First, a few updates. A representative for the hostages’ families has rejected invitations from radical groups to turn this into the next anti-American election year issue:
The families of the Korean hostages spoke out against a movement to hold the U.S. responsible for the unresolved crisis, saying anti-American demonstrations could put the hostages’ lives at greater risk. The families turned down an offer by some anti-American organizations to stage a candlelight rally.
Lee Jeong-hoon, a representative of the families, said on Thursday, “Since an anti-American demonstration could have a negative influence on the negotiations for the release of the hostages, we have made efforts to avoid being involved in any such demonstrations.” “An anti-American movement could be what the Taliban want,” Lee said. “We rejected suggestions by some anti-American groups to hold a candlelight vigil and march to the U.S. Embassy in Korea.” [Chosun Ilbo]
Which doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it’s encouraging that some ordinary Korean citizens have more sense than their elected leaders. The actions of the “civic groups” are especially reprehensible, as they could hardly fail to present the Taliban with an unexpected propaganda windfall that will encourage more kidnappings, just as ransom does. A must-read Newsweek story reports on how the Taliban have increasingly turned to ransom to raise money and get their dwindling number of experienced commanders out of jail. You can pretty well trace the current crisis to a clear origin:
Last March, facing a similar dilemma and under heavy pressure from Italy, Karzai ordered the release of five senior Taliban officials in exchange for an Italian journalist, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who had been abducted along with his Afghan driver and interpreter. The Taliban executed the two Afghans, and Karzai’s European and U.S. allies widely criticized his humanitarian gesture. One of the freed Taliban commanders, Mansor Dadullah, is now directing suicide bombings and other attacks against Afghan and American forces from his redoubt on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Just so Seoul understands what it’s asking for when it calls for terrorists to be released: it knows that these lives will be traded for other lives, but at least they won’t be Korean. I don’t mean to single Korea out here entirely, of course. Italy knew that its journalist was being traded for the lives of others. It didn’t know they would be Koreans; it probably didn’t care. The main victims will always be the Afghan people.
If the prime villians here are the Taliban, a close second has to be those who encourage (“civic” groups) and support (ransom-paying diplomats) their crimes. The Chosun Ilbo even reports that the South Koreans have offered to speed up the pullout of their 210-man non-combat force from Afghanistan.
When people are doing the wrong thing, then, you can at least enjoy the spectacle of their ineptitude:
The senior Taliban commander tells NEWSWEEK that a newly arrived South Korean envoy, a Ghazni member of parliament and some government negotiators, may have been talking to a bogus Taliban group that was posing as the kidnappers and has demanded and received some money. There is no way to verify the claim of the commander, who has provided reliable information to NEWSWEEK in the past. But he insists that he has never asked for any money, and is only interested in an exchange of the hostages for Taliban prisoners.
Yonhap’s denial is here.
For the last decade, South Korean foreign policy has been founded on the payment of extortion money to thugs, and since South Korea has always paid despite knowing very little about where its money actually goes, the latest embarrassment shouldn’t surprise anyone. Thugs of the world, take note.