. But the US failed to honor its part of the promise and hence North Korea resumed its nuclear activities. This has been the case ever since, the US offers a range of promises which do not materialize so North Korea continues with its nuclear programme.
As put it in an Al Jazeera interview Robert Gates outlined the US position: “The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-weapons state.” He warned against the flaring of a nuclear arms race and said: “We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region, or on us.” On the issue of nuclear proliferation, Gates said: “The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and its allies, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action.”
China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and is the country which holds the greatest sway over the secretive Pyongyang regime. China has supported the regime since the 1950’s and forms part of the six-party gathering which comprises the North & South Koreas, America, Russia and Japan which negotiates on behalf of the US with North Korea to find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns as a result of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.
What are the US and China really attempting to achieve with North Korea?
The US has been considerably silent to the nuclear progress in Pyongyang compared to Iran, whilst China has been pursuing six party talks trying to ensure its back door is not set on fire. The statements from such meetings have been contradictory where china has been pessimistic about the talks with distance on most issues whilst the US has continually remarked ‘successful negotiations’. The New York Times commented ‘America’s opening gambits in this process have exasperated a stalemate, as these positions have been so unworkable that it almost presents the case of feigning a stance.
The US has always offered North Korea incentives for closing down its nuclear activities, but the US has never delivered on its promises. This is why North Korea always resumes its nuclear activities. North Korea has attempted after testing a nuclear bomb in October 2006, to come to some agreement with the US over security and peace. This is as the North Korean people have been in virtual poverty due to the whole economy being geared towards war which has resulted in no consumer industry or general economic development. Hence the testing of nuclear devices was in order to warm the waters for a mutual agreement with the US. The US has not negotiated with North Korea which is prolonging the issue. The continued sluggish progress and prolonging fits perfectly for the presence of nearly 100 000 US troops in the region and with North Korea testing its nuclear arsenal in October 2006 this will expend Chinese efforts and gives a suitable justification for sustained and substantial US presence in South Korea.
J Rielly outlined this in a policy paper ‘These U.S. troops are in the region not simply to fight the “terrorist groups” causing local instability, but to enhance U.S. military control over territory in the South China Sea. This strategic area with vast potential oil reserves sits aside the shipping lanes to the Middle East and offers access to much of Southeast Asia. The expanded U.S. presence and nascent military alliances with Southeast Asian nations exacerbates Chinese anxieties and impedes independent accords among Asian states through such mechanisms as the ASEAN Regional Forum.’
China shares an open border with the Korean peninsula, therefore any escalation of hostilities brings the US military even closer to China’s borders.
What is the likely outcome of this crisis and the future for the region?
The US has conducted a summer of military exercises in the region confirming its support for the security of the nations that surround China. The US has used this crisis to send its USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group to participate in South Korea’s Hoguk military exercises. It is unlikely South Korea will retaliate – they never have, with the US in the region the US could launch strikes against North Korea’s nuclear sites?
However this is very unlikely as China would see this as a major threat to its territorial integrity and retaliate. The US never resorted to such measures when North Korea did not have either a nuclear warhead or ballistic missile and was aware that Pyongyang was heading in this direction. The US has always used incentives to bring North Korea to the negotiating table.
What is the reality of North Korea domestically and its leadership?
North Korea since the end of WW2 was ruled by the current ruler, Kim Jong-il’s father Kim Il-sung – the founder of North Korea and the country’s only president. He was replaced by his son as heir, who himself is in the process of transferring power to his son. North Korea initially followed the Juche philosophy of self – reliance, however with the collapse of the Soviet Union this was replaced with a military first doctrine.
Kim Jong Il used the doctrine to consolidate his own political position and mobilize the country against threats both external and internal. There are practically no civilians in North Korea: there are only future soldiers, current soldiers, veterans, and families of soldiers. The military is the only truly functioning institution in the society, not only in terms of protecting borders and preparing for the much-touted foreign attack, but also in maintaining infrastructure and keeping the extraction industries running.
