Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Solving Afghanistan and Pakistan over a cup of tea

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cups of teaI have never read "Three Cups of Tea", Greg Mortenson's book about building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I tried to read the sequel, "Stones into Schools" and gave up not too long after the point where he said that, "the solution to every problem ... begins with drinking tea." Having drunk tea in many parts of South Asia - sweet tea, salt tea, butter tea, tea that comes with the impossible-to-remove-with-dignity thick skin of milk tea - I can confidently say that statement does not reflect reality.

So I have always been a bit puzzled that the Americans took Mortenson's books so much to heart. Yes, I knew he boasted that his books had become required reading for American officers posted to Afghanistan; and yes, there is the glowing praise from Admiral Mike Mullen on the cover of  "Stones into Schools", where he wrote that "he's shaping the very future of a region". But I had always believed, or wanted to believe, that at the back of everyone's minds they realised that saccharine sentimentality was no substitute for serious analysis. Just as hope is not a strategy, drinking tea is not a policy.  (To be fair to the Americans, I have also overheard a British officer extolling the virtues of drinking tea in Afghanistan.)

As a result of my scepticism on the miracle powers of tea-drinking, I find I am learning an awful lot more about the thinking of the U.S. administration than I ever did from Mortenson from the fall-out from the allegations of inaccuracies in his books. (Mortenson rejects these allegations in a statement on the website of his Central Asia Institute charity.)

Take for example the detailed account by Jon Krakauer (pdf) charting not only inaccuracies but also alleged irregularities in the finances of the Central Asia Institute. In his opening paragraph, Krakauer notes that President Barack Obama donated $100,000 of the award money from his own Nobel Peace Prize, which he received in 2009, to the Central Asia Institute. I had not known about the Obama connection until I read advance stories on Krakauer's piece.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan: Petraeus, personalities and policy

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chinook2Buried in the Washington Post story on Marc Grossman taking over as the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are some interesting references to the possible departure of U.S. commander General David Petraeus.

"... virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy's other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there," it says.

from Tales from the Trail:

AfPak — It’s his baby now

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ruggiero

On a day when the most powerful people in Washington were discussing Afghanistan and Pakistan, there was one man who might be excused for looking a little shell-shocked.

Frank Ruggiero, who stepped in as acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) following the sudden death of his boss Richard Holbrooke on Monday, had little time to prepare for his first big outing as President Barack Obama's  pointman for the biggest foreign policy headache facing the administration.

from Tales from the Trail:

McCain sees India, U.S. teaming up against “troubling” China

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SUMMIT-WASHINGTON

As President Barack Obama begins his visit to India, his erstwhile rival John McCain is voicing hope that Washington and New Delhi will tighten up their military cooperation in the face of China's "troubling" assertiveness.

McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a think-tank audience in Washington on Friday that the two huge democracies were natural allies in the quest to temper China's ambitions.

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.

How many al Qaeda can you live with ?

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(A box of  'Super Osama bin Laden" candles bought at a bazaar in Kandahar)

(A box of 'Super Osama bin Laden" candles bought at a bazaar in Kandahar)

A furious debate has raged for several months now whether it makes sense for the United States to throw tens of thousands of  soldiers at a handful of al Qaeda that remain in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, nine years after launching the global war on terrorism.

CIA director Leon Panetta  told ABC News in June thatal-Qaeda’s presencein Afghanistan was now “relatively small … I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100.” And in nextdoor Pakistan, arguably the more  dangerous long-term threat, there were about 300  al Qaeda leaders and fighters, officials separately estimated.

from Tales from the Trail:

Obama delivers checkmate by moving generals

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President Barack Obama managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

In a surprise move, he chose superstar General David Petraeus to replace General Stanley McChrystal, whose team had badmouthed just about every top civilian adviser to Obama on Afghanistan in a Rolling Stone magazine article. AFGHANISTAN/

And with that one decision he managed to wipe away any impression that as commander-in-chief he would allow insubordination, and he preempted any criticism that he would allow the war in Afghanistan to be without competent leadership for reasons of politics and vanity.

from Tales from the Trail:

General headed to the woodshed, will he get the axe?

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The sound of palms slapping foreheads could be heard all over Washington, the physical exclamation of "what were they thinking?"

The spectacularly frank quotes from General Stanley McChrystal and his aides mocking Vice President Joe Biden and other top advisers to the president and commander-in-chief were jaw-dropping, not because that's what they really thought, but because the views were uttered to a reporter working on a profile for Rolling Stone magazine. USA/AFGHANISTAN

from Tales from the Trail:

Frankly, Mr. Karzai, the U.S. does give a damn

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When two heads of state stand side-by-side in public, it's all about reading into the words they choose and the body language.

AFGHANISTAN-USA/In the case of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama the word "frank" came up a number of times.

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.

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