Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Cold War flashbacks as Americans rebuild Soviet tunnel in Afghanistan

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Under blazing June sunshine in the Hindu Kush mountains, U.S., Russian and Afghan officials gathered by the entrance of the Salang tunnel, arguably the most important stretch of highway in Afghanistan, linking the country’s south with its north.

They had come to celebrate emergency repair works carried out by the U.S. government on the 2.6 km (1.6 miles) of concrete passageway that the Soviets built in 1962. Constantly congested and leaking, the tunnel is on the brink of collapse.

But what happened next was a repeat of Cold War dynamics, unfolding in a country where Soviet forces made a dispirited 1989 exit after a decade-long war against U.S.-backed mujahideen.

Twenty-two years later, the United States will soon begin a troop withdrawal from the increasingly unpopular NATO-led war now in its tenth year.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, a deterrent against India, but also United States ?

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Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have been conceived and developed as a deterrent against mighty neighbour India, more so now when its traditional rival has added economic heft to its military muscle. But Islamabad may also be holding onto its nuclear arsenal  to deter an even more powerful challenge, which to its mind, comes  from the United States, according to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led President Barack Obama’s 2009 policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan and the United States are allies in the war against militancy, but ties have been so troubled in recent years that  some in Pakistan believe that the risk of a conflict cannot be dismissed altogether and that the bomb may well be the country’s  only hedge against an America that looks less a friend and more a hostile power.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The “sound and fury” of U.S.-Pakistan ties

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rayjmonddavisphotoWith the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the United States and Pakistan have put behind them one of the more public rows of their up-and-down relationship.  It was probably not the worst row -- remember the furore over a raid by U.S. ground troops in Angor Adda in Waziristan in 2008, itself preceded  by a deluge of leaks to the U.S. media about the alleged duplicity of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in its dealings on Afghanistan.

But it was certainly one which by its very nature was guaranteed to get the most attention - an American who shot dead two Pakistanis in what he said was an act of self-defence, denied diplomatic immunity and ultimately released only after the payment of blood money. Adding to the drama were two intelligence agencies battling behind the scenes.

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 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.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On either side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border: Bajaur and Kunar

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damadolaWhat is going on in Kunar and Bajaur, two neighbouring regions on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border?

NPR has a view from the Afghan side in this piece written from the perspective of U.S. troops fighting in Kunar. (h/t The Captain's Journal) Key takeaways are the level of mistrust about the Pakistanis, driven by the suspicion its military is supporting the Taliban, and the presence of a massive but newly abandoned CIA post there.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Taliban talks: “an iffy, high-level treaty”

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arghandab3In Obama's Wars, Rob Woodward attributes the following thoughts to U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on the prospects for a peaceful settlement to the Afghan war:

"He saw reconciliation and reintegration as distinct.  Reconciliation was esoteric, an iffy high-level treaty with Taliban leaders. Reintegration occurred down at the local level in villages and towns..."

Pakistan’s Zardari in China; nuclear deal in grasp

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(File picture of President Zardari in China)

(File picture of President Zardari in China)

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.

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.

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.

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