Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

In Pakistan’s Gwadar port, Chinese whispers grow

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First, China helped develop Pakistan’s Gwadar port from scratch on the Baluchistan coast to take the pressure off the country’s main port of Karachi, a few hundred miles to the east. Now Pakistan’s defence minister has said that it would like its long-time ally to build a naval base at Gwadar, which sits on the doorstep of Gulf shipping lanes, less than 200 kms from the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz.

China, which provided more than 80 percent of the port’s $248 million development cost, has moved quickly to distance itself from Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar’s remarks about a naval base in Gwadar. The foreign ministry said China was not aware of any such proposal.

While China has stood by Pakistan in its hour of embarrassment following the discovery of Osama bin Laden living in relative comfort in a garrison town, it might be squirming a bit at its ally’s rather aggressive portrayal of their ties. The last thing it needs is to trigger off another round of alarm bells in the region about its big power objectives in the Indian Ocean, especially when it is not ready yet.

As Gideon Rachman wrote in the Financial Times this week (behind a paywall) the Chinese may be wincing at the appearance of the story about building a military base on the Pakistani coast in the Western press “because it will heighten the perception that China is overplaying its hand in the Pacific; an idea that has helped America to strengthen its military alliances across the region.”

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 Photographers' Blog:

Embedded in Taliban territory

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Photographer Yannis Behrakis is seen in Afghanistan.

One of the most challenging and exciting parts of my job is working with some of the toughest and best-trained men in the most dangerous and challenging spot in the world. Last January, Reuters photographers received a group email asking for volunteers for an embed in Afghanistan “during the two most dangerous months of the year, May and June”. I did not think much before responding. I was on my way back to my home base in Greece after a two-year assignment in Israel.

By mid-March I was back in the gym to be fit for the embed. After a series of emails with the U.S. military in Afghanistan and a bit of paperwork, I received the approval for a three-week embed with the 2-508 Infantry Parachute regiment, (the Red Devils) part of the 82nd airborne, based in Arghandab valley near Kandahar. I was very happy and relieved to get the go ahead. I arrived at Kandahar airfield (KAF) on April 30. After a two day wait at the airbase, and a few rocket attacks, I got the green light to fly on an Australian Chinook chopper to my base in the valley -- a region considered the most dangerous on earth at that time. To whoever is a fan of extreme games, I suggest a flight with that "bird."

from Photographers' Blog:

A shot in the dark

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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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