North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 ends as ISAF combat mission in Afghanistan is completed

In the last Teatree post of 2014, it seems that the official close today of the ISAF combat mission in Afghanistan, is an appropriate ending note to a particularly dark year.

Afghanistan the map in pale yellow. The impoverished country has a population of just over 30 million, and has seen nearly unrelenting violence since the late 1970s. Graphic from

ISAF stands for International Security Assistance Force. It was created in December 2001 in a conference taking place in Berlin, Germany. From the ISAF website we read, "Afghan opposition leaders attending the conference began the process of reconstructing their country by setting up a new government structure, namely the Afghan Transitional Authority. The concept of a UN-mandated international force to assist the newly established Afghan Transitional Authority was also launched at this occasion to create a secure environment in and around Kabul and support the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

These agreements paved the way for the creation of a three-way partnership between the Afghan Transitional Authority, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and ISAF. On 11 August 2003 NATO assumed leadership of the ISAF operation, ending the six-month national rotations."

Since 2001, the ISAF coalition has grown and dwindled, peaking with about 50 contributing nations and at one time 130,000 combat troops. In the map, one can see the kaleidoscope of national flags - both RC (regional commands) and PRTs which stands for Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Map from

With ISAF dominated by the U.S. in terms of soldiers and funds, the coalition battled Taliban fighters, al-qaeda, Pakistani-based Islamists, and various militants from around the world who were drawn for a variety of reasons. In the 13 years of combat, the U.S. lost 2356, the UK lost 453, Canada lost 138, while all other coalition partners in total lost 538. (Statistics from, and

Looking at a graph of ISFA fatalities by month, one might assume the war is winding down ... Graphic from

The death toll among Afghan forces and civilians was, of course, much higher, without minimizing the brutality that the Taliban had brought to the nation before ISAF moved in. The reduction in ISAF casualties reflects the increasing role that frontline Afghan forces have taken on, a force that now consists of over 350,000 personnel.

It always seems as though meticulous records are kept of some combatants, and civilian tracking comes late and vague. In a recent article by The Guardian in the UK, we read, "This year is set to be the deadliest of the war, according to the United Nations, which expects civilian casualties to hit 10,000 for the first time since the agency began keeping records in 2008. It says that most of the deaths and injuries are caused by Taliban attacks."

The article continues, "As Afghan forces assume sovereignty, the country is without a cabinet, three months after Ghani’s inauguration, and economic growth is near zero due to the reduction of the international military and aid juggernauts. The United States spent more than $100m on reconstruction in Afghanistan, on top of the $1tn war effort."

New infrastructure - concrete tubes (for sewer and water) are being finished by hand, in front of newly built buildings. Photo from

Newly elected Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, faces immense challenges on top of fighting an insurgency that seems as potent as ever. Government corruption, warlords, education, health services and a viable economy top the domestic list. Photo from the Washington Times

What is next?

A residual support mission of some 13,000 military personnel (11,000 from the U.S.) will remain to support the Afghan military effort. Prognostications regarding the future of this country vary. One reads that the Taliban are merely waiting until the ISAF forces go home, and the fight resumes in 2015. The question really becomes one regarding the abilities of the Afghan forces themselves to maintain order and security ...

Afghan forces - will they follow the disastrous national Iraqi army meltdown, or stand up like the regional Kurd peshmerga? Photo from

If there is one unexpected new ray of hope, it comes out of the tragedy that occurred in Pakistan less than two weeks ago. The massacre of school children in Peshawar has at least temporarily galvanized the government there against the lawless tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistani border. If these two governments could truly build an effective alliance, safe havens for militants would be drastically reduced.

Can Pakistan establish control in the orange zone shown here? (though the lawless regions extend southwest all along the Afghan border) That may be key to Afghanistan's own chances for success. Photo from

The Afghan elite who make up the nation's parliament. Is there enough seriousness represented here to search for the good of all segments of society? Photo from

Teatree hopes so, but Teatree is not reassured.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Pakistan mourns its children, and executes prisoners

On December 16, Taliban gunmen from a notorious Pakistan militant group - the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP - stormed a military run school, murdering 141 people, including 132 children. The massacre of children sent shock waves through Pakistani society and the whole world.