By putting the military first, the North Korean leadership is responding to a perceived foreign threat from the outside and strengthening the regime’s hold on power. But it is also appealing to the country’s most representative institution. In this sense, the military-first doctrine is a populist platform. Pyongyang’s nuclear tests can be interpreted as an attempt to stimulate nationalist pride and provide some measure of compensation for the economic adversity of the past decade. (HTB)
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Pentagon issues grim review of Afghanistan war

Violence has reached record levels in Afghanistan, and the resistance to the US-led occupation is more widespread than ever, according to a report issued by the Pentagon.

The semiannual report, required by Congress, provides a grim assessment of the US war, now in its tenth year, giving the lie to rosy public statements issued by the Obama administration and senior military commanders.
The report, released this week, is titled, “Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” but its contents suggest that in doubling the number of US troops deployed in Afghanistan since taking office, President Barack Obama has only created a deeper quagmire for the US military.
With nearly 100,000 American soldiers and Marines and another 50,000 other NATO and foreign troops participating in the occupation, the report found that security conditions in 124 districts viewed by NATO as “key terrain” remained “relatively unchanged.”
The report states, “Progress across the country remains uneven, with modest gains in security, governance and development in operational priority areas.” It described progress as “slow and incremental.”
What has changed sharply, however, is the number of Afghans dying and the level of violence, which has risen in tandem with the increase in the number of foreign troops deployed in the country.
The report, which covers developments from last April through September, cites a 300 percent increase in armed clashes since 2007 and a 70 percent rise since last year.
Despite the US troop buildup, the report concedes that “The insurgency has proven resilient with sustained logistics capacity and command and control.” It acknowledges that the Taliban and other anti-occupation forces have managed to “retain operational momentum in some areas.”
According to the Pentagon survey, the number of Afghans describing their security situation as “bad” has likewise risen to its highest level. Stating the self-evident, the report continues by noting that the “downward trend in security perception is likely due to the steady increase in total violence over the past nine months.”
Pointing toward the threat of a wider war, the report blames the continued strength of the resistance on so-called “insurgent safe havens” across Afghanistan’s borders in Pakistan as well as Iran.
“Efforts to reduce insurgent capacity, such as safe havens and logistic support originating in Pakistan and Iran, have not produced measurable results,” the report states.
It also attributes the gains of the armed anti-government groups to the corrupt character of the US-backed puppet regime headed by President Hamid Karzai.
“Corruption continues to have a corrosive effect on ISAF efforts in Afghanistan,” it states. “Afghan perceptions of injustice and the abuse of power fuel the insurgency in many areas more than the Afghan Government’s inability to provide services do.”
The survey conducted by the US military in September found that “80.6 percent of Afghans polled believe corruption affects their daily lives.”
The report adds, “This is consistent with the view that corruption is preventing the Afghan government from connecting with the people and remains a key reason for Afghans supporting the insurgency.”
While the report claims that the growth of the Afghan National Army (ANA) stood out as “one most promising areas of progress,” it acknowledges that “numerous challenges persist.” Among these it notes continuing high rate of attrition in which newly trained Afghan soldiers melt away.
It also admits that recruitment of Pashtuns into the Afghan military has remained exceedingly low. Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, Pashtuns account for 42 percent of the population. But according to the report, southern Pashtuns, concentrated in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, the center of the insurgency, account for just 3 percent of recruits. This means that the Afghan forces being deployed there are themselves an outside occupation force, largely reproducing the battle lines that prevailed in the civil war that raged in the country in the 1990s.
Underscoring the crisis confronting the US occupation was the revelation this week that a supposed senior Taliban official with whom US and NATO officials were organizing negotiations was an imposter.
The individual, identified as “Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour”, was supposedly the number-two man in the Quetta Shura led by Mullah Mohammed Omar. He was flown from Quetta, Pakistan aboard NATO aircraft and was paid substantial sums of money to participate in talks with NATO and the Karzai government. According to press reports, the “Taliban negotiator”, now identified as a shopkeeper from Quetta, met with Afghan and NATO officials three times before his masquerade was discovered.
