Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

No place for women in the Great Afghan endgame

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A Time magazine cover showing the face of an 18-year-old Afghan woman mutilated by the Taliban has set off a furious debate about how far to go in search of a political settlement with the resurgent Islamist group to end nine years of fighting.

On the one side are those who point to the latest atrocity as a reminder of the brutality of the Taliban, and that nothing really had changed. Women will pay the heaviest price if the hardline Islamist group returned to power, they warn. On the other hand are those who argue that America cannot indefinitely remain in Afghanistan to defend women’s rights which in any case remains an elusive goal. Indeed the latest abuse took place while troops are on the ground which goes to show the limits of military power.

How do you reconcile the two, that is, win peace for Afghanistan without giving away women’s rights?

But first the horrific Time story. Here’s an excerpt:

The Taliban pounded on the door just before midnight, demanding that Aisha, 18, be punished for running away from her husband’s house. Her in-laws treated her like a slave, Aisha pleaded. They beat her. If she hadn’t run away, she would have died. Her judge, a local Taliban commander, was unmoved. Aisha’s brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose.

COIN? U.S. frontline troops don’t give a dime for it

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U.S. soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, take a break during a COIN patrol in the village of Saidon Kalacheh, in the volatile Arghendab Valley of Afghanistan. The strategy is proving hard to realise for soldiers at the frontline. PHOTO: Author

U.S. soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, take a break during a COIN patrol in the village of Saidon Kalacheh, in the volatile Arghendab Valley of Afghanistan. The strategy is proving hard to realise for soldiers at the frontline. PHOTO: Author

In an early morning swirl of dense Afghan dust, a medevac helicopter on Friday lifted away another U.S. soldier from Arghandab with a missing leg and possibly took with it any support left at this frontline for counter-insurgency strategy.

from Russell Boyce:

“Allah-u-Akbar! God is Great!”

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Some pictures still shock me. Some make me laugh; many provide an insight or window into a new idea but only a few haunt me with my mind's eye returning to them again and again.

On Wednesday 28th July an Airblue plane crashed  just outside Islamabad in the beauty spot of the Margalla Hills killing all 152 on board. The cause of the crash, as yet unconfirmed, is thought to have been the driving monsoon rain. I edited the pictures shot by Reuters photographers who reached the scene. Images ranging from smoke drifting through the hills, men scrambling in the charred rocky, woodlands, picking through twisted metal and rocks looking for signs of life; tied cloth bags, dripping with the blood  that contained the remains of the passengers, to a severed arm and hand, the fingers still perfectly formed, just lying on the ground. There were no survivors.

The view from Pakistan: India is a bigger threat than the Taliban, al Qaeda

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A man unloads clay tiles, used for flooring and roofs, from a donkey inside a compound at a makeshift factory in Karachi July 25, 2010. A man unloads clay tiles, used for flooring and roofs, at a makeshift factory in Karachi.

India may have  a bigger problem in Pakistan than previously thought. More than half of Pakistanis surveyed in a Pew poll say India is a bigger threat than al Qaeda or the Taliban.

It’s not just the Pakistani military that believes a bigger, richer India is an existential threat. A majority of ordinary people share that perception as well. That ought to worry Indian policy planners. Of the Pakistanis polled, 23 percent think the Taliban is the greatest threat to their country, and 3 percent think al Qaeda is, despite the rising tide of militant violence in Pakistan’s turbulent northwest region on the Afghan border, and also in the heartland cities.

from Tales from the Trail:

Backlash over WikiLeaks release of Afghan war documents

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There may be more shoes to drop from WikiLeaks if it releases another 15,000 documents on the Afghanistan war that the whistleblower website is reviewing. It is already seeing some backlash after releasing 75,000-plus documents on the Internet.

The Times of London reported Wednesday that the leaked documents expose informers helping U.S. forces and have put hundreds of Afghan lives at risk.

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra

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wikileakIn many ways the documents released by WikiLeaks last night merely underscored the bleak assessment of the Afghan war which General Stanley McChrystal issued last August.

At the time McChrystal warned the overall situation was “deteriorating”, complained of “under-resourcing” and called for not just more resources but a “fundamentally new approach” from NATO forces if failure were to be avoided.

WikiLeaks: shaking the foundations of U.S. policy toward Pakistan

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A Pakistani security official stands near a burning vehicle after it was attacked in Chaman in Pakistan's Balochistan province, along the Afghan border on May 19, 2010.

A Pakistani security official stands near a burning vehicle after it was attacked in Chaman in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, along the Afghan border on May 19, 2010.

On the face of it, you could ask what’s new about the latest disclosures of Pakistani involvement in the Taliban insurgency while accepting massive U.S. aid to fight Islamic militancy of all hues. Hasn’t this been known all along — something that a succession of top U.S. officials and military leaders have often said, sometimes  couched in diplomatic speech and sometimes rather clearly?

U.S. troops walk a dangerous line in Arghandab

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A member of the U.S. Army's explosive ordinance disposal unit scans the area around a burning M-ATV armored vehicle after it struck an improvised explosive device (IED) near Combat Outpost Nolen. Pic by Bob Strong, Reuters

A member of the U.S. Army's explosive ordinance disposal unit scans the area around a burning M-ATV armored vehicle after it struck an improvised explosive device (IED) near Combat Outpost Nolen. Pic by Bob Strong, Reuters

The walk to besieged U.S. Combat Outpost Nolen is only 700 metres in a straight line, but for the soldiers who walk it every day it is an extraordinary feat of fitness and defeating their own fear in one of Afghanistan’s riskiest front lines.

Burying the India-Pakistan dialogue for now

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PAKISTAN-INDIA/

The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan have returned home, licking their wounds from their latest failed engagement.  Both sides are blaming each other for not only failing to make any progress, but also souring ties further, with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Indian counterpart S.M.Krishna openly sparring at a news conference following the talks in Islamabad.  Qureshi suggested Krishna did not seem to have the full mandate to conduct negotiations because directions were being given from New Delhi throughout the day-long talks, drawing rebuke from India which said the foreign minister had been insulted on Pakistani soil.

Some people are asking why bother  going through this painful exercise  at this time  when the chances of  of the two sides making even the slightest concession are next to zero?  India and Pakistan may actually be doing each other more damage by holding these high-profile, high-pressure meetings where the domestic media and the  opposition  in both the countries  is watching for the slightest sign of capitulation by either government.

2014: Mark it in your diary

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An Afghan  policeman keeps watch from his vehicle on a hill overlooking Kabul. Pic by Omar Sobhani

An Afghan policeman keeps watch from his vehicle on a hill overlooking Kabul. Pic by Omar Sobhani

It was with scarcely disguised sarcasm that a foreign colleague murmured ‘2014’, referring to the year, when I told him earlier last week of first reports of the United Nations Secretary-General and his NATO counterpart having to divert landing at Kabul airport to a nearby military base after a Taliban rocket attack on the Afghan capital.

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