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from The Great Debate:

Afghanistan votes on its future

The coverage on the impending Afghan presidential elections has been filled with death and chaos -- the tragic shooting at the Serena hotel where an international election monitor was killed, the shocking attack on the Afghan Election Commission's headquarters, the killing of a provincial council candidate and the news that several international monitoring groups are pulling out.

These tragedies, however, shift the focus from the major news in Afghanistan this week: Election fever has gripped the nation. I hear from Afghans as well as many foreigners now working in Afghanistan that the excitement about the coming April 5 presidential election is palpable and encouraging.

If this election goes relatively smoothly, it will mark the first democratic handover of power in Afghan history. Potential large-scale fraud and violence will be substantial obstacles to overcome, but there are also some positive signs. Voters, observers and security personnel are gearing up with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation.

Why be optimistic?

Civil society has begun to blossom in many parts of Afghanistan after decades of repression and near-constant war. Bearded men pump their fists in the air during election rallies, others dance in dusty fields at political gatherings while volunteers serve lunch and tea. Millions of Afghans watch the candidates’ heated debates on television.

from Afghan Journal:

Ten years on, still trying to frame the Afghan War

U.S. President Barack Obama is in the midst of a wrenching decision on whether to quickly bring home the 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan or stay the course in the hope that the situation will stabilise in the country.

The problem is it is still not clear what the huge operation estimated to cost $100 billion a year is intended to do.  Here is what Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said last week when asked what would constitute success : “I think we’ll have a much better fix in terms of clarity towards the end of this year in terms of longer-term … potential outcomes — and when those might occur — than we do right now."  The military were in the middle of the fighting season and once that ends when winter arrives, they would be in a better position to make a call. But how many fighting seasons has the military gone through already in Afghanistan ? Their logic is that the 30,000 additional troops that Obama sent in December 2009 have started to turn things around in the southern bastions of the Taliban, and more time is needed to extend the gains in the east where the insurgency is just as stubborn.

from FaithWorld:

European push to ban burqas appalls Afghan women

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Afghan widows line up during a cash for work project in Kabul January 6, 2010/Ahmad Masood

A firm believer in women's rights, the only thing Afghan lawmaker Shinkai Karokhail finds as appalling as being forced to wear a burqa is a law banning it.

from FaithWorld:

German film explores Muslims struggling with life in West

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Burhan Qurbani at the Berlinale International Film Festival, 17 Feb 2010/Tobias Schwarz

German-Afghan director Burhan Qurbani shines the spotlight on the difficulties facing young Muslims in the western world in his first feature film "Shahada", set in multicultural Berlin. The film, which won applause at its screening at the Berlin film festival on Wednesday, is about the intertwining tales of three young German-born Muslims struggling to reconcile their family faith and traditions with a modern, Western lifestyle.

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