There are suspicions within the US-NATO camp that the imposter was planted by the Pakistani military intelligence service, the ISI, as part of a bid to sabotage any attempt by Washington to bypass Pakistan in seeking a settlement with the Taliban.
Such suspicions may explain how the imposter was able to get away with his deception in the first place. The person he pretended to be was a minister of civil aviation in the previous Taliban government and known to a number of people in the Afghan government and its 70-member peace council, which was set up to pursue reconciliation with the Taliban. But they apparently were not consulted.
“It is ridiculous that people are willing to meet anyone who introduces themselves as a high authority within the Taliban. This is why we have this council – to vet people,” a member of the Afghan peace council told theFinancial Times.
In an attempt to mask the humiliating blunder, Karzai issued a statement denying the talks have ever taken place, calling reports to the contrary “propaganda” from the “foreign press.”
For his part, the US senior commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, claimed that the fact that the individual with whom his subordinates were negotiating – and paying off – was an imposter was “not a surprise.” He insisted that there had been skepticism “all along, and it may well be that that skepticism was well-founded,” declared the general.
In reality, however, US officials had touted the talks as a key part of their strategy for diffusing the insurgency and reducing the size of the US-led occupation. The Taliban leadership has repeatedly insisted that it would negotiate only under conditions of a withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
Meanwhile, the announcement of the results of the September 18 parliamentary election by the Afghan electoral commission Wednesday served to deepen the country’s crisis.
The results underscored the fraudulent character of the entire electoral process, from the presidential vote last year to September’s parliamentary ballot. They included the exclusion of 24 candidates from parliament on the grounds of fraud and a finding that 1.3 million ballots out of the 5.6 million cast had been tossed out as invalid.
Hundreds of people protested in the streets of Kabul on Wednesday denouncing the results as fraudulent.
One substantive result of the election is a sharp loss in representation for Afghanistan’s Pashtun population, which had previously accounted for the majority in the country’s parliament. It was suspected that violence in the Pashtun areas and hostility to the central government may have driven down the vote.
The BBC cited preliminary reports indicating that in Ghazni, for example, all 11 parliamentary seats went to members of the Hazara minority, the third largest ethnic group in the southern province, where Pashtuns are the majority. The election commission said on Wednesday that the results in the province had still not been determined.
The Pentagon’s progress report comes in the wake of last weekend’s NATO summit in Lisbon, which followed Washington’s lead in burying the commitment made by Obama when he launched the Afghanistan “surge” last December to begin withdrawing US troops in July 2011. Instead, it adopted a policy ostensibly aimed at transferring the “lead” in combat operations to Afghan puppet forces by the end of 2014.
Asked by a reporter about the US “exit strategy” for Afghanistan, a senior official briefing the media on the Pentagon report bristled. “We don’t have an exit strategy,” he said. “We have a transition strategy. The US commitment to Afghanistan is continuing, enduring, and long-lasting.”
In other words, the ruling establishment and its military have no intention of leaving Afghanistan. They are determined to continue their bloody efforts to annihilate the Afghan resistance in order to secure Washington’s control of the country and further US designs on establishing hegemony in the oil-rich and strategically vital region of Central Asia. (WSWS)

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Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy in Burma

The release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on November 14 has become an occasion for another outpouring of media panegyrics to this “icon of democracy” and speculation about the possibilities for “reform” and “democracy” in the country.

Suu Kyi, however, has already made clear that she has no intention of challenging the Burmese junta. Rather, with the backing particularly of the United States, she is seeking a deal with the country’s generals. Suu Kyi has hinted that she is ready to reverse her previous stance and call for the easing or lifting of US and European sanctions in return for concessions from the generals—all in the name of helping the Burmese people.
