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from David Rohde:

Clinton: International portfolio, domestic concerns

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WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday hosted a working dinner here for Afghan President Hamid Karzai – one of her last official meetings with a foreign head of state.

On paper, Karzai’s talks with Clinton are historic. A famed American political figure is helping negotiate the end of the longest war in U.S. history – a 12-year odyssey that has claimed 2,100 American lives and more than $600 billion in treasure.

But Karzai’s visit is being greeted with a yawn. There has been more media coverage of Clinton’s exhaustive travel, physical appearance and political prospects in recent days than her wartime diplomacy.

Clinton is partly to blame for this dynamic. She has been a very good but very cautious secretary of state, who kept her distance from Afghanistan and other seemingly intractable conflicts. Clinton established a strong relationship with President Barack Obama, was innovative and worked tirelessly, but her position as a potential 2016 presidential candidate clearly influenced her performance.

from The Great Debate:

New Afghan war over U.S. troop levels

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The stubborn war in Afghanistan, which has spanned a decade and cost more than 2,000 American lives, has now faded to one key question: How many U.S. troops will remain after 2014?

This is the issue that will likely occupy President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai when they meet at the White House on Friday. Officials are already batting numbers about, ranging from zero to 20,000.

from India Insight:

India stepping up to the challenge of post-2014 Afghanistan

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Racing through the deserted streets of Kabul at nighttime, you are likely to be stopped at street corners by policemen once, twice or even more. If you are a South Asian, as I am, their guard is up even more. "Pakistani or Indian?" the cop barks out as you lower your window. When I answer "Indian", he wants me to produce a passport to prove that, and as it happens, I am not carrying one. So I am pulled out of the car in the freezing cold and given a full body search, with the policemen muttering under his breath in Dari that everyone goes around claiming to be an Indian, especially Pakistanis.

To be an Indian in Kabul is to be greeted warmly wherever you go, whether it is negotiating a security barrier or seeking a meeting with a government official. There is an easing of tensions (in Afghanistan, the fear uppermost in the mind is that the stranger at the door could be an attacker and you don't have too long to judge), Bollywood is almost immediately mentioned, and your hosts will go out of their way to help.

from FaithWorld:

Q+A: Women’s rights in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban

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(Afghan men and women teachers attend their graduation ceremony in Kabul March 30, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

Women have won hard-fought rights in Afghanistan since the austere rule of the Taliban was ended by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001. But gains made in areas such as education, work and even dress code look shaky as the government plans peace talks that include negotiating with the Taliban.

from FaithWorld:

How will Afghan women fare if Kabul and the Taliban reconcile?

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(Schoolgirls listen to a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a ceremony marking the start of the school year at Amani High School in Kabul March 23, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

The gaggles of giggling schoolgirls in their black uniforms and flowing white hijabs seen across Afghanistan's cities have become symbolic of how far women's rights have come since the austere rule of the Taliban was toppled a decade ago. While women have gained back basic rights in education, voting and work, considered un-Islamic by the Taliban, their plight remains severe and future uncertain as Afghan leaders seek to negotiate with the Taliban as part of their peace talks.

from Afghan Journal:

Too many butchers spoil the cow

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Several years ago President Hamid Karzai likened balancing Afghanistan’s various internal pressures and the demands of external allies and foes with walking while holding a fragile dish. With no end in sight to the U.S.-led war now in its 10th year, he must feel as if he is juggling the entire dinner service.

For years Karzai has said that peace talks with the insurgents was key to the solution of the Afghan conflict and termed them as a priority since last year, but he also has to take on board the frequently conflicting interests of all the players.

from FaithWorld:

Wary Afghans mull possible Taliban peace talks

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talibanLike many Afghans, shopkeeper Abdul Sattar recalls Taliban rule as a nightmare of public executions, women shut away at home and evenings without TV, but he might accept some of it back for peace and stability.

With President Hamid Karzai reaching out to insurgents in a bid to broker peace talks, the Kabul businessman says he would support a deal returning Afghanistan's former hardline rulers to some measure of power if it brought an end to 10 years of war.

from FaithWorld:

President Karzai votes for female Hindu candidate in Afghan election: sources

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karzaiAfghan President Hamid Karzai chose a female, Hindu candidate when he voted in Saturday's parliamentary election, two palace officials close to him said. Just two Hindu candidates were on the list of about 600 vying for parliamentary seats in the Afghan capital. Karzai's choice could annoy supporters in deeply conservative, Muslim Afghanistan. (Photo: President Karzai casts his vote in Kabul September 18, 2010/Andrew Biraj)

His backers include powerful ex-warlords who were fielding their own candidates and religious conservatives who are opposed to female politicians and unlikely to be happy Karzai is backing a non-Muslim.

from Afghan Journal:

Corruption’s tentacles reaching across Afghanistan

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(Mullah Abdul Salaam ... all levels of Afghan society hit by graft. Pic by Omar Subhani, Reuters)

By Sayed Salahuddin

Petty corruption has more than doubled in Afghanistan since 2007, a new survey shows, and nine years after the fall of the Taliban graft drains at least $1 billion a year from the $11 billion economy.

from Afghan Journal:

Kabul’s “ring of steel” tests patience

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Afghan police search a car at "Ring of Steel" checkpoint 26 in central Kabul. The checkpoints are testing the patience of ordinary Afghans, who experience increasingly long traffic delays and blame the government and foreigners for the imposition, rather that Taliban insurgent bombers. PHOTO: by author.

(Afghan police search a car at "Ring of Steel" checkpoint 26 in central Kabul. PHOTO: by author.)

If Afghanistan is a fight for hearts and minds, then the war against the Taliban is on shaky ground in central Kabul, where roadblocks and the concrete-encased fortresses of Western countries infuriate near everyone.

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