Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Bring on the tanks, they’ll come to like them in Afghanistan

- (File picture of a M1 Abrams tank deployed in Iraq)

(File picture of a M1 Abrams tank deployed in Iraq)

The United States is introducing tanks into the fight against the Taliban in the Afghan south for the first time since 2001, but the logic behind the move is still being hotly debated.

One of the reasons advanced is that the arrival of the M1 Abrams tank, propelled by a jet engine and armed with a 120mm gun that can destroy a house  more than a mile away, is going to shake up the battlefield.   “The tanks bring awe, shock and firepower,”  The Washington Post  quoted a senior U.S. officer based in Afghanistan as saying. “It’s pretty significant.”

What is even more significant is the end-result that the U.S. military is hoping to achieve by unleashing such firepower in the Taliban stronghold. The aim is not just to destroy the Taliban, but also in a rather convoluted fashion show ordinary Afghans that the government and its Western backers call the shots in the countryside, not the Taliban. Over the past several months,  as Wired blog reports the US  has already stepped up air strikes, Special Operations raids, and artillery attacks, as part of General David Petraeus strategy to turn the heat on the Taliban with a view to forcing them to sue for peace.

And so while civilian casualties have been avoided, people have lost homes and farms in the U.S. military offensive in the south which clearly has been reshaped into a sustained series of deadly attacks, rather than a big-bang high profile  operation of the Marjah type earlier this year. In one operation alone last month, U.S. planes dropped two dozen 2,000-pound bombs near Kandahar, the Post reported. You can imagine the impact of such firepower on the countryside.  Trees, crops and huts – everything is going to be swept up under the weight of the assault.

You say Obama, I say da Gama, let’s call the whole thing off



    By Ian Simpson
    KABUL – NATO leaders wrangling over the Afghanistan war in
Lisbon could be excused if they feel a centuries-old historical
circle closing in on them as they meet next to the Tagus River.

    If leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama step outside
for a breath of fresh air at the riverside Park of Nations, a
glance upward could be enough to give them a touch of historical

Ahead of Lisbon, soul-searching in Pakistan



For all of former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf’s faults, the one thing you would have to give him credit for is the emergence of a free press. It’s every bit as fearless, and questioning as its counterpart across the border in India, sometimes even stepping over the line, as some complain.

Indeed east of the Suez, and perhaps all the way to Japan, it would be hard to find a media that is as unrestrained as in India and Pakistan, which is even more remarkable in the case of Pakistan given the threat posed by a deadly militancy.

Saudi Arabia spot on UN women agency triggers outcry



The United Nations has set up a new super agency to better fight for the rights of women around the world including Afghanistan. This week UN Women, as the new body is called, held elections to choose countries to sit on the board and the results have triggered a storm of criticism even before the new agency formally comes into being next January. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia were in the running for a seat, and while Iran got displaced at the last minute in the vote, the Saudis are through.

And that has provoked the wrath of rights activists and commentators.  The idea of the conservative desert kingdom, where women cannot drive or take significant decisions without the permission of a male  relative or work as supermarket cashiers, leading a global fight for the promotion of women’s rights is hard to accept, they say. How can you take the UN seriously, asks Greg Scoblete in a short piece on  Real Clear World’s Compass blog headlined  : Saudi Arabia bastion for women’s rights.

from FaithWorld:

Muslims say Obama failing to keep Cairo promises

obama protest (Photo: A protest against U.S. President Barack Obama in Jakarta November 9, 2010/Dadang Tri)

President Barack Obama's pledge on Wednesday in Jakarta to strive for better relations with the Muslim world drew skepticism in Cairo, where last year he called for a new beginning in the Middle East after years of mistrust.

Seventeen months after Obama's Cairo University speech, al Qaeda is still threatening the West, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain stalled over the issue of West Bank settlements and U.S. troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan.

India, U.S. build ties, with an eye on China



In the end, Pakistan wasn’t the unspoken elephant in the room when U.S. President Barack Obama sat down for talks with Indian leaders. Far from tip-toeing around India’s Pakistan problem which complicates America’s own troubled war there and in Afghanistan, Obama spoke clearly and squarely.

Safe havens for militants in Pakistan wouldn’t be tolerated, he said, in what was music to Indian ears. But he also left nobody in doubt Washington wanted India to improve ties with Pakistan, saying New Delhi had the greatest stake in the troubled neighbour’s stability.

from Tales from the Trail:

McCain sees India, U.S. teaming up against “troubling” China


As President Barack Obama begins his visit to India, his erstwhile rival John McCain is voicing hope that Washington and New Delhi will tighten up their military cooperation in the face of China's "troubling" assertiveness.

McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a think-tank audience in Washington on Friday that the two huge democracies were natural allies in the quest to temper China's ambitions.

The Afghan media surge — highlighting unpaid salaries



US and NATO forces in Afghanistan recently sent out a news release apparently highlighting that teachers in a school supported by international troops were going unpaid for weeks, or even months.That wasn’t the headline of course — we were told “Uruzgan teachers to begin receiving salaries” but just three paragraphs in was the news that the school reopened on September 23.And the six teachers shouldn’t expect their modest 5,000 Afghanis (just over $100) salary for at least another few weeks it added — mentioning only that pay would arrive “in the coming weeks”.

The military are sending out far more news releases than just a few months ago, with even relatively small operations highlighted, more frequent updates on major operations, and more reports on aid projects and ventures like a children’s day in Bamiyan province. Recent headlines include: “Coalition and Afghan Border Police living on the edge” ,  “Female engagement team builds bridges into Afghan society” , “Afghan National Army honoured at concert” and “Afghan masons ‘build’ sustainability through concrete training”.

from India Insight:

Obama in India: a Reuters video discussion with the Brookings Institution

Reuters sat down with policy experts from the Brookings Institution this week for a televised discussion on President Barack Obama's visit to Asia. Chief Correspondent Alistair Scrutton began by asking Strobe Talbott, the institution's president, and Martin Indyk, its vice president and director of foreign policy, about the results of the midterm elections and whether Obama can turn around public perception as Clinton did after his poor showing in the Congressional vote.

In this next clip, they discuss the Republican economic agenda and the outlook for the global economy.

Lost in translation : the Afghan War


U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan will have to demonstrate basic proficiency in Dari, the lingua franca of the country, Mother Jones  reports. It’s the latest of the orders issued by commander of U.S. and NATO forces, General David Petraeus, in a late bid to bridge the gulf with citizens. “Even a few phrases really breaks the ice and just shows good intentions,” Petraeus says in an  interview on the U.S. army- run Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System. Here’s the video.

Is it too little, too late ? Some military experts point out that just about half of Afghanistan speaks Dari.  Over a third speak Pashto, followed by Turkic languages including Uzbek and Turkmen and then 30 minor languages according to the CIA’ Factbook.  Are the soldiers going to learn a smattering of these languages too, especially Pashto, the language of the original Afghan Taliban and other Pashtuns who straddle both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border ?