Korea, not the U.S., must save hostages

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Korea, not the U.S., must save hostages

Already 20 days have passed since 23 Koreans were taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan. I have seen the tearful appeals of family members of the hostages on television many times, and each time I do, my heart aches.
A mother of a hostage cried out, “Please give me an entry visa to Afghanistan. Please let me go to that country,” and passed out from exhaustion.
My mother would have done the same if I had been kidnapped. The husband of a kidnapped woman sobbed, addressing his wife, “You are in such pain, but there is nothing I can do for you.” Every time I saw such scenes on television, I would pray earnestly, “Please come back alive, for that mother and for that husband.”
Then I suddenly felt a burst of anger ― anger toward the Taliban, who shot Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu to death, although he had no means to resist, then executed the innocent young man, Shim Sung-min, and are still dragging the women, groaning with pain from illness, around a desolate desert.
Allah and the Prophet Mohammed would have burst into rage at such inhumane acts.
Do the Taliban claim to be resisting imperialism while they kidnap unarmed civilians? It is nothing but barbarism and cruelty committed under the pretext of religion.
Since the hostage-taking incident broke out on July 19, many things have happened in Korea.
For instance, messages posted on the Internet criticized Korean churches for using overseas volunteer work as proof of their influence and power. The criticism makes sense, but there is no need to criticize and condemn the volunteers who went to Afghanistan.
One thing should be made clear. The Taliban did not just take Christians as hostages. They proclaimed that anyone who was not a Muslim was a potential kidnapping target. They did not care whether the victims were Buddhists or atheists. Whether the intention of the group’s visit was volunteer work or missionary work, did not matter to them.
They have taken journalists and construction workers as hostages, too. Germans, Italians and Japanese were all targets, not to mention Americans. They kidnap foreigners regardless of nationality.
Therefore, it is right to point out that the Korean volunteers should not have gone there, and that they should have taken more caution once they got there. People say so out of frustration and anxiety over those held hostage by the Taliban.
However, it is not right to point fingers at our own nationals, who are the victims; the whole world is enraged at the brutal killing of hostages by the Taliban.
On the other hand, there are people who try to put the blame on the deployment of Korean troops in Afghanistan, the Dongeui and Dasan, as the reason for the kidnapping. They are asking why the troops were sent there. But that does not make sense. The Taliban does not only kidnap people from countries that dispatched troops there.
What is even more absurd is the theory that the United States is responsible for the safe return of the Korean hostages. They insist the United States should put pressure on the Afghan government to release the Taliban prisoners in exchange for the hostages. This is nothing but naive thinking. American soldiers have died in Afghanistan. It is impossible for the United States to openly make a compromise with the Taliban, which it regards a terrorist group.
In the end, the solution to the hostage problem depends on the capability of the Korean government. The Korean government needs the diplomatic capability to persuade the Afghan government to strike a deal with the Taliban behind the scenes while asking the United States to shut its eyes to the deal.
If Korea had unfolded a proper diplomatic effort, it would have even contacted the leaders of Afghan tribes who could exercise their influence on the Taliban. I sincerely hope the Korean government can demonstrate its diplomatic capability by using whatever available means, whether it is money or connections.
I look forward to seeing the Korean government display such diplomatic capacity.
However, there is a sense of uneasiness in the back of my mind. I have kept asking myself whether the press conference President Roh Moo-hyun held with CNN journalists two days after the kidnapping was a good decision.
I wonder whether a quiet deal, instead, could have been a better choice. I also wonder whether the claim of the Taliban that the Korean government gave money to the wrong group is true. Does this mean the Korean government stepped forward only to be swindled? And what exactly did the special envoy of the president do in Afghanistan?
The situation is still evolving. Let us not lose hope. The Koreans kidnapped by the Taliban have to be rescued, no matter what. It is a matter of the nation’s and the people’s self-respect.
Let’s also keep one thing clear: It is the Taliban that is evil. And it is the responsibility of the Korean government, not the United States, to solve the problem.

*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Chong-hyuk
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