Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan-despite failed NY attack, change will be slow in coming

karachiAfter the media frenzy following last weekend's failed car bomb attack on Times Square, you would be forgiven for thinking that something dramatic is about to change in Pakistan. The reality, however, is probably going to be much greyer.

Much attention has naturally focused on North Waziristan, a bastion for al Qaeda, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan fighters including those in the Haqqani network, and the so-called "Punjabi Taliban" - militants from Punjab-based groups who have joined the battle either in Afghanistan or against the Pakistani state.  The Pakistan Army is expected to come under fresh pressure to launch an offensive in North Waziristan after Faisal Shahzad, who according to U.S. authorities admitted to the failed car-bombing in Times Square, said he had received training in Waziristan. Unlike other parts of the tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghan border, North Waziristan has so far been left largely alone.

But it is by no means clear that the Pakistan Army will be rushed into launching a big offensive in North Waziristan.  It is already stretched fighting in other parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including in South Waziristan, where it embarked on a major operation last year.  Before starting any new offensive, it needs to be sure it is not going to be attacked from the rear, or become so thinly stretched that it loses hard-fought gains elsewhere.  As one senior military official told me, you have to be very sure-footed, consolidate your gains, and make sure your bases are secure.

That said, even before the failed Times Square attack, the New York Times suggested Pakistan was beginning to weigh the possibility of tackling militants in North Waziristan.  But its decision on timing is unlikely to be dictated by one incident, however dramatic. The Pakistan Army has put considerable energy into improving its image after the tarnishing of the Musharraf years, and is determined to show that when it does launch military offensives, it does so to win. And if there is one thing worse than not going into North Waziristan, it is going in there and losing.

U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan set to overtake Iraq

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(On patrol in Kandahar proivince.Reuters/Jonathon Burch

(On patrol in Kandahar province. Reuters/Jonathon Burch)

At some point this month or early June, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan will outnumber those in Iraq, writes Michael E. O ‘Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. It’s an artificial milestone but it is worth noting because it tells you a good deal about the two wars and where the United States stands in each.

The cross-over is also a measure of how big and rapid has the shift been in America’s military power toward Afghanistan since President Barack Obama took office last year promising to bring the troops home.

Afghanistan’s cricketers rise to the world stage

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(Afghanistan's cricketers after they qualified for the World Cup. Reuters/Nikhil Monteiro

(Afghanistan's cricketers after they qualified for the World Cup. Reuters/Nikhil Monteiro)

Afghanistan’s cricketers are playing heavyweights India in their opening match in the 20-over World Cup on Saturday, capping an extraordinary journey from refugee camps to the game’s top table.

Can India, Pakistan possibly back off in Afghanistan?

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INDIA-PAKISTAN

Now that India and Pakistan have agreed to hold further talks following a meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries, are they going to step back from a bruising confrontation in Afghanistan?

It’s a war fought in the shadows with spies and proxies, and lots of money. Once in a while it gets really nasty as in deadly attacks on Indian interests for which New Delhi has pointed the finger at Pakistan.

Killing more efficiently: America’s violin-sized missiles

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A unmanned Predator being rolled out of a hangar.REUTERS/Chris Helgren)

(An unmanned Predator being rolled out of a hangar. REUTERS/Chris Helgren)

The CIA is using smaller, advanced missiles – some of them no longer than a violin-case – to target militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt, according to the Washington Post.

The idea is to limit civilian casualties, the newspaper said quoting defence officials, after months of deadly missile strikes by unmanned Predator aircraft that has so burned Pakistan both in terms of the actual collateral damage and its sense of loss of sovereignty.

Reporting on the Afghan war: Lies and Truths

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An U.S. Army soldier takes photos of the eyes of an Afghan man at a checkpoint near of the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Tillman November 24, 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

A U.S. soldier takes photos of the eyes of an Afghan man at a checkpoint near Forward Operating Base (FOB) Tillman, Afghanistan, November 24, 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

“How can you live with your conscience reporting Taliban propaganda?”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On tipping points and Taliban talks

british soldierOne of the issues that seems to arouse the strongest emotions in the Afghan debate is the question of when the United States and its allies should engage in talks with the Taliban.  Some argued that the moment was ripe a few months ago, when both sides were finely balanced against each other and therefore both more likely to make the kind of concessions that would make negotiations possible.  It was an argument that surfaced forcefully at the London conference on Afghanistan in January. Others insisted that U.S.-led forces had to secure more gains on the battlefield first.

If you go by this survey carried out in December by Human Terrain Systems (pdf) (published this month by Danger Room) the people of Kandahar province were convinced at the end of last year of the need for negotiations: (as usual health warnings apply to any survey conducted in a conflict zone):

from Tales from the Trail:

New poll shows boost for Afghan war strategy

A new national poll by Quinnipiac University shows that the Obama administration’s new strategy in Afghanistan is gaining some favor among voters.

AFGHANISTANConducted April 14-19, the poll of American voters found that 49 percent of the respondents approved of the way President Barack Obama is handling the situation in Afghanistan versus 39 percent who disagreed.

Challenging the myths of Pakistan’s turbulent northwest

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PAKISTAN/

Reuters’ journalist Myra Macdonald travelled to Pakistan’s northwest on the border with Afghanistan  to find that some of the Kiplingesque images of  xenophobic Pasthuns and ungovernable lands may be a bit off the mark especially now when the Pakistani army has taken the battle to the Islamist militants.  Here’s her account :

                               By Myra MacDonald

KHAR, Pakistan – I had not expected Pakistan’s tribal areas to be so neat and so prosperous.

from Photographers' Blog:

A shot in the dark

A soldier from the U.S. Army's 1st Platoon, Alpha Troop, 2-1 Infantry Battalion, 5/2 Striker Brigade Combat Team scans the area with a scope during a night observation mission in Kandahar Province April 15, 2010. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

It’s 1:00am, I’m sitting in a small dirt hole. Not sure exactly where but somewhere in western Kandahar‘s Maiwand district. How did I get here? On a journey that has involved too much time spent waiting. Waiting at Forward Operating Bases, waiting for planes, waiting for people, waiting for helicopters, waiting for convoys, waiting for patrols.

The short version is it hasn’t been the most productive assignment. I am itching to get ‘out there’ and shoot. So I have jumped at the offer to join an observation post patrol on a moonless night in a flat and treeless landscape, looking for militants laying IEDs.

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