None of this political manoeuvring by Suu Kyi has anything to do with concern for the democratic rights or the appalling living conditions of the Burmese masses. Her willingness to negotiate with the junta is bound up with a tactical shift by the Obama administration since September 2009. Washington has adopted a “carrot and sticks” approach to the Burmese generals: the offer of improved diplomatic and economic relations if an accommodation with Suu Kyi is reached, and the threat of tougher US measures, including human rights charges against the junta leaders, if not.
Obama’s policy toward Burma is part of an aggressive drive throughout Asia to undermine the influence of Washington’s rival—China. Obama and his officials have been engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity designed to strengthen existing military alliances, including with Japan and South Korea, forge closer strategic ties with countries like India, and prise close Chinese partners like Burma from Beijing’s sphere of influence.
US calls for “democracy” in Burma are a convenient screen behind which talks with the dictatorial regime are to take place. Obama has demanded Suu Kyi’s release as the precondition for better relations, not because she is a “champion of democracy”, but because she represents sections of the Burmese bourgeoisie, who are oriented to the West and to the further transformation of the country into a cheap labour platform for transnational corporations.
Suu Kyi is also a useful safety valve for the deep-seated hostility among broad masses of working people to the junta’s oppressive regime. She has in the past exploited opposition movements against the military to press for concessions while at the same time preventing protests from threatening the foundations of capitalist rule. Above all, this was the role that Suu Kyi and her party played in the tumultuous events of August-September 1988.
Student protests against the regime earlier in 1988 began to involve broader layers of the population, fed up with the lack of democratic rights, deteriorating living standards and police repression. The demonstrations dramatically escalated after junta leader General Ne Win stepped down in July and was replaced by Sein Lwin, notorious for his repressive methods. In preparation for a major national demonstration on August 8, there were a series of smaller protests, the formation of neighbourhood and strike committees and a call for a general strike.
The junta responded to the large protests on August 8 by firing into the crowds, killing hundreds, but the general strike proceeded and demonstrations continued. Stoppages in Rangoon, Mandalay and other cities drew in government employees, oil workers, rail workers, dock workers and others, and brought transportation and economic activity to a halt. In Rangoon, whole neighbourhoods were controlled by opposition committees. In the countryside, farmers began to protest in support of their demands.
For more than a month, the junta was paralysed. On August 12, Lwin resigned without explanation and was replaced by Maung Maung, a civilian supporter of the junta, who appeared conciliatory. He ended martial law and offered a referendum on multi-party rule. Soldiers and police acted more cautiously, which encouraged more people to join the opposition. Hundreds of thousands of people joined new national protests on August 22.
It was not until August 26 that Suu Kyi, along with other bourgeois opposition figures, stepped in—to act as brake on the mass movement, particularly of workers, that had brought the junta to the brink of collapse. Speaking to a crowd estimated at half a million on that day, she urged people to “try to forget what has already taken place”. She called on protesters “not to lose their affection for the army” and to achieve their demands by “peaceful means”.
Suu Kyi’s intervention provided the junta with the critical breathing space that it desperately needed. While rejecting Maung’s proposal for a referendum, Suu Kyi promoted the fatal illusion that the demands of working people would be met through an election. Right up to the military crackdown on September 18, opposition leaders called for people to be “patient”, saying they were sure that Maung would hand power to an interim government and allow free elections.
Instead, General Saw Maung dismissed the government, established the State Law and Restoration Council (SLRC), declared martial law and ordered troops to crush the protests. At least 3,000 people were killed in Rangoon alone and many more in Mandalay and other areas. Thousands were arrested. Others fled the country or to the countryside.
Suu Kyi condemned the repression but urged people to wait for the elections that the regime had promised. While her National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in the 1990 poll, the junta, having secured its control over the country, dismissed the result. The generals kept Suu Kyi under house arrest, detained other NLD figures and ignored the sanctions imposed by the US and its European allies.