The slaughter occurred in the major northern city of Peshawar, population over 3 million, hosting numerous military camps and strategic forces. Graphic from

The event was a grim reminder of the Islamic separatist movement in Chechnya, Russia attacked and held over 1000 students and teachers hostage for three days. In that case, over 385 hostages died (156 children) in a flareup of violence that sparked an assault by Russian security forces.

But in the Chechen tragedy, there was violence from all corners, including a major fire that caused the fatalities of over 100 of those killed. In the case of Pakistan, it was cold blooded killing by adults of the school body, ordered to send a message to the Pakistan government and military that attacking the TTP in its tribal strongholds was to attract vengeance. Finally after more than eight hours of intense fighting, security forces secured the school saving 960 pupils and staff.

Parents escort their children away from the school ... One Reuters article described the attack thus, "Wounded children taken to nearby hospitals told Reuters most victims died when gunmen, suicide vests strapped to their bodies, entered the compound and opened fire indiscriminately on boys, girls and their teachers." Photo from

Pakistan ready to pull together?

There were immediate cries of outrage from all levels of Pakistani leaders - politicians, military - and even some major Pakistani-based Islamic militant groups such as the The Afghan Taliban (who fight in Afghanistan but leave Pakistan alone). Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, told reporters in Peshawar “This is a decisive moment in the fight against terrorism. The people of Pakistan should unite in this fight. Our resolve will not be weakened by these attacks.”

But the bloodshed is a reminder of the long and deadly game the Pakistan military and the country's intelligence agency (ISI) have played. There are several Sunni militant groups operating in Pakistan with the tolerance of the Pakistan military and ISI which created a militia network over thirty years ago to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and to dominate Afghanistan itself. Besides the Afghan Taliban already mentioned, another major Islamic group, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, operates freely in the nation, even though it is officially outlawed, because it focuses on fighting India. This group in 2008 assaulted the Indian city of Mumbai over four days and killed over 170 people. As one article from Bloomberg News notes, "One of its founders, Hafiz Saeed, lives openly in Lahore and has been a frequent user of social media."

Hafiz Aseed, founder of the outlawed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, lives openly in Lahore. This group is tolerated as it rages against Pakistan's neighbor India. Photo from

Moreover, besides the extremists themselves, the stream of trouble runs much deeper. Extremist mosques remain open and thrive in major cities, while a large network of Islamic madrassas (religious schools) indoctrinate young Pakistanis by the tens of thousands.

Islamic fundamentalist schools at work. Photo from

For now the Pakistan military has flailed angrily into some tribal strongholds killing scores of extremist fighters in the past few days. More chillingly, the government lifted a moratorium on the death penalty for convicted terrorists and just two days after the school attack, hung two who were on death row. As a BBC article reported, "The home minister for Punjab province, Shuja Khanzada, told Associated Press: "Today's executions of terrorists will boost the morale of the nation, and we are planning to hang more terrorists next week." Indeed, four more were hung within a week of the attack, and the government boasts that up to 500 terrorists in its custody could be executed in the coming weeks.

Anger at terrorists is opening up the likelihood of repeated executions. Photo from

So it looks like a lot of angry reaction - military operations and hangings. But a serious attempt to change the uneven treatment of militant factions, shut down the incendiary rhetoric even today at some of Pakistan's mosques, and disband the widespread indoctrination labeled as teaching at fundamental Islamic schools (ie. work at building a civil society) has yet to surface.


And so, even as Christmas is celebrated by Christians around the world, there seems even less peace than ever before. Once again, Teatree posts a song that speaks of faith and hope, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the dark days of the civil war in America 149 years ago. One must admit that the powerful lyrics seem to speak with an even lonelier voice than in the past.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet
The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along
The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound
The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn
The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;

"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men."


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

Teatree tends to think that Asian matters often suffer a disconnect with the West, at least with Americans. Which is a shame as China's recent prosperity along its Coast, impact on world trade, and its overall vast population (1.1 billion) should keep us engaged.

Thus, a moment on Hong Kong's "Umbrella Movement" (it finally has a name).

Where is Hong Kong? Let's start with its general location in context to China, the country. Graphic from

Hong Kong itself is a metropolis on an island part of what is called the New Territories - a peninsula off Chinese mainland.

