Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Flash, bang, but Afghan night raid comes up empty

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Reuters correspondent Matt Robinson provides a rare glimpse of night raids by U.S. forces in Afghanistan that are again on the rise in an effort to break the back of the insurgency. Here’s his story from a village in Paktika province near the eastern border with Pakistan. (Picture by Matt Robinson)

First the men were separated from the women and children and made to crouch outside on the frozen ground, wrapped in blankets. Then the soldiers went room-to-room, torches shining from raised rifles.

It was night in Ateh Khaneh, a cluster of adobe houses ringed with high mud walls near Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan, and the U.S. army’s 101st Airborne Division had received a tip-off.

A man named Mullah Ibrahim, known to U.S. forces as a prominent Taliban commander in the Yahya Khel district of Paktika province, had gathered a small group of fighters for an imminent attack on a nearby U.S. military base.

U.S. drones fall silent in Pakistan; only a brief respite?

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For more than three weeks now, there has been no U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s northwest, triggering speculation that the pause may be related to the tensions between the two countries over the arrest of an American embassy employee for murder. Washington is seeking the release of Raymond Davis, a former Special Forces soldier who killed two Pakistanis on Jan 27 during what he said was an attempted robbery in a Lahore street, arguing he is covered under diplomatic immunity.

Pakistanis,  deeply resentful of the heavy U.S.  involvement in the country, are refusing to hand over Davis, saying he should face trial in Pakistan as he didn’t have immunity.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan: Petraeus, personalities and policy

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chinook2Buried in the Washington Post story on Marc Grossman taking over as the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are some interesting references to the possible departure of U.S. commander General David Petraeus.

"... virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy's other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there," it says.

India’s best and brightest at the UN

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The foreign minister of India took the floor at a UN Security  Council meeting this week, but in a rather embarrassing faux pas he  began reading out from the speech of his Portuguese counterpart instead of his own. Three minutes into the address, Indian diplomats realised that S. M.Krishna was reading off the wrong speech, and stopped him from proceeding further. He began again, this time with the right script.

It’s not known what the Portuguese thought of the Indian official  reading their address as his own. Thankfully, the Portuguese minister had spoken earlier, or else Krishna might have been accused of stealing his thunder !

An American in Pakistani custody

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Who exactly is Raymond Davis, the main at the centre of a flaming row between the United States and Pakistan that threatens to derail ties altogether ? It’s an obvious question to ask given the lengths the Obama administration has gone to secure the release of Davis held in Pakistan for shooting and killing two men who he said were trying to rob him. As Reuters reported this week, Washington had put on hold some bilateral engagements, and even hinted that a $7.5  billion civillian aid package could be jeopardised if Islamabad continued to hold Davis disregarding his diplomatic immunity. The New York Times and the Washington Post said a much-sought after state visit by President Asif Ali Zardari planned for the end of March was on the line now. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cancelled a meeting with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at an international security conference in Munich late last month, the Post said.

The Americans are saying Davis is a diplomat and hence arresting him is a violation of international norms and the Vienna Conventions.  The U.S. embassy had initially identified him as a staff member of the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Lahore where the incident occured.

Slamming the door on reconciliation with Taliban

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Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Rangeen Dadfar Spanta has said that the Taliban would have to lay down arms, accept the constitution in its current form and run for elections if they wanted a share of power.  If the Taliban thought they could get cabinet berths for the asking in return for a peace deal, they have another thing coming, he told the McClatchy newspapers in an interview.

If that’s the Afghan government’s stand,  a deal with the insurgents seems to be a non-starter. Imagine the Taliban agreeing to take part in a Western-style election  campaign under a constitution they have long denounced as forced on the country following their ouster in 2001. The idea of the Taliban – more known for their brutal methods –  knocking on doors seeking votes seems a bit far fetched at the moment. Last week’s reports of the Taliban stoning a young couple to death in rather barbaric fashion in northern Afghanistan on charges of adultery have only reinforced the image of a group unyielding in its interpretation of sharia  law.

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