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from Expert Zone:

Gains seen for Taliban as post-ISAF era looms in Afghanistan

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(The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not represent those of Reuters)

A fear embedded deep in the Pakistani security establishment’s psyche has always been that of a successful conventional military thrust by India from across its eastern borders. This is aggravated by their assessment that Pakistan lacks the geographical depth to absorb the onslaught; its logistics dumps being especially vulnerable on account of the inability to place them at an adequate depth. The answer, often articulated, is of a pliant regime in its western neighbour Afghanistan providing the strategic geographical depth that Pakistan needs.

With a state of flux anticipated in Afghanistan as a fallout of the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) impending withdrawal, an important imperative for Pakistan is to ensure Kabul is controlled by a regime amenable and dependent on Islamabad.

However, the chances of orchestrating such a situation remain improbable when viewed in the context of possible scenarios that could be encountered in Afghanistan.

from Photographers' Blog:

Afghanistan’s symphony

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By Omar Sobhani

Usually when I go to shoot for a story, we are faced with a bomb blast, a suicide attack, or some other type of violence here in Afghanistan. That's why I was pleasantly surprised when I visited Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music. Even though I have lived in Kabul for many years, I had no clue this academy even existed -- it is the only of its kind in the whole country.

Foreigners and Afghans teach young Afghans how to play all sorts of instruments, as well as to sing. What struck me most is the opportunity given to women. There are not many opportunities for women in Afghanistan to play or sing music -- during the Taliban era (from 1996-2001) music was outright banned and women were basically taken away from public life.

from David Rohde:

Talk to the Taliban

WASHINGTON -- As American officials scramble to contain the fallout from an appalling video showing Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters, news that the Obama administration is carrying out secret negotiations with the Taliban has barely registered on the American political landscape. The lack of interest in the talks - and public outrage at the video - reflects how little Americans apparently care about the conflict, despite its staggering human and fiscal cost.

Since 2001, the war in Afghanistan has killed at least 8,000 Afghan civilians, 5,500 Afghan police and soldiers, 1,800 American soldiers and 900 soldiers from other nations.

from Photographers' Blog:

The essence of war

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By Umit Bektas

As the medical staff rushed to prepare the seriously wounded soldier for immediate surgery, I stood in one corner of the emergency room wondering how publishable the pictures I would take of this bloody and violent scene would be and what would be the benefit of it, if they were indeed published.

No photo of the soldier who lay there covered in blood and unconscious would ever be sufficient to express his agonizing pain. There was no way I could ever sum up the earlier life of this solider, the life which would never be the same again. I could never explain why this happened to him. I could never relay in a single frame what really happened to him and what purpose his injuries would serve. For some time I watched the medical staff working frantically around the soldier, making superhuman efforts to keep him alive. Their efforts would probably save a life. What would mine accomplish? What would I have achieved if in the middle of this bloody scene I succeeded in taking a photo appropriate to be printed in newspapers and people thousands of miles away would bring into their homes to look at. What photo or photos would ever help the soldier to regain his limbs which would likely be severed very soon. I happened to catch a glimpse of the soldier’s boots lying on the floor. As the soldier was wheeled into surgery after emergency first aid, and the commotion in the room died down, I approached the bloodied boots and snapped them.

from Photographers' Blog:

Are you ready for your embed?

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By Umit Bektas

When I was informed of the date from which I was to be embedded with a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan, I luckily had enough time to prepare. I felt I had to plan everything before I left so I drew up a "to do" list. A major item on the list was the packing of my bags.