Suu Kyi and the NLD played a similar role in 2007 when large demonstrations against the junta erupted, sparked initially by the protests of monks. From the outset, Suu Kyi insisted that the movement should not challenge the generals. “There should be no agitation to topple the military regime. It will make people much more wary of a military response and people will become reluctant to join the movement,” she said.
The conclusion that Suu Kyi has sought to instil from the 1988 political upheavals is that the protests went too far, provoked the army repression and should never be repeated. In fact, the opposite is the case. The opposition movement remained under the domination of figures like Suu Kyi who held it back precisely at the point that the generals were most vulnerable. The working class that had played the central role in bringing the junta to its knees lacked the leadership necessary to challenge the NLD and make a bid for the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government based on socialist policies.
The events of 1988 to 1990 are an object lesson in Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution, which demonstrates the organic incapacity of any section of the bourgeoisie in countries of a belated capitalist development such as Burma to meet the democratic aspirations and social needs of working people. Only the working class, by winning the allegiance of the urban and rural poor, can carry out those tasks as part of the broader struggle for socialism in South East Asia and internationally.
That is the revolutionary perspective for which the International Committee of the Fourth International fights. We urge workers and youth to seriously study our history and program and take up the challenge of building a section of the world Trotskyist movement in Burma. (WSWS)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

NATO summit to embrace indefinite Afghan war

The NATO summit that began yesterday in Lisbon, Portugal has one primary objective in regards to the US-led war in Afghanistan: to shelve all talk of President Barack Obama’s July 2011 deadline for beginning the withdrawal of troops.

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has banished the word “withdrawal” from its statements on Afghanistan. July 2011 has become simply the beginning of a “transition.”
The end of 2014 is now being invoked by the US and its allies as the key date in the war. By that time, the Army and National Police of the puppet Afghan regime of President Hamid Karzai will purportedly be sufficiently large and trained to undertake the main combat operations against the Taliban and other anti-occupation insurgent organisations.
US special envoy Richard Holbrooke told reporters this week in Pakistan: “From Lisbon on, we will be on a transition strategy with a target date of the end of 2014 for Afghanistan to take over responsibility for leading the security.” American forces would still remain after that date, however. “We have a transition strategy. We do not have an exit strategy,” Holbrooke stressed.
The New York Times, having been briefed by administration officials, on November 14 summed up Obama’s perspective: “By the end of 2014, American and NATO combat forces could be withdrawn if conditions warrant, although tens of thousands very likely will remain for training, mentoring and other assistance, just as 50,000 American troops are still in Iraq.”
In other words, Washington plans an indefinite presence of US occupation forces in Afghanistan. Even if “conditions warrant” that foreign troops are not required for direct combat by 2014—a prospect dismissed by virtually all analysts—the Pentagon will assert that an enduring presence is required to provide “training, mentoring and assistance.”
This is particularly the case as Afghanistan has no air force. The US military intends to operate indefinitely from the massive air base it has constructed at Bagram, in the very heart of Central Asia.
The repudiation of withdrawal timetables underscores that Obama’s rhetoric was always a cynical exercise in deception. The truth is that both parties of American imperialism, Democratic and Republican, are equally committed to imposing a permanent US military footprint in two of the key energy-producing regions of the world, Central Asia and the Middle East.
The fundamental motive of the wars, carried out under the fraudulent banner of a “war on terrorism,” has been to gain for American corporations a greater share in the exploitation of lucrative resources and position the US military to disrupt or even shut down energy supplies to strategic rivals such as China.
For nine terrible years, significant sections of the impoverished but fiercely independent Afghan population have resisted the agenda of US imperialism and its allies. Tens of thousands have lost their lives, including thousands of women, children and elderly who have been slaughtered by air strikes or gunned down during raids on villages and homes. Amid the destruction and disruption of war, an unknown number have died from malnutrition, disease and lack of medical treatment.
Thousands have died in North West Pakistan as well, where the pro-US Pakistani government has waged brutal campaigns against tribal populations that support the Afghan resistance, and US Predator drones regularly unleash missiles against civilian sites allegedly sheltering insurgents.
