Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
from Bernd Debusmann:
America's costly efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq came under intense scrutiny this month in critical reports and a gloomy Senate hearing that prompted a memorable assertion. "If there is any nation in the world that really needs nation-building right now, it is the United States."
That came from a Democratic Senator, Jim Webb, who continued: "When we are putting hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure in another country, it should only be done if we can articulate a vital national interest because we quite frankly need to be doing a lot more of that here."
Webb spoke at the confirmation hearing of the veteran diplomat President Barack Obama nominated to be his next ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who faced questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that left no doubt over the growing impatience of U.S. lawmakers with a military and financial commitment that is producing limited progress.
Webb's juxtaposition of spending on Afghanistan and the state of things in the United States - a stalled economy, stubborn unemployment, an aging infrastructure - is made more often in online debates and private conversations than in official hearings. But it is a subtext for a debate likely to grow in the campaign for the 2012 elections and feature both Afghanistan and Iraq as money pits, object lessons for ill-conceived development projects, and lack of foresighted planning.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
We have known for months that the United States has begun direct talks with representatives of the Taliban. And as I wrote in this story, the death of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid on May 2 should make it easier for the Taliban to break with al Qaeda, a fundamental requirement for including them in any eventual political settlement in Afghanistan. But lest anyone should think these talks, combined with bin Laden's death, would somehow produce an early end to the Afghan war, it is important to remember that engaging with the Taliban is only a necessary but far from sufficient condition for a political settlement.
As Thomas Ruttig writes at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, any deal between the Taliban and Afghan President Hamid Karzai that was simply meant to open the exit door for foreign troops would not serve the interests of Afghans. "... they need an end of the bloodshed that will also physically reopen spaces for economic and political activities, a debate about where their country is going. A deal which does not address the main causes of the conflict (namely the monopoly over power of resources concentrated in the hands of a small elite, then possibly with some additional Taleban players) will not bring peace.
from Bernd Debusmann:
In the flurry of statements on the killing of Osama bin Laden, a remark from Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, spoke volumes about how U.S. foreign aid tends to be perceived by its recipients. It's not enough.
"The United States spent much more money in Iraq than it did in Afghanistan," Haqqani said in a television interview. "And then it spent much more in Afghanistan than it did in Pakistan. So were there cracks through which things fell through? Absolutely."
from Gregg Easterbrook:
In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq citing two justifications: to depose Saddam Hussein and to destroy Iraq’s banned weapons program. Within a year, Hussein and his accomplices were imprisoned, and it had been discovered there was no Iraqi banned weapons program. Having achieved its goals, why didn’t the United States leave? Seven years later, this question haunts the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, citing two justifications: to find Osama bin Laden, and break up al Qaeda. Bin Laden is now dead, and al Qaeda broken.
from Photographers Blog:
It's not hard to find a field of poppies in the village of Jelawar, north of Kandahar. Some are hidden discreetly behind mud walls but others have been brazenly planted within sight of the main road. During a recent patrol, I accompanied Afghan National Army Captain Imran (he uses one name) and a group of U.S. civil affairs soldiers on a tour of Jelawar's back roads as they tried to assess the extent of this year's opium production.
The first field we came to was a couple of hundred meters across, filled with pink poppy flowers in full bloom. There were several men working the field and Imran asked them what they were doing. A farmer looked up from pulling weeds and said they were working on their onions. Indeed, in a poppy field the size of a football stadium there were a handful of green onion shoots pushing out of the soil. Not exactly the perfect cover, especially after the farmer admitted to planting the poppies in the first place.
from Russell Boyce:
In case anyone is in any doubt about the volatile situation many of our staff and stringers work under in Afghanistan I want to recount what happened on Saturday. Ahmad Nadeem was covering a demonstration that was sparked by the actions of extremist Christian preacher Terry Jones, who, according to his website, supervised the burning of the Koran in front of about 50 people at a church in Florida. The mood at the demonstration changed very quickly as the crowd sought a focus for their anger. Ahmad, our stringer in Kandahar was targeted. He was beaten with sticks, his gear smashed and his hand broken. Then an armed man instructed the mob to kill him. Ahmad fled for his life escaping into a nearby house where he successfully hid from the mob. Earlier in the day a suicide attack also hit a NATO military base in the capital Kabul, the day after protesters overran a U.N. mission in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and killed seven foreign staff in the deadliest attack on the U.N. in Afghanistan.
Bullet holds are seen on the windshield of a car used by insurgents after an attack at Camp Phoenix in Kabul April 2, 2011. Insurgents clad in burkhas attacked a coalition base in Kabul with guns and rocket-propelled grenades on Saturday, but were killed either when they detonated their explosives or by Afghan or coalition fire outside the entrance, NATO and police said. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
Afghanistan surprises most first-time visitors (including many on military transport planes) with stunning natural beauty — there’s little room in column inches taken up with war to describe snow-topped mountains, lush valleys, spring fields scattered with crocus and other pleasures of living here.
The country’s dazzling blue Band-e Amir lakes are almost unique geologically (not the way they are formed, but in their size), there are endangered animals like snow leopards roaming the country’s more remote corners, and now naturalists have discovered one of the world’s largest natural stone arches.
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the Persian New Year (1390, which started on Monday) with a video message, as he has done every year of his presidency.
Nawroz festival (also spelt nowroz, nowruz and several other ways) falls on spring equinox and is celebrated across a wide swathe of Central Asia and surrounding areas — it is a public holiday in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kashmir and Kyrgyzstan, according to Wikipedia.
The United States has said the scope of its military intervention in Libya is limited, but it nevertheless raises questions about what happens to the two other wars that it is waging, especially in Afghanistan. The last time Washington took the eye off the ball in Afghanistan was in 2003 when it launched the Iraq war and then got so bogged down there that a low level and sporadic Taliban resistance in southern Afghanistan grew into a full blown insurgency from which it is still trying to extricate itself.
The question then is will the U.S. attention again shift away from Afghanistan and to Libya and indeed other African and Middle East countries where revolts against decades of authoritarian rule are gaining ground, and unsettling every strategic calculation. Already U.S. Republicans are saying they are concerned that U.S. forces may be getting drawn into a costly, long-running operation in Libya that lacks clear goals. If it ends in a stalemate – a possibility recognized by Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen – how focused can America be on Afghanistan where you can argue that the stakes are arguably less now that al Qaeda has largely been pushed out, and the fight is almost entirely with the Taliban.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
With the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the United States and Pakistan have put behind them one of the more public rows of their up-and-down relationship. It was probably not the worst row -- remember the furore over a raid by U.S. ground troops in Angor Adda in Waziristan in 2008, itself preceded by a deluge of leaks to the U.S. media about the alleged duplicity of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in its dealings on Afghanistan.
But it was certainly one which by its very nature was guaranteed to get the most attention - an American who shot dead two Pakistanis in what he said was an act of self-defence, denied diplomatic immunity and ultimately released only after the payment of blood money. Adding to the drama were two intelligence agencies battling behind the scenes.