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from Tales from the Trail:

Lugar warns U.S. against war in Libya

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.

On Sunday Democrat John Kerry, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, suggested that Washington might want to  "crater"  runways used by Gaddafi's forces.

On Tuesday, Lugar issued a strong warning against U.S. intervention in what he called Libya's civil war.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 06 March 2011

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

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

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

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

chaplain

(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.” ...

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan: Petraeus, personalities and policy

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 Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures February 13, 2011

First, congratulations to Pakistan Chief photographer Adrees Latif and Bangladesh based photographer Andrew Biraj for their competition awards this week.  Adrees is the winner of the photojournalism category of the ICP Infinity Awards 2011 for his pictures shoot during the floods in Pakistan last year.  Andrew won third prize in the singles category of daily life in the World Press Photo Awards for his picture of an overcrowded train in Bangladesh.

PAKISTAN-FLOODS/

Marooned flood victims looking to escape grab the side bars of a hovering Army helicopter which arrived to distribute food supplies in the Muzaffargarh district of Pakistan's Punjab province August 7, 2010. Pakistanis desperate to get out of flooded villages threw themselves at helicopters on Saturday as more heavy rain was expected to intensify both suffering and anger with the government. The disaster killed more than 1,600 people and disrupted the lives of 12 million.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Separating the Taliban from al Qaeda

strong chopperThe Afghan Taliban would be ready to break with al Qaeda in order to reach a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war, and to ensure Afghanistan is not used as a base for international terrorism, according to a report by Kandahar-based researchers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, released by New York University.

It says that the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda was strained both before and after the September 11 2001 attacks, partly because of their very different ideological roots. Al Qaeda grew out of militant Islamism in the Middle East, notably in Egypt, which -- when fused with the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan -- created its own view of global jihad. Taliban leaders grew up in rural southern Afghanistan, isolated from world events. Many were too young to play a big role in the Afghan jihad, and had no close ties to al Qaeda until after they took power in 1996.

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