Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

When there are no people in Pakistan

Rarely does a story reveal so much so unintentionally as this month's article in the New Yorker by Nicholas Schmidle reconstructing the May 2 raid by U.S. forces who found and killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad. The article, beautifully written in the genre of Black Hawk Down, purports to tell the inside story of the Navy SEALS on the raid, right down to what they were thinking, or indeed, in the case of one of them, what he had in his pockets.

The problem, as reported initially by The Washington Post, was that Schmidle had not actually spoken to any of the SEALS involved in the raid but relied on the accounts of others who had debriefed the men. That, along with his failure to disclose this fact in the article, has prompted a vivid debate on Twitter and elsewhere, both about journalistic ethics and the accuracy of the story.

C. Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at Georgetown University in the United States, complained that the lack of transparency on the sourcing of the story was an "egregious exercise of incaution"  that left it impossible for readers to judge its credibility.  It was an issue, she said, that went beyond journalism, but played into conspiracy theories about American policy and particularly about whether bin Laden was dead at all.  That those theories are alive and well was highlighted by this story in Pakistan's The News, claiming that all witnesses to bin Laden's death were killed in a U.S. helicopter crash in Afghanistan on  August 5. Actually, although members of SEAL Team 6 were among the dead, none of them had been involved in the raid.

As a journalist writing about Pakistan, I would be wary of taking too strong a stance either way - the expression "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" springs to mind. I would probably split the difference and say that the more transparency on sourcing the better when it comes to Pakistan. We are all subject to manipulation and propaganda when we rely on unnamed sources, so much so that a journalist friend in Islamabad made the case to me that we should collectively decide to use only named sources. (For the record, I would try to counter that manipulation by seeking out two or more sources, preferably of different nationalities in different countries, to corroborate a story.)

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 31 July 2011

Ramadan started in Asia on Sunday and Indonesia-based photographer Ahmed Yusef produced this beautiful image to mark the start of the most important period in the Muslim calendar. The viewer focuses on the young woman's eyes as the red scarf draws you to her through a sea of swirling white created by a slow exposure. Also in Indonesia, Dwi Oblo's picture draws you into the picture through  light and smoke to evoke a real feeling of people humbling themselves as they pay respects to their dead relatives as they also prepare for Ramadan.

Muslim woman attend mass prayer session "Tarawih", which marks the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at Al Markaz Al Islami mosque in Makassar, South Sulawesi July 31, 2011. Muslims around the world abstain from eating, drinking and conducting sexual relations from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. REUTERS/Ahmad Yusuf 

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India and the possibility of change

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.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in Pictures 24 July 2011

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

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

(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


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

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


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

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