Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Happy New Year Mr President

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AFGHANISTANU.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.

But Obama’s message was addressed almost entirely to Iranians. “This is a holiday for the Iranian people to spend time with friends and family,” Obama said, launching a discussion of the country’s past and future challenges, after just a briefest of  “best wishes to all who are celebrating Nowruz in the United States and around the world”.

His choice of words did not go unnoticed in Afghanistan, currently host to almost 100,000 U.S. troops. The popular holiday was once banned as “un-Islamic” by the hardline Taliban — who U.S. troops are fighting — and has been  celebrated enthusiastically again since their downfall in 2001 .

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Academics, experts appeal to Obama to back Taliban talks

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arghandabA group of academics, journalists and NGO workers have published an open letter to President Barack Obama appealing to him to support direct negotiations with the Taliban leadership.

The letter argues that the situation on the ground on Afghanistan is much worse than a year ago. "With Pakistan's active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution," it says.

India, U.S. build ties, with an eye on China

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In the end, Pakistan wasn’t the unspoken elephant in the room when U.S. President Barack Obama sat down for talks with Indian leaders. Far from tip-toeing around India’s Pakistan problem which complicates America’s own troubled war there and in Afghanistan, Obama spoke clearly and squarely.

Safe havens for militants in Pakistan wouldn’t be tolerated, he said, in what was music to Indian ears. But he also left nobody in doubt Washington wanted India to improve ties with Pakistan, saying New Delhi had the greatest stake in the troubled neighbour’s stability.

from India Insight:

India votes for Obama as storm clouds gather at home

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INDIAU.S. President Barack Obama is facing a storm of voter discontent but in India where he travels three days after this week's huge congressional elections, he's already a winner. More than seven out of 10 Indians endorse his leadership, saying they believe he will do the right thing in world affairs, a Pew poll released in late October showed.

Contrast that with his approval ratings at home just as he heads into the critical midterm election. More people disapprove of his job performance (47 percent) than the number who approve (45 percent), according to the latest CBS news/New York Times opinion poll.

WikiLeaks: shaking the foundations of U.S. policy toward Pakistan

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A Pakistani security official stands near a burning vehicle after it was attacked in Chaman in Pakistan's Balochistan province, along the Afghan border on May 19, 2010.

A Pakistani security official stands near a burning vehicle after it was attacked in Chaman in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, along the Afghan border on May 19, 2010.

On the face of it, you could ask what’s new about the latest disclosures of Pakistani involvement in the Taliban insurgency while accepting massive U.S. aid to fight Islamic militancy of all hues. Hasn’t this been known all along — something that a succession of top U.S. officials and military leaders have often said, sometimes  couched in diplomatic speech and sometimes rather clearly?

from India Insight:

India and the U.S. – strategic or symbolic partners?

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With initial euphoria over last week's U.S.-India talks on the wane, it may be time to take a long, hard look at what New  Delhi actually gained from the first official "strategic dialogue" between the two sides.

The flags of India and the United States are seen before a bilateral meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Indian National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon during the Shangri-La Dialogue Asia Security Summit in Singapore June 4, 2010. REUTERS/Carolyn Kaster/PoolThe timing was just right as Washington implements its AfPak plan, the correct gestures were made and U.S. officials went out of their way to convince the Indian media all was fine between the world's two biggest democracies.

Afghanistan’s violent summer: 400 attacks in a week

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U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus last month warned residents of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar of a violent summer ahead as his troops prepared to take full control of the southern province (with the same name) from the Taliban.  He spoke of  the insurgents  taking “horrific action” to stop the military advance into their spiritual centre.

Some of it may already be unfolding although the offensive is still thought to be weeks away. In one week alone toward the end of April there were 400 attacks , 60 percent of them roadside bombs. Which makes it 57 attacks in a day, telling you more than anything else the deteriorating military situation in the country.

Guest Column: Getting Obama’s Afghan policy back on track

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(C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in the column are his own).

By C. Uday Bhaskar

The May 12 summit meeting in the White House between visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his host, U.S. President Barack Obama comes against the backdrop of the mercifully aborted May 1 terrorist bombing incident in New York’s Times Square.

Karzai, the West and the diplomatic marriage from hell

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One of my Kabul press corps colleagues once described covering President Hamid Karzai’s government and the Western diplomats who are supposed to be supporting it as a lot like being friends with a couple while they go through a savage divorce. We reporters hop back and forth, from cocktail party to quiet lunch to private briefing, listening to charming Afghans and Westerners -– many of whom we personally like very much — say outrageously nasty things about each other. Usually, the invective is whispered “off the record” by both sides, so you, dear reader, miss out on the opportunity to learn just how dysfunctional one of the world’s most important diplomatic relationships has become.

Over the past few weeks, the secret got out. Karzai — in a speech that was described as an outburst but which palace insiders say was carefully planned — said in public what his allies have been muttering in private for months: that Western diplomats orchestrated the notorious election debacle last year that saw a third of his votes thrown out for fraud. The White House and State Department were apoplectic: “disturbing”, “untrue”, “preposterous” they called it. Peter Galbraith, the U.S. diplomat who was the number two U.N. official in Kabul during last year’s election, went on TV and said he thought Karzai might be crazy or on drugs. Karzai’s camp’s response: Who’s being preposterous now?

While Karzai and the West dueled, Afghans lost

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While Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his American backers were having a very public row, 170 people were killed in political violence in Afghanistan last week, foreign affairs expert Juan Cole points out on his blog Informed Comment.

There were 117 incidents according to the Afghan interior ministry, four times the number for the previous week. Most of the violence was in the south casting a shadow over supposed U.S. gains in the region, Cole says. Indeed residents in Marjah, the site of a major military offensive against the Taliban, are complaining of lack of security, he quotes a report by the local Pajwhok news agency as saying.

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