The implications of the Lisbon summit for the people of Afghanistan and North West Pakistan are countless more years of death, destruction and terror.
Already, as part of Obama’s surge, which boosted US and NATO troop numbers to 150,000, violence has been massively stepped up, with new offensives launched in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Indicative of the brutal character of such operations, the number of bombs being dropped over Afghanistan has soared. Over 1,000 bombing missions were conducted in October, compared with 660 in October 2009.
Heavy M1 Abrams tanks are being deployed to southern Afghanistan for the first time to assist Marines in suppressing the resistance they are encountering.
The civilian population is being subjected to indiscriminate collective punishment. A New York Times article on Tuesday reported that American troops are systematically destroying hundreds of civilian houses in former Taliban-controlled areas of Kandahar, on the grounds that they may be booby-trapped. In a statement that resonated with the brutality of the Vietnam War, the pro-occupation Afghan governor of Kandahar’s Khosrow district, where as many as six villages have been levelled, told the Times: “We had to destroy them [the villages] to make them safe.”
Equally reminiscent of Vietnam, US and NATO special forces units are carrying out an Operation Phoenix-style campaign of mass killing. An American commander gloated this week to the Christian Science Monitor that every 24 hours, special forces are “killing or capturing three to five mid-level enemy leaders and 24 enemy fighters.”
If such a rate is sustained, close to 10,000 more Afghan lives will be extinguished just by the occupation death squads over the next 12 months.
The claim that the victims of the war are “terrorists” or a threat to the United States or any other country is a contemptible lie. The CIA itself has admitted that there are barely 50 to 100 people in all of Afghanistan with Al Qaeda links. Thousands of people are being killed, dragged off to prison or having their homes demolished because they are not prepared to accept foreign domination or a US puppet government.
What is taking place in Afghanistan is a calculated and murderous attempt to drown in blood the legitimate opposition among the population to the US-led occupation. In carrying out their neo-colonial agenda, the ruling classes of the occupying countries are likewise indifferent as to the toll of US and NATO troops killed, wounded and mentally destroyed. This year’s death toll stands at 654 already, with well over 3,000 wounded. The overall number of US and NATO dead since the 2001 invasion has passed 2,200.
Various NATO and non-NATO US allies have stepped forward ahead of the Lisbon summit to pledge their continued participation in the war. Afghanistan and the “war on terrorism” continue to provide them a screen behind which they can justify attacks on democratic rights at home, carry forward the expansion of their military forces, and insist on US backing for their own predatory colonial ambitions.
Germany is extending its mission until 2012 and increasing combat operations by its troops. Canada, which was to withdraw its contingent by the end of 2011, has announced it will leave a force of up to 1,000 “trainers” until 2014. France’s defense minister, Alain Juppe, stated Wednesday that French troops would not leave until “Afghan authorities have the situation in hand.”
The Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, told a parliamentary debate last month that Australian forces would be involved in Afghanistan until “the end of decade at least”.
The head of the British armed forces, General Sir David Richards, anticipated an even longer involvement. He declared this week that while most British combat troops may leave between 2012 and 2014, “everyone is clear that we will have to remain a lot longer than that.”
In response to a journalist’s question as to whether the US/NATO occupation could last “30 to 40 years,” he replied, “I think it will.”
The working class has no interest in the neo-colonial drive to subjugate the Afghan people. The governments of every country represented at the Lisbon summit, whether in North America, Europe or the Pacific, are presiding over social devastation on behalf of the same capitalist oligarchy in whose interests the war is being waged. At the same time, they are using claims of “terrorist threats” to strip away democratic rights and prepare the framework for police-states.
Not one more cent should be squandered on criminal wars of aggression. In response to the imperialist agenda being mapped out in Lisbon, the working class must take up a political struggle for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all American and other foreign troops from Afghanistan and the dismantling of the entire US and NATO war machine. (WSWS)

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