I knew I should carefully plan what I was to take. I knew I should travel light but at the same time have everything I would need on hand. Given the nature of the assignment and the conditions in Afghanistan, it would probably be impossible to secure anything I may have left behind. Fearing that my own list may be lacking some essentials, I contacted Kabul-based Ahmad Masood and other Reuters photographers who had been embedded before me. Masood, most likely the recipient of many such queries before, promptly sent back a comprehensive document he had prepared with a list of what I needed to take with me as well as other useful information. Along with other details from colleagues, I then knew exactly what I needed to take with me.

from Afghan Journal:

India-Afghan strategic pact:the beginnings of regional integration

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A strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan would ordinarily have evoked howls of protest from Pakistan which has long regarded its western neighbour as part of its sphere of influence.  Islamabad has, in the past, made no secret of its displeasure at India's role in Afghanistan including  a$2 billion aid effort that has won it goodwill among the Afghan  people, but which Pakistan sees as New Delhi's way to expand influence. 

Instead the reaction to the pact signed last month during President Hamid Karzai's visit to New Delhi, the first Kabul had done with any country, was decidedly muted. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani  said India and Afghanistan were "both sovereign countries and they have the right to do whatever they want to."  The Pakistani foreign office echoed Gilani's comments, adding only that regional stability should be preserved. It cried off further comment, saying it was studying the pact.

from Photographers' Blog:

A country a day with Hillary Clinton

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By Kevin Lamarque

Traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, covering seven countries in seven days (Malta, Libya, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) was sure to present some challenges, but also offer some fresh perspectives. My usual beat, covering Obama at the White House and on his trips abroad, generally involves lots of pushing and shoving with other photographers behind velvet ropes or trying to get a clear photo through layers upon layers of secret service agents. I was welcoming a chance to be free of these constraints in the more low key State Department bubble.

I was the “pool” photographer on this trip, supplying my photos not only to Reuters but to AP and AFP as well. I was hoping that being the only wire photographer on the trip would give me better access and more spontaneous images.

from David Rohde:

Looking to Afghanistan’s future

As the 10th anniversary of the start of the Afghan war is marked around the world, looking forward is more important than looking back. As I noted in an earlier post, staggering mistakes have been made over the last decade. While individual Americans and Afghans have performed heroically, the Afghan and American governments – particularly their civilian arms – have performed anemically. And Pakistan’s intelligence service - the ISI - is the single largest impediment to stability in the region.

Looking forward, the advocacy group Global Witness is on the right track. In a statement, it said that Afghanistan’s management of an estimated $3 trillion in copper, Iron, gold, oil, chromite, uranium and rare earths is the key to the country’s future stability.

from Photographers' Blog:

38 days and 10 years in Afghanistan

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By Erik de Castro

As I write this blog, I am on the 38th day of my current assignment to Afghanistan as an embedded journalist with U.S. military forces. I have been assigned here several times since 2001 to cover the war that is still going on 10 years after the al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil. Mullah Omar, popularly known as the one-eyed Taliban, was the first member of the Taliban I met back in 2001. He held press conferences almost daily at the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan a few weeks before U.S. forces and its allies attacked Afghanistan to remove the Taliban government.

Ten years and several trips back to Afghanistan later, I still haven't seen a lot of Taliban fighters. My present assignment is the time I’ve experienced the most encounters between the combined U.S. and Afghan forces and the Taliban.

from Full Focus:

Photographer notebook: Finbarr O’Reilly

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Africa-based Reuters photographer Finbarr O'Reilly has been going on embeds with Canadian and U.S. forces since 2007, documenting the military struggle in southern Afghanistan. On the war's tenth anniversary, he recounts his experiences covering the daily lives of soldiers and tells of Sir Elton John's interest in one of his images of a dusty Marine.

"One of the biggest challenges of being embedded involves finding ways to illustrate the story without showing the Western military in an overly sympathetic or even heroic light. The opening image of this selection feels both honest and representative of the conflict: Despite all their machinery, muscle and technology Western forces have become bogged down in a complex war against a resilient enemy -- insurgents who wear lightweight traditional robes and sandals and fight with Soviet-era or homemade weapons. The physical imbalance is striking. But the Taliban have drawn their Western opponents into a battle of attrition and wills on their home turf. Perhaps the most effective weapon the Taliban has is time. Will Western troops still be there in another 10 years?"

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