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from Afghan Journal:

United States begins a new war, what happens to Afghanistan?

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kunduz

The United States has said the scope of its military intervention in Libya is limited, but it nevertheless raises questions about what happens to the two other wars that it is waging, especially in Afghanistan. The last time Washington took the eye off the ball in Afghanistan was in 2003 when it launched the Iraq war and then got so bogged down there that a low level and sporadic Taliban resistance in southern Afghanistan grew into a full blown insurgency from which it is still trying to extricate itself.

The question then is will the U.S. attention again shift away from Afghanistan and to Libya  and indeed other African and Middle East countries where revolts  against decades of authoritarian rule are gaining ground, and unsettling every strategic calculation.   Already U.S. Republicans are saying they are concerned that U.S. forces may be getting drawn into a costly, long-running operation in Libya that lacks clear goals.  If it ends in a stalemate - a possibility recognized by Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen - how focused can America be on Afghanistan where you can argue that the stakes are arguably less now that al Qaeda has largely been pushed out, and the fight is almost entirely with the Taliban.

Just by way of recap, here's broadly what happened to Afghanistan when America's attention and money were drained toward Iraq.  Militant groups reconstituted themselves, more safe havens sprung up, and they were financed by a resurgent opium economy .  Post-war reconstruction was curtailed as blood and treasure was invested in the war in Iraq. In some ways, it was a throwback to another U.S withdrawal from the region when  it almost overnight lost interest following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 after a decade of arming and financing the insurgents against its former Cold War foe

The other unintended consequence of the U.S. military action in Libya is the anger it will stoke in countries such as Afghanistan where many see it as an attack on an Islamic nation, the latest of a string of nations so targeted.  Regardless of its good intentions, the intervention will be depicted as aggressive, predatory and anti-Muslim, as Edward N. Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in  the Los Angeles Times.-

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?:

Keeping Raymond Davis and Lashkar-e-Taiba in perspective

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tajmumbaiAccording to the New York Times, Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor arrested in Pakistan for shooting dead two Pakistanis in what he says was an act of self-defence, was working with a CIA team monitoring the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

The article, by Washington-based Mark Mazzetti, was not the first to make this assertion. The NYT itself had already raised it, while Christine Fair made a similar point in her piece for The AfPak Channel last week (with the intriguing detail that "though the ISI knew of the operation, the agency certainly would not have approved of it.")

from Tales from the Trail:

Lugar warns U.S. against war in Libya

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momarIn recent days  some U.S. senators have been urging President Obama to consider military intervention to help Libyan rebels fighting Moammar Gaddafi.

Not Richard Lugar.

The top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee said little  while a senior member of his own party, John McCain,  repeatedly urged the United States to pursue setting up a no-fly zone over Libya.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 06 March 2011

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I do enjoy a coincidence. The week after calls for prodemocracy demonstrations under the social media tag of "Jasmine Revolution" and the week before  the National People's Congress (NPC), International journalists (and I of course include photographers under this title) are brought in by the authorities for "chat". During the "chat" they are reminded of the terms of their journalist visas and how quickly these visas can be revoked if the rules are broken on illegal reporting. Also outlined are places that special permission is needed to report from, Tiananmen Square heading the list. Our picture of a member of the PLA leaving the Great Hall in Tiananmen Square appearing to almost step on the photographer with this low angle picture, as I said I do love a coincidence.

CHINA-DEFENCE/

A military delegate from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) leaves the Great Hall of the People after a meeting during the annual session of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, in Beijing March 4, 2011. China said on Friday that its official military budget for 2011 will rise 12.7 percent over last year, returning to the double-digit rises that have stoked regional disquiet about Beijing's expanding strength. REUTERS

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

U.S.-Pakistan relations better than they look

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raymond davisGiven the high-decibel volume of the row over Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore in January, it would be tempting to assume that overall relations between Pakistan and the United States are the worst they have been in years.

At a strategic level, however, there's actually rather greater convergence of views than there has been for a very long time.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures February 27, 2011

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The World's gaze at events in the Middle East was broken last week after an earthquake of 6.3 destroyed many buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand; the death toll now stands at 147 with 200 still missing. This was the latest disaster covered by Tim Wimborne. In recent weeks he has been to Toowoomba and Brisbane for the floods, Cairns for the typhoon Yasi and now NZ to cover the earthquake.  Tim worked closely with stringer Simon Baker to produce a file that saddens the heart, buildings normally seen on holiday postcards now forming the tombs of those who have died and as yet have not been pulled from the rubble. For me one of the strongest images is that of a  man picking through the rubble of what was once his home. With Tim's birds-eye view we see that nothing is really worth saving amid the dust and rubble, a photograph, a smashed lamp and a model boat.

NEWZEALAND-QUAKE/

Resident of the beach-side suburb of New Brighton, Julian Sanderson, searches for personal items through the remains of his house, destroyed by Tuesday's earthquake, in Christchurch February 25, 2011. International rescue teams searched through the rubble of quake-ravaged Christchurch on Friday for more than 200 people still missing, but rain and cold were dimming hopes of finding more survivors in the country's worst natural disaster in decades.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On U.S.-Taliban talks, look at 2014 and work back

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arghandab3According to Steve Coll in the New Yorker, the United States has begun its first direct talks with the Taliban to see whether it is possible to reach a political settlement to the Afghan war.  He writes that after the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington the United States rejected direct talks with Taliban leaders, on the grounds that they were as much to blame for terrorism as Al Qaeda. However, last year, he says, a small number of officials in the Obama administration—among them the late Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan—argued that it was time to try talking to the Taliban again.

"Holbrooke’s final diplomatic achievement, it turns out, was to see this advice accepted. The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation."

from FaithWorld:

U.S. military chaplains air issues

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(A U.S. army chaplain leads a Sunday service in a chapel in the U.S. forces' camp in Baghdad, January 28, 2007/Erik de Castro)

Chaplains representing every branch of  the U.S. military and many faiths gathered on Wednesday to discuss everything from counseling stressed-out soldiers to a recent lawsuit charging the military neglects a sexually abusive culture.

from Felix Salmon:

Kabulbank datapoint of the day

Back when we last checked in on Kabulbank, no one really knew how big the hole there was, and the government was still saying that it was solvent. But now Dexter Filkins has some concrete numbers, and they're insanely huge:

The money that has apparently been doled out by Kabul Bank to Afghan officials is part of an estimated nine hundred million dollars that is lost or missing from the bank. That amount far exceeds the three hundred million dollars in losses that emerged after the Central Bank’s takeover. Investigators said that the nine hundred million dollars includes failed loans and loans to apparently fictitious corporations. The chairman of the Central Bank said that it has recovered some of the loans, but a Western official told me that much of the money is gone: “They can’t find it.” ...

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