Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
In openDemocracy, Paul Rogers writes that one of the great mistakes of the media is that it tends to assume the only actors in the campaign against Islamist militants are governments, with al Qaeda and the Taliban merely passive players.
"Beyond the details of what the Taliban and its allies decide, it is important to note that most analysis of Barack Obama’s strategy published in the western media is severely constrained by its selective perspective. There is a pervasive assumption - even now, after eight years of war - that the insurgents are mere “recipients” of external policy changes: reactive but not themselves proactive," he writes.
"This is nonsense - and dangerous nonsense. It would be far wiser to assume that these militias have people who are every bit as intelligent and professional in their thinking and planning as their western counterparts. They have had three months to think through the Obama leadership’s policy-development process; and much of this thinking will be about how the US changes affect their own plans - not how they will respond to the United States. Thus they may have very clear intentions for the next three to five years that are embedded in detailed military planning; and what is now happening on their side will involve adjustment of these plans in the light of the great rethink across the Atlantic."
So how will al Qaeda, the Taliban and other Islamist groups respond?
As discussed before in openDemocracy, and highlighted on this blog more than a year ago, the Taliban has been pretty good at studying the lessons of history, including taking inspiration from the Vietnamese war commander General Vo Nguyen Giap, who successfully employed guerrilla tactics against the French before crushing them in the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The United Nations said last week that Afghanistan is “without doubt” the worst place in the world for a child, especially a girl, to be born.
It has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, 70 percent of Afghans have no access to clean water and hundreds of schools, mostly girls’ schools, have been attacked by Taliban or other insurgents.
On the eve of Hamid Karzai’s inauguration as Afghanistan’s president, the obvious question to ask is what happens if he, or more crucially his Western backers, fail to turn back a resurgent Taliban the second time around.
Steve Coll, journalist and president of the New America Foundation, sets out four consequences of failure in Afghanistan in a blog in The New Yorker, which speak to those especially in America who question its involvement in the first place in this far-off “graveyard of empires.”
[Women at a cemetery in Kabul, picture by Reuters' Ahmad Masood]
As U.S. President Barack Obama makes up his mind on comitting more troops to Afghanistan, the search for analogies continues. Clearly, Afghanistan cannot be compared with Vietnam or Iraq beyond a point. The history, geography, the culture and the politics are just too different.
The best analogy to Afghanistan may well the very area in dispute – the rugged Pashtun lands straddling the border with Pakistan and where the Pakistani army is in the middle of an offensive, argues William Tobey in a piece for Foreign Policy.
If you were on the U.S-led coalition base in Bagram in Afghanistan soon after the 2001 invasion, you couldn’t help noticing soldiers with long, Taliban-style beards and dressed in light brown shalwar kamaeez down to the sandals.
They kept to themselves. They weren’t the friendly sort and before long you figured out these were the Special Forces who had fought along side the Northern Alliance in small teams to overthrow the Taliban and were then hunting its remnants and members of al Qaeda. The men grew beards to blend in during difficult and isolated missions in the Afghan countryside.
Katrina Manson is a Reuters reporter based in East Africa. She recently accompanied the British government’s development agency, DFID, on a visit to Helmand province in south Afghanistan.
By Katrina Manson
from UK News:
Former Foreign Office minister Kim Howells poses the question in the Guardian in a piece made grimly relevant by Wednesday's shooting dead of five British soldiers by an Afghan policeman.
Howells says troops should be brought back from Afghanistan and that the billions of pounds saved should be used to beef up homeland security in Britain -- drawing the front line against al Qaeda around the UK rather than thousands of miles away in Helmand province.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
Pakistan's militants have unleashed a guerrilla war in cities across the country in retaliation for a military offensive against them in their South Waziristan stronghold. But while they have seized all the attention with their massive bomb and gun attacks, what about the offensive itself in their mountain redoubt ?
Nearly two weeks into Operation Rah-e-Nijat, or Path of Salvation, it is hard to make a firm assessment of which way the war is going, given that information is hard to come by and this may yet be still the opening stages of a long and difficult campaign.
Back in 2002 during a reporting assignment in Afghanistan, a U.S. helicopter pilot told me that it was important to send a message early on that “we own the skies, night or day”. So at any given point of time if you were at the Bagram air base, north of Kabul, you could see aircraft, mostly choppers taking off, landing or simply idling in the skies above in what became the region’s busiest airfield.
Seven years on, the U.S. military is holding on to the skies ever more tightly as the ground below slips away to a Taliban insurgency at its fiercest level. And because they fly more and because the terrain and weather are difficult, the chances of things going wrong increase, as happened earlier this week when 14 Americans, including 11 soldiers, were killed in two separate chopper crashes.