Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from India Insight:

India votes for Obama as storm clouds gather at home

INDIAU.S. President Barack Obama is facing a storm of voter discontent but in India where he travels three days after this week's huge congressional elections, he's already a winner. More than seven out of 10 Indians endorse his leadership, saying they believe he will do the right thing in world affairs, a Pew poll released in late October showed.

Contrast that with his approval ratings at home just as he heads into the critical midterm election. More people disapprove of his job performance (47 percent) than the number who approve (45 percent), according to the latest CBS news/New York Times opinion poll.

It's not just Obama who gets the thumbs-up. Indians are generally well-disposed toward America even when the rest of the world is less inclined to. According to the Pew poll, nearly two-thirds (66 percent) express a favourable opinion of the U.S., although this is down from 76 percent last year. By contrast, only 51 percent Indians  rate long-time ally Russia favourably, and even fewer feel this way about the EU (36 percent) or China (34 percent).  Indeed, Indians don't even share the common belief that the United States has increasingly been acting on its own. Some (83 percent) said the U.S. takes the interests of countries like India into account when it makes foreign policy decisions -- the highest percentage among the 21 nations surveyed outside the U.S.

Quite extraordinary, the unequivocal vote of confidence in America even though the Obama administration has been more measured toward India than its predecessor; the strategic warmth that marked the Bush years having cooled off a bit.  It's quite possible that Obama's trip this week may turn out to be a game changer, but at the moment  for every positive aspect of their relationship, you can find another such as trade, climate change where they are on opposite sides.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On either side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border: Bajaur and Kunar

damadolaWhat is going on in Kunar and Bajaur, two neighbouring regions on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border?

NPR has a view from the Afghan side in this piece written from the perspective of U.S. troops fighting in Kunar. (h/t The Captain's Journal) Key takeaways are the level of mistrust about the Pakistanis, driven by the suspicion its military is supporting the Taliban, and the presence of a massive but newly abandoned CIA post there.

U.S. mid-terms and the Afghan war

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A sign directs voters to a District of Columbia polling place in Washington, October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed/FilesIt’s one of the biggest weeks in U.S. politics, with the mid-term elections to the Senate and the House of Representatives, and it may well eventually impact the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even though it’s not been a campaign issue. If the Republicans win big, as everyone expects them to, what happens to President Barack Obama’s war strategy for the two countries, increasingly operating as two full-fledged theatres, rather than a conjoined Af-Pak mission?

Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations says given the Republicans’ solid support for the war in Afghanistan, a defeat may not be such a bad thing for Obama so far as his Afghan mission is concerned in the near term. Support and funding for the war could be enhanced if they gained control, which may not be the case if the Democrats, who have serious doubts about the mission, were to return. Big Republican gains will also signal to Afghanistan and Pakistan that America remained serious and committed to the region, despite a deteriorating security environment on both sides of the Durand Line.

Afghanistan cracks down on Internet cafes for allowing porn

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Seventeen internet cafes have been shutdown in the Afghan capital Kabul, for allowing their clients to surf porn websites and access other unspecified “un-Islamic websites”, the local Pajhwok news agency reported.

The move comes a few months after a crackdown on sale of alcohol, banned for Muslims and only sold to non-Muslims in a handful of bars and restaurants — though there is still a thriving black market selling bottles at a price.

Obama in India next month; ripples in the region

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U.S. President Barack Obama takes part in a town hall meeting at Concord Community High School in Elkhart, Indiana, February 9, 2009. REUTERS/Jim YoungU.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India is still a couple of weeks away and there is the huge U.S. election before then, but it has already set off ripples in the region. The Chinese have especially cottoned onto Obama’s Indian journey, fretting over what they see as a U.S. attempt to ring fence China by deepening ties with countries around it. And continent-size India with a population of over a billion and an economy growing at a clip just behind China’s is seen as a key element of that strategy of containment.

Qui Hao of the National Defense University, writes in the Global Times that while U.S. military alliances with Japan and South Korea form the backbone of the “strategic fence” around China, the “shell” is the partnership that Washington is building with India, Vietnam and other nations that have territorial disputes with China.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

“Orientalism” in Afghanistan and Pakistan

dust storm twoIn his must-read essay on the debate about the state of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Amil Khan has one of the best opening lines I've seen for a while: "Much is said about Pakistan, but I'm constantly saddened that so many innocent pixels are lost without good cause."

Much the same can be said about the recent flurry of stories on the war in Afghanistan, from upbeat assessments of the U.S.-led military offensive in Kandahar to renewed interest in the prospects for a peace deal with Afghan insurgents.

Too many butchers spoil the cow

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Several years ago President Hamid Karzai likened balancing Afghanistan’s various internal pressures and the demands of external allies and foes with walking while holding a fragile dish. With no end in sight to the U.S.-led war now in its 10th year, he must feel as if he is juggling the entire dinner service.

For years Karzai has said that peace talks with the insurgents was key to the solution of the Afghan conflict and termed them as a priority since last year, but he also has to take on board the frequently conflicting interests of all the players.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan – a list too long

childPakistani journalist Mosharraf Zaidi had a good post up last week attempting to frame the many different challenges Pakistan faces in trying to deal with terrorism.  Definitely worth a read as a counter-balance to the vague "do more" mantra, and as a reminder of how little serious public debate there is out there about the exact nature of the threat posed to a nuclear-armed country of some 180 million people, whose collapse would destabilise the entire region and beyond.

Zaidi has divided the challenges into counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and counter-extremism.

Gen Petraeus turns up the heat on Pakistan, Afghanistan

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It’s not just Pakistan where the United States has stepped up air raids against members of  al Qaeda and the Taliban. Last month,  U.S-led NATO planes in Afghanistan conducted 700 missions, more than twice the number for the same month the previous year. It was also one of the highest single-month totals of the nine-year Afghan War, the military-focused Danger Room blog said, citing U.S. Air Force statistics.

September was also the month when missile strikes by unmanned U.S. drone planes in northwest Pakistan hit the highest level of 20 since America launched its secret war inside Pakistan, widely seen as the main battleground of the Afghan war because of the sanctuary provided to top al Qaeda and Taliban.  And as if that was not enough, NATO helicopters from Afghanistan crossed the border on at least three occasions, triggering a firestorm  of criticism in Pakistan which closed off the supply lines to the foreign troops in Afghanistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Taliban talks: “an iffy, high-level treaty”

arghandab3In Obama's Wars, Rob Woodward attributes the following thoughts to U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on the prospects for a peaceful settlement to the Afghan war:

"He saw reconciliation and reintegration as distinct.  Reconciliation was esoteric, an iffy high-level treaty with Taliban leaders. Reintegration occurred down at the local level in villages and towns..."

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