Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India and the possibility of change

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Pakistan has been defined - sometimes by itself, sometimes by outsiders - as "not India" for so long that it has almost become set in stone. Conventional wisdom would have it that Pakistan can unite its many different ethnic and sectarian groups only by setting itself up in opposition to India and stressing its Muslim identity against Indian secularism and pluralism.  In particular, its powerful army has thrived in part because of that traditional enmity with India.

Yet viewing Pakistan through such a simple prism can be misleading, especially if by freeze-framing it within a historical perspective, it denies the possibility of change.

In many conversations during a trip I just made to Pakistan, I found the subject of India to be remarkable largely for its absence.  The United States is of course popularly perceived as a bigger enemy now, but even talk of relations with America - the big obsession of the western media -- was dwarfed by an inwards focus on Pakistan itself.

In a four-hour discussion with his officers in May, Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani made no mention of India, but said that he worried about the weak economy being a threat to Pakistan.  Then in a speech to a conference on deradicalisation in July, he urged "all elements of national power" to work together on a national strategy to counter  terrorism -- echoing a line frequently made by the army that Pakistan's national security depends on better governance and an improved economy. 

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in Pictures 24 July 2011

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China are hosting the 14th FINA World Championships in Shanghai. In my mind's eye, aquatics is a sport of power, grace, balance and beauty but our pictures seem to add the additional factors of concentration, determination or maybe sheer fear. Against my better judgement, I just have to mention that some of the expressions on the athletes' faces remind me of the age old tradition of gurning. What also made an impression are the angles, different points of focus and continually new shapes that compliment a file that could have been very repetitive.

Qin Kai of China perform during the preliminary round of the men's 3m springboard diving event at the 14th FINA World Championships in Shanghai July 21, 2011.        REUTERS/Bobby Yip

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in Pictures 17 July 2011

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This past week in Afghanistan produced some of the most shocking and emotional images of the war. The picture below was taken shortly after President Hamid Karzai's younger half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards. The assassin, Sardar Mohammad, was shot dead and his body hanged from the roof of a shop in Kandahar.  The picture looks like any busy market square, but then your eye wanders around the frame and you see people in the picture are looking at something. The viewer's eye finally settles on the corpse in the back ground dangling like a puppet on a string.

The body of Sardar Mohammad, the killer of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's younger half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, hangs on Charso square in Kandahar city July 12, 2011. Mohammad was shot dead by Karzai's bodyguards moments after opening fire and then hung in the square for 10-15 minutes, witnesses and officials said.  REUTERS/Stringer

from Expert Zone:

In wake of Mumbai attacks, Pakistan could help save dialogue with India

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(The views expressed in this column are the authors’ own and do not represent those of Reuters)

India's financial capital, Mumbai, experienced yet another terrorist attack that initial estimates say killed at least 20.

On the Afghanistan-Pakistan border : cutting off the nose to spite the face

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Pakistan’s defence minister has threatened to move forces away from the Afghan border, where they are deployed to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban, if the United States cuts off aid to the cash-strapped country. Ahmed Mukhtar’s logic is that Pakistan is essentially fighting America’s war on the Afghan border, and if it is going to put the squeeze on its frontline partner, then it will respond by not doing America’s bidding.

But  apart from the issue of whether Pakistan can really stand up to the United States  is the question of whether Islamabad can afford to pull back from the Afghan border for its own sake. This is no longer the porous border where movement of insurgents is confined to members of the Afghan Taliban travelling across to launch attacks on foreign forces in their country. Over the past few weeks, the traffic has moved in the reverse direction, with militants crossing over from Afghanistan to attack Pakistani security posts, Pakistani officials say.  These are not armed men sneaking across in twos and threes , but large groups of up to 600 men armed with rocket launchers and  grenades flagrantly crossing the mountainous border to attack security forces and civilians in Pakistan. (It also stands Pakistan’s strategy of seeking strategic depth versus India on its head; now the rear itself has become a threat.)

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in pictures July 10, 2011

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I am not a gamer at all but while looking at the file this week was reminded of a facility on electronic gaming my son showed me that allows you to see a different view point of the action. You can have wide, close and closer still. Two pictures of police beating protesters with batons have been shot as close as you can possibly get to the action but for sure this is no game.  Philippines based Romeo (Bobby) Ranoco picture is actually so close that it has been shot over the shoulder of the soldier, who, judging by the blood on the head of the unarmed protester, seems to have scored at least one direct hit . In India  and shot just slightly wider is Jayanta Dey's picture. The fact that it is shot slightly wider makes sure we are aware that it is actually three soldiers beating a protester and not one. The line of composition created by the baton and the flexed arm creating a perfect compositional triangle - Although I am not sure the protester would actually care about that. 

An anti-riot policeman hits a protester with a baton at a rally against what protesters claim to be U.S. intervention outside the U.S. embassy in Manila July 4, 2011. Filipino and U.S. troops are holding exercises in the Sulu Sea off the western Philippine province of Palawan, which lies near the disputed Spratly Islands. Conflicting territorial claims by several countries over the Spratlys and Paracels are raising tensions in Asia. Besides the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are claiming the islands as theirs. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Cold War flashbacks as Americans rebuild Soviet tunnel in Afghanistan

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Under blazing June sunshine in the Hindu Kush mountains, U.S., Russian and Afghan officials gathered by the entrance of the Salang tunnel, arguably the most important stretch of highway in Afghanistan, linking the country’s south with its north.

They had come to celebrate emergency repair works carried out by the U.S. government on the 2.6 km (1.6 miles) of concrete passageway that the Soviets built in 1962. Constantly congested and leaking, the tunnel is on the brink of collapse.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in pictures 03 July 2011

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A great news picture has to have the WOW factor and without a doubt the picture of the domb disposal expert being caught in a car bomb blast is amazing. What is even more amazing is that he lived.

A car bomb explodes as a member of a Thai bomb squad checks it in Narathiwat province, south of Bangkok July 1, 2011. The bomb planted by suspected insurgents wounded the squad member, police said.  REUTERS/Stringer 

Drone strikes are police work, not an act of war?

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Launching an air strike in another nation would normally be considered an act of aggression. But advocates of America’s rapidly expanding unmanned drone programme don’t see it that way.

They are arguing, as Tom Ricks writes on his blog The Best Defense over at Foreign Policy, that the campaign to kill militants with missile strikes from these unmanned aircraft, is more like police action in a tough neighbourhood than a military conflict.

Pakistan’s Shamsi base : a mystery wrapped in a riddle

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Pakistan Defence Minister Mukhtar Ahmad’s comments this week that the government had ended U.S. drone flights out of Shamsi air base deep in southwest Baluchistan province has injected new controversy in their troubled relationship. U.S. officials appeared to scoff at Mukhtar’s remarks, saying they had no plans to vacate the base from where they have in the past launched unmanned Predator aircraft targeting militant havens in the northwest region.

Washington’s dismissal of the Pakistan government’s stand is quite extraordinary. Can a country, even if it is the world’s strongest power, continue to use an air base despite the refusal of the host country ?  The United States is effectively encamped in Pakistan using its air strip to run a not-so-secret assassination campaign  against militant leaders including Pakistanis while Islamabad fumes.

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