Hong Kong is a rich, affluent metropolis with a long history of global trade under a capitalist economic system. Nonetheless, it also grew as part of Great Britain's empire at its zenith. Great Britain at the time "negotiated" a lease from a weak Chinese government in 1898 for 99 years. The return of Hong Kong to a patient China in 1997 was a big event. Photo from

Hong Kong's recent history

From wikipedia, "As a result of the negotiations and the 1984 agreement between China and Britain, the British colony Hong Kong was returned to the People's Republic of China and became its first Special Administrative Region on 1 July 1997, under the principle of "one country, two systems".

Hong Kong has a different political system from mainland China. Hong Kong's independent judiciary functions under the common law framework. The Hong Kong Basic Law ... stipulates that Hong Kong shall have a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign relations and military defence. The declaration [also] stipulates that the region maintain its capitalist economic system and guarantees the rights and freedoms of its people for at least 50 years after the 1997 handover. The guarantees over the territory's autonomy and the individual rights and freedoms are enshrined in the Hong Kong Basic Law ... but is subject to the interpretation of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC).

The leader of Hong Kong, the Chief Executive, is currently elected by a 1200-member Election Committee, though Article 45 of the Basic Law states that "the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures."

And hence the trouble begins ...

In late August, the "Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC)" decided to change some nomination and election procedures. "While notionally allowing for universal suffrage, the decision imposes the standard that "the Chief Executive shall be a person who loves the country and loves Hong Kong," and stipulates "the method for selecting the Chief Executive by universal suffrage must provide corresponding institutional safeguards for this purpose".

In a nutshell, while voting was allowed, it was for party approved nominees only, and the final decision between the top two vote getters would rest with the national government (via whatever Standing Committee it chose to exercise power through).

On to the streets came young protesters - perhaps the most interesting dynamic being their young ages, their social media connectedness, and their desires for "real democracy" based on one person one vote.

The Western media picked up on this wave of protests, and we've seen the pictures of sit ins, stand ins, police removing protesters, re-occupation, negotiations, new police sweeps, etc.

Hong Kong streets taken over by democracy protesters. Photo from

Hong Kong police breaking up demonstrations. Photo from

Where will it end?

This is a good question - the outcome is uncertain, though significant change to the Chinese government's position is increasingly unlikely. The protest itself then is likely to dissipate or be strongly suppressed, but the questioning, the awakening, and the resolve contained therein may emerge at another time. There is a new generation of mainly under 30s who took the "one nation, two systems" seriously and don't want to loose the freedoms they have grown up with.

Young, connected, and not interested in a "fake" democracy. Photo from the Telegraph UK

The recent record of protests is mixed - significant change is pretty rare.

* Remember 1989 when Chinese authorities crushed a significant uprising at Tiananmen Square.

* Yet beginning that same year, there was the avalanche of protests across the decaying Soviet Empire that resulted in the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

* In 2009, a "green revolution" in Iran flared and was subdued.

* In 2011, a wave of protests across the Arab world (the Arab spring) sputtered, then died in perhaps of the involved countries except Tunisia. Syria represents the worst case scenario where the protests morphed into a savage ongoing civil war, fed by regional powers in a proxy conflict.


The Umbrella Movement refers to the items protesters used to protect themselves from police. Photo from

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Some individuals caught within larger events

A rather vague theme this time, but I think I'm trying to recognize individuals, who in turn represent the human face of larger forces and events. Hang in there.

A teacher trainee stands up

In Germany, from a report by the German news agency, Deutche Welle, "Tugce Albayrak, a German citizen of Turkish origin, was the victim of a violent attack earlier this month. Reports indicate the student from Gelnhausen intervened on behalf of two girls who were being harassed by three males near the restroom area of a McDonald's restaurant. Thereafter, and in circumstances that have yet to be clarified, the scene shifted to the fast food restaurant's car park, where an 18-year-old male punched her, causing her to fall and hit her head on a stone."

Since that incident (and after this rather dry reccounting), her decision to step in has created a frenzy of attention, right up to the German President, Joachim Gauck, being called upon to posthumously award her the Federal Order of Merit. In gathering a bit of her background, Ms Albayrak, 23, and a teacher trainee, we find the longer story.

Tugce Albayrak, a second generation German citizen, from an immigrant Turkish family. Photo from

From an article by the UK Guardian, "The Albayrak family arrived in Germany in the late 1970s – following the route of many a Turkish Gastarbeiter, or guest worker, before them – from an Anatolian village called Bahadin, and settling in the western state of Hesse.

