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from Photographers' Blog:

The other Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan

By Zohra Bensemra

A fist slams into a punching bag. Sparks flare from a saw as a punk carves a huge guitar from a block of stone. A female climber dangles precariously from a cliff.

A Pakistani interior designer Zahra Afridi uses a circular saw as she sculpts a guitar outside the classic rock cafe she designed in Islamabad

Welcome to Pakistan, a country of 180 million people whose residents are as varied as they come. Among them are millionaires and beggars, child brides and female executives, the Taliban and an ultra-chic international jet set.

Many Pakistanis feel angry that headlines about their beloved nation are dominated by violence and extremism, saying that a number of troublemakers has been allowed to define their country’s image.

Everyone has heard of Malala, the schoolgirl activist shot by the Taliban, but few outside the country know about the exploding private education sector. The private Beaconhouse School System, for example, has established around 150 schools across the country.

from Photographers' Blog:

Pakistan’s beasts of burden

Choa Saidan Shah, Pakistan
By Sara Farid

A donkey carrying sacks of coal walks through the narrow tunnels of a coal mine, in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The miners call their donkeys their “biggest treasure”, an animal whose strength and patience lets them work in some of the world’s most dangerous mines. But life in Pakistan’s mines is dangerous for everyone – there’s a constant risk of cave-ins, and the black dust floating in the air slowly fills up the lungs of both man and beast.

A young miner leads his team of donkeys back to the coal face to collect more coal underground in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The donkeys make twenty trips a day from the depths of the mine to the storage site where they dump the coal. For each trip, they are loaded up with coal sacks weighing 20 kg (44 lbs) each. The teams of four to six animals are guided to the surface, unloaded, then obediently turn and walk again towards the black hole.

from Photographers' Blog:

Life on the margins in Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan

By Zohra Bensemra

There are so many slums in Pakistan, and they can be home to all sorts of communities – Christians, Shi'ites, Afghan refugees, or Pakistanis fleeing violence or seeking jobs.

But whatever their background, they all face the same struggles in their daily lives. The divisions of religion and nationality are less important than finding clean water, a space to study, or a battered toy for a young child to play with.

from The Great Debate:

Is there a ‘right’ path for the U.S. in Syria?

Key parties to the conflict in Syria are meeting in Switzerland on Wednesday. The participants have been downplaying expectations that the “Geneva II” peace conference -- which will bring together for the first time representatives from the Assad government and various rebel groups along with major international players -- will resolve the conflict, or even bring about a ceasefire.

For the U.S. government, the crucial issue at this meeting and beyond is determining if and how to intervene and provide support in a conflict where there may no longer be real “good guys,” or supporters of U.S. national interests, to back. This is particularly important given Washington’s interwoven interests throughout the region -- not only in Syria, but in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey and beyond.

from The Great Debate:

Fighting for democracy in South Asia

For the first time in post-colonial history, all of the countries of South Asia are democracies.

From Bhutan to Bangladesh, Kabul to Kathmandu, democratic institutions are taking hold and giving people a voice in how they are governed. But these historic gains could be short-lived if troubling trends in some impending political transitions go unchecked.

from India Insight:

Remembering Reshma, Pakistan’s ‘first lady’ of folk music

Folk singer Reshma was born in 1947, the historic year when India and Pakistan gained independence from British rule. She was born in India, but her family migrated to Pakistan when she was a month old. Small wonder, then, that Reshma’s unconventionally husky voice won admirers on both sides of the international border.

Reshma, who died earlier this week after a battle with throat cancer, was best known for her distinctive rendition of Punjabi folk songs. For her fans, she was the "Nightingale of the Desert" and her death at the age of 66 was a fresh blow to the arts in Pakistan, coming a year after ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan’s death.

from The Great Debate:

Risky business: Talking to the Taliban

If one event crystallizes Pakistan’s helplessness in confronting its political future, it is the recent assassination-by-American-drone of Hakimullah Mehsud, erstwhile leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

Islamabad had only just acknowledged its plan to hold “peace talks” when Mehsud was killed. Mehsud -- with a $5 million bounty on his head, and thousands of civilian deaths to his movement’s credit -- was immediately eulogized as the key to peace in Pakistan.

from David Rohde:

How covert drone strikes turn murderers into martyrs

Five days after an American drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Pakistani politicians are accusing the United States of “murder.” And a militant leader responsible for attacks that killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Pakistani civilians is being viewed as a victim.

On one level, the response was nothing new in the warped, post-2001 relationship between Pakistan and the United States. For 12 years, interactions between these purported “allies” have been marked by distrust, recriminations and lies.

from Expert Zone:

India-Pakistan border flare-up a zero-sum game

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

At places along the Line of Control (LoC), barely a wire separates the Indian soldier and his Pakistani counterpart. The genesis of the recent flare-up was the killing of five Indian soldiers on the Indian side of the LoC. The media blitz in Delhi found more fodder with a spike in infiltration attempts and exchange of fire beyond the LoC at posts across the international border.

from The Great Debate:

Let Pakistan’s Taliban talks fail without us

Adding to an unenviable list of challenges that already includes earthquakes, sectarian violence and an economy teetering near collapse, Pakistan’s leaders are attempting to open a new round of high-stakes peace negotiations with homegrown insurgents, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The United States cannot do much to help these talks succeed, but President Barack Obama should use his October 23 summit with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to ensure that if Pakistan’s Taliban talks fail, they fail in ways that unite mainstream Pakistanis in the fight against violent extremism rather than creating new rifts between Washington and Islamabad.

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