Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Pentagon “iron curtain” rules slow to reach Afghanistan

051909092929_Robert Gates - 061212-A-5590K-001The U.S. government has released new rules for how the military should interact with the media in relation to the Afghanistan war, but there is little sign yet on the ground of what has been criticised as a free speech “iron curtain”.

At a recent military briefing for so-called combat reporters attended at Kabul airport prior to joining U.S. airborne soldiers in Kandahar for a fortnight, no mention of new or even existing rules was made by the lieutenant colonel in charge.

The impact of the new rules requested by Defense Secretary Robert Gates were yet to reach Afghanistan, officers said, although troops were now being asked for far more briefing information on progress of the war.

“The ripples are just hitting us now,” a senior briefing officer told reporters from Reuters and USA Today newspaper.

Corruption’s tentacles reaching across Afghanistan

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AFGHANISTAN-TALIBAN/SALAAM

(Mullah Abdul Salaam ... all levels of Afghan society hit by graft. Pic by Omar Subhani, Reuters)

By Sayed Salahuddin

Petty corruption has more than doubled in Afghanistan since 2007, a new survey shows, and nine years after the fall of the Taliban graft drains at least $1 billion a year from the $11 billion economy.

Kabul’s “ring of steel” tests patience

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Afghan police search a car at "Ring of Steel" checkpoint 26 in central Kabul. The checkpoints are testing the patience of ordinary Afghans, who experience increasingly long traffic delays and blame the government and foreigners for the imposition, rather that Taliban insurgent bombers. PHOTO: by author.

(Afghan police search a car at "Ring of Steel" checkpoint 26 in central Kabul. PHOTO: by author.)

If Afghanistan is a fight for hearts and minds, then the war against the Taliban is on shaky ground in central Kabul, where roadblocks and the concrete-encased fortresses of Western countries infuriate near everyone.

Pakistan’s Zardari in China; nuclear deal in grasp

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(File picture of President Zardari in China)

(File picture of President Zardari in China)

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari is in China this week, making good his promise to visit the “all weather ally” every three months. During his previous trips, his hosts have sent him off to the provinces to see for himself the booming growth there, but this trip may turn out be a lot more productive.

Zardari  may well return with a firm plan by China to build two reactors at Pakistan’s Chashma nuclear plant, as my colleague in Beijing  reports in this article, overriding concern in Washington, New Delhi and other capitals that this undermined global non-proliferation objectives.

Essential reading: an Afghan primer

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Want to read up on Afghanistan but don’t know where to start? Here is a personal top 10 selection that will quickly make you a dinner-table expert as well, hopefully, give you great reading pleasure:

1. Descent into Chaos: How the War Against Islamic Extremism is Being Lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan searches for a response to Lahore shrine bombing

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sufi shrineNearly a week after suicide bombers attacked one of Pakistan's most popular shrines in Lahore, it remains unclear how the country should, and indeed will, respond to a fresh wave of attacks in its heartland Punjab province.

The government has announced plans to hold a national conference on ways to combat terrorism to try to limit the political bickering which erupted between the federal government led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Punjab provincial government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif over who was to blame.

Afghan court underscores governance challenge

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(British Former soldier Bill Shaw (L) sits alongside colleague Maiwand Limar in the Afghan anti-corruption appeals court at the start of his appeal against a two-year conviction for bribery. Shaw's chaotic court appearance underscores the challenge of improving the access to reliable justice for ordinary Afghans.)

(British Former soldier Bill Shaw (L) sits alongside colleague Maiwand Limar in the Afghan anti-corruption appeals court at the start of his appeal against a two-year conviction for bribery. Shaw's chaotic court appearance underscores the challenge of improving the access to reliable justice for ordinary Afghans.)

International aid workers in Afghanistan — and even new U.S. commander General David Petraeus – like to talk of building governance capacity, which basically means making sure the country runs its schools, courts, health services and so on properly.

Is the Afghan war going to be lost in translation ?

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AFGHANISTAN/

 

A U.S. army captain had survived a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan’s Taliban heartland and he was determined to track down the Taliban fighters who may have planted it.

A villager seen in the vicinity of the blast,  just about a kilometer away from a Western military camp, was being questioned at the facility. A U.S. staff sergeant who sat down with the man, described as someone who voluntarily agreed to questioning, worked tirelessly to determine what he did in the time leading up to the blast. In sweltering heat inside a tent, the soldier explained clearly to the interpreter what he needed — minute details on what the man did starting from the moment he woke up that day to the time of the explosion.

Nervous Afghan capital awaits “King David” Petraeus

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Razor wire lies in front of Kabul's rocket-scarred Darulaman Palace. U.S. General David Petraeus arrived in Afghanistan on Friday to take command of American and NATO troops in the fight against the Taliban. Picture by author.

Razor wire lies in front of Kabul's rocket-scarred Darulaman Palace. U.S. General David Petraeus arrived in Afghanistan on Friday to take command of American and NATO troops in the fight against the Taliban. Picture by author.

As America’s “warrior scholar” General David Petraeus jets into Kabul to take command of the war against the Taliban, Afghan soldiers at the city’s ruined monument to past kings have little faith the growing insurgency can be turned, even in the capital.

from Tales from the Trail:

Holbrooke: No “dysfunction” on U.S. Afghan Team

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 Barack Obama's team running the Afghan war has its issues -- but is it dysfunctional? No, sir, according to Richard Holbrooke.

" I have worked in every Democratic administration since the Kennedy administration, and I know dysfunctionality when I see it," Holbrooke, the administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the PBS NewsHour program.

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