Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
from Russell Boyce:
This week has seen a dramatic increase in violence and tension throughout much of the Asia region, and the pictures on the wire reflect this mood. It seems that actions by not only nations, armed groups but individuals have all had a dramatic impact on the mood of the region. The weight of the news feels almost claustrophobic as I try to keep on top of what is happening.
U.S. Army soldiers from Delta Company, a part of Task Force 1-66 carry a wounded 7-year-old Afghan boy, a victim of a road side explosion, at their base near the village of Gul Kalacheh, Arghandab River valley, Kandahar province, September 18, 2010. REUTERS/Oleg Popov
On the surface of it the parliament elections can only be good news for the people of Afghanistan, but 16 hours spent live blogging pictures with our team of 18 journalists, watching the minute by minute developments made me wonder about the timing of this election as different groups tried to impose their influence on the outcome through violence and fraud. Attacks by the Taliban killed 14 who were directly involved in the polling process. A radio commentator I was listening to assured his listeners that this death toll was part of normal daily life in Afghanistan and should not be seen to reflect election violence, I was not cheered by this. Oleg's picture above seems to bear this out; does it really matter what the motivation was behind the blast as the boy writhes in agony, his blood stained hands trembling and clawing at his bandaged head. If the election had not gone ahead would he still have been injured? Even Masood's picture below of the election worker and the donkey struggling through the mountains seem to reflect the uphill battle the whole country has to face. Ink being washed off fingers so voters could vote and vote again; fraudulent voting cards printed and who knows what amount of ballot box stuffing will take place before the final count is revealed late October; all of which seem to undermine the democratic process. Who wants to be ruled by leaders who have gained power through corruption - notably the only political point the Taliban make.
An Afghan man and a donkey transport ballot boxes to villages unreachable by vehicles in Panjshir province, north of Kabul September 17, 2010. Afghanistan will hold parliamentary elections on September 18. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
from Russell Boyce:
As the anniversary of the 9/11 attack coincided with Eid celebrations, Florida based Pastor Terry Jones announced that he would burn the Koran as a protest to plans to site a Muslim cultural centre near Ground Zero , stoking tensions in Asia. Add into the mix millions in Pakistan suffering from lack of water, food and shelter after floods, a parliament election in Afghanistan and a U. S. -led military campaign against the Taliban around Kandahar - photographers in the region had lots of raw material to work with.
Raheb's picture of relief and joy caught in the harsh light of a direct flash seems to explode in a release of tension as news spreads that Pastor Jones had cancelled his plans to burn the Koran. It has to be said that ironically earlier in the day in Pakistan US flags were burned in protest against the planned protest.
Below is a Reuters video roundup of the start of Ramadan in Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Afghanistan:
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari is in China this week, making good his promise to visit the “all weather ally” every three months. During his previous trips, his hosts have sent him off to the provinces to see for himself the booming growth there, but this trip may turn out be a lot more productive.
Zardari may well return with a firm plan by China to build two reactors at Pakistan’s Chashma nuclear plant, as my colleague in Beijing reports in this article, overriding concern in Washington, New Delhi and other capitals that this undermined global non-proliferation objectives.
Afghan authorities have organised a roadshow in London that opens on Friday aimed at drumming up interest in the country’s mineral wealth variously estimated at anything from $1 trillion to $3 trillion.
India and China, the regional heavyweights, are the top candidates to fight for a piece of the action in their immediate neighbourhood. If there are such large reserves of copper, iron ore and key industrial metals such as lithium lying untapped in their neighbourhood you would expect them to invest heavily in Afghanistan to feed their supercharged economies.
If you have been reading news reports and blogs in recent weeks on Pakistan’s Afghanistan strategy, you would think Islamabad has emerged at the top of the heap, holding all the cards to a possible endgame. Its close ties to the Afghan Taliban put Islamabad in a unique position for a negotiated settlement to the eight-year-war, with little place for arch rival India which has been trying to muscle into its sphere of influence.
But Pakistan must not be taken in by all the hype; it has neither delivered a strategic coup nor has it fully secured its interests, argue two experts in separate pieces that seem to cut through all the noise.
One of the first things that U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates did during his trip to India last week was to assure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the United States did not intend to cut and run from Afghanistan. America was committed to Afghanistan for the long-term, he said, trying to calm Indian concerns over the Obama administration’s stated plans to begin withdrawing troops from July 2011.
It struck me as quite remarkable that India, long a prickly nation opposed to superpower presence in the region, had so openly pinned its hopes on a prolonged U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Quite a change from the time it would rail against the presence of such “extra-regional” powers.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
The Real News had an interview last week with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski who talks about how U.S. policy is playing out across Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China. The second part of the interview covers his support for the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, but here is what he has to say about Pakistan and the regional dynamics:
"We are in Afghanistan because we have been there for 8 years, now getting out is easy to say, but by now if we get out, quickly, the question arises, what follows? Is there going to be again a very sort of militant regime in Afghanistan which might tolerate al Qaeda's presence and beyond that is now a new issue, namely the conflict in Afghanistan has come to be connected with the conflict in Pakistan. Pakistan is an important country of 170 million people which has nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons, and delivery systems, delivery systems to the entire region around so we have to think much more responsibly on how to deal with this problem ... "