“Tugce’s grandfather had been working at the Opel carplant in Russelsheim for several years ... his wife joined him and decided to bring the five children over,” At the start, life was hard. “It was us, the Turks, and them, the Germans,” she said. “Integration did not exist” said one of the original five children. By and by, all five children gave birth. There were to be a succession of nine boys before Tugce came along in 1991. “She was our first princess,” says Uncle Yasni. “We treasured her all the more for that.”

Tugce’s parents – her father works at a car plastics production plant and her mother as a clinical assistant – were seen as particularly exemplary amongst the Turkish diaspora for the way they encouraged their children’s education – something they had no access to themselves. Tugce was in her second year at university, training to be a secondary school teacher of German and ethics. “She was a very good student and an extremely popular person,” a university spokeswoman said."

A bright light in what is mainly a more somber story of Germany's Turkish workers not integrating well, and not being well received over the past several decades.

Indian girls fight back

In India, where there exists a common sentiment of disdain for women, two young sisters resisted the verbal and physical abuse of three young men on a public bus.

From, "footage of two Indian sisters has emerged showing them beating three men with belts who allegedly tried to molest them on a bus. The men are reported to have blown kisses and passed notes before subjecting them to lewd comments.

The sisters, Aarti and Pooja, were then reportedly thrown off the vehicle as it was still moving and further assaulted. No one came to their aid throughout the incident and a fellow passenger apparently said: "Leave these boys or they will rape you or pour acid. They will kill you and no one even get your bodies."

The two sisters, Aarti and Pooja Kumar, 22 and 19, after being discouraged by police from pursuing their case, have suddenly become social media heroines. Photo from

Unfortunately, the article continues, ""Passengers in the bus stopped us from calling the police. We were thrown out of moving bus & then conductor told us to file police complaint, but by that time they had all escaped." Police have said the matter is under investigation but have drawn criticism for their slow response. The girl's father, Rajesh Kumar, said officials were even trying to pressurise them not to pursue the matter."

Since the event has become internationally known, we learn (from the ib times in the UK) "The three alleged assailants have been arrested and remanded in custody for 14 days but residents in their village of Kandla have mounted a protest demanding their immediate release. ...Meanwhile, the bus driver has also been suspended for failing to take action during the fight."

A young American boy offers free hugs

In the US, tensions from the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following a grand jury decision to not indict a white police officer who shot and killed a black teen in an altercation, broke across the nation with street protests. In Portland, Oregon, a 12 year old boy offered free hugs as an alternative to angry actions.

From an article in the UK Daily Mail, a 12-year-old black boy, Devonte Hart, with tears in his eyes, embraced a white police officer, Portland Police Sgt. Bret Barnum (Photo from article)

Kenyan laborers pay dearly

In Kenya, repeating a bus massacre from just 10 days earlier, over 30 Kenyan quarry workers near the northeast city of Mandera where rounded up by al-Shabab extremists, asked what their religion was, and those not Muslim were executed.

Victims being removed from scene of the attack. There were no heroics here, just innocent workers caught up in a vicious war where militants perpetrate incidents and the security forces apparently not up to the task. Photo from

The incident like most of the above has quickly mushroomed into a larger event. From the UK Independent, "Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, has scrambled to restore confidence in his leadership with a security reshuffle after Islamist gunmen shot and beheaded 36 labourers at a quarry in north-eastern Kenya in the second such massacre in less than a fortnight.

Amid growing criticism over his failure to tackle the security threat, Mr Kenyatta fired his Interior Minister, replacing him with the opposition figure and retired army General Joseph Ole Nkaissery, and accepted the resignation of the national police chief David Kimaiyo. ...

The attacks have highlighted the Kenyan government’s failure to provide security in vulnerable and remote border areas, where decades of underinvestment in public security have left the police thinly spread, and militants are able to move easily across the porous border from war-torn Somalia, either by paying off underpaid police officers or by avoiding the scarce patrols."

PS. Kenyan President Kenyatta, of course, is himself in danger of being tried by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for his role in inflaming ethnic violence after the country's 2007 presidential election.

Teatree can think of many others who could have been noted here .. a list of individuals caught up in larger struggles, some emerging as momentary heroes, while others dying.