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from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

Over a five year period of engagement, the United States gained little while the Taliban grew even more radicalised and the threat from al Qaeda more serious. Rubin details how State Department officials were repeatedly misled by Taliban officials harbouring bin Laden even after two U.S. embassies were attacked in Africa in  1998.  They even told them they would protect the Buddha statues in Bamiyan which were subsequently destroyed.

"The Taliban had like many rogue regimes, acted in bad faith.  They had engaged not to compromise, but to buy time. They had made many promises, but did not keep a single one. The Taliban refused to isolate, let alone, expel Bin Laden , and al Qaeda metastasized," says Rubin. The Sept 11 attacks were plotted at a time when U.S. engagement with the Taliban was in full swing. 

Some of the logic and even the language used at the time is eerily similar to the current push for a political settlement with senior Taliban figures.  There was a difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban and it was possible that the latter could be peeled away,  U.S. officials and political commentators said at the time.  Second, Pakistan with its close ties to the Taliban was a key player offering advice to Washington, as it seeks to at the present time.

A “model” Islamic education from Turkey?

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Turkish girls at the Kazim Karabekir Girls' Imam-Hatip School, 10 Feb 2010/Murad Sezer

In the Beyoglu Anadolu religious school in Istanbul, gilded Korans line the shelves and on a table lies a Turkish translation of “Eclipse,” a vampire-based fantasy romance by U.S. novelist Stephanie Meyer. No-one inside the school would have you believe this combination of Islamic and western influences demonstrates potential to serve as a ‘moderate’ educational antidote to radical Islam.

But there is fresh outside interest in schools like this, which belong to the network known as imam-hatip.  Some people, particularly officials from Afghanistan and Pakistan, have suggested the Turkish system can light the way to a less extremist religious education for their young Muslims.

from UK News:

How chaplains find peace during wartime

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A British military chaplain prepares a Remembrance Day ceremony at the British cemetery in Kabul November 11, 2009/Jerry Lampen

Dozens of chaplains from the Church of England are serving with British armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are there when soldiers seek redemption around the time of battle, and they there are, standing in the operating theatre, waiting until the surgeon can do no more.

They serve the needs of soldiers sent to war, and they also serve God.

While they adminster balm on the battlefield, their peers preach peace from the pulpit. Which is the more important for the CoE at a time of war?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

“My Life with the Taliban” – on study and Islamic values

zaeefIn  "My Life with the Taliban",  Abdul Salam Zaeef -- who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later served in the Taliban government before it was ousted in 2001 -- writes of how he longed to escape the trappings of office and instead follow in the footsteps of his father as the Imam of a mosque, learning and teaching the Koran.

"It is work that has no connection with the world's affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind," he writes in his memoirs, newly translated and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.

Zaeef became best known as the Taliban ambassador to Islamabad at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks -- he was then arrested and sent to Guantanamo -- and his memoirs provide a unique insight into the developments which led to the eight-year-old war in Afghanistan.  That alone makes it a must-read, providing an alternative and very personal account to set alongside Western concepts of the Taliban -- more closely associated with their human rights record, their treatment of women, and their refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States after 9/11.

from Afghan Journal:

Reintegrating the Taliban: where does it leave Afghan women?

At Thursday's London conference on Afghanistan, some 60 countries will to try flesh out the details for a plan to gradually hand security to Afghans, which involves strengthening and expanding Afghan security forces, improving the way donor aid to Afghanistan is spent and reintegrating Taliban fighters. But where do women fit into these plans, especially if the Taliban are to be involved?

The plan, which has been tried in the past without much success, would involve luring low-level Taliban from the insurgency using jobs and money to re-join Afghan society. There has also been much talk, particularly in the media, about the possibility of dialogue or negotiations with the Taliban.

But many Afghan women, who remember very clearly what life was like under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, are outraged by the idea.

POLL: Do Bible citations belong on military gunscopes?

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Gen. Petraeus in Baghdad, 1 Jan 2010/Saad Shalash

U.S. General David Petraeus has criticised a company that embossed Bible citations on rifle scopes sent to forces fighting in Muslim countries. “This is of serious concern to me and to the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan because, indeed, it conveys a perception that is absolutely contrary to what it is that we have sought to do,” Petraeus said. Read our news story and tell us what you think in the following poll. poll by twiigs.com  Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

Thundering sermons produce surprising results in Germany’s Afghanistan debate

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Bishop Margot Kässmann

Thundering sermons can produce some surprising results in Germany these days.

Bishop Margot Kässmann, the new head of Germay’s main association of Protestant churches (EKD — Evangelical Church in Germany), reaped a tirade of criticism from politicians after she denounced Germany’s military mission in a New Year’s sermon at the Berlin Cathedral, the city’s huge monument to Prussian Protestantism. A church leader calls for peace — that’s not news. Politicians supporting soldiers at the front — that’s not a headline either.

But then came a few interesting twists.  Instead of simply fueling the polemics, Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg — surprise #1 — invited her to meet and exchange views. At the meeting in Berlin on Monday, he  — surprise #2 — invited Kässmann to visit the troops in Afghanistan soon. According to the Rheinische Post newspaper, they — surprise #3 — agreed to set up a “regular dialogue between the churches and the Bundeswehr (armed forces).” Anyone who has been following Kässmann, the 51-year-old Lutheran bishop of Hannover elected last October as Germany’s top Protestant leader (and the first woman to hold the post), would say the only non-surprise in all this was that she accepted the invitation to Afghanistan. She is not someone to run away from challenges. guttenberg

German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg visits German troops in Kunduz, 13 Nov 2009/Michael Kappeler

Pew measures global religious restrictions

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has come out with a new report that tries to measure, country by country on a global level, government and social restrictions on religion. You can see our coverage of the report here and here and can download the whole report here.

The report, which Pew says is the first major quantitative study of the subject on a global level, ranks countries under two indices — one measures government restrictions on religion, the other social hostilities or curbs on religion that stem from violence or intimidation by private individuals or groups. NIGERIA RELIGION

A damaged mosque in Onitsha in southeastern Nigeria

The Government Restrictions Index is based on 20 questions used by the Pew Forum to assess state curbs on religion at the national, provincial and local levels.

from Afghan Journal:

Afghanistan: the Gods of war

[CROSSPOST blog: 27 post: 4308]

Original Post Text:
peshawar twoIn openDemocracy, Paul Rogers writes that one of the great mistakes of the media is that it tends to assume the only actors in the campaign against Islamist militants are governments, with al Qaeda and the Taliban merely passive players.

"Beyond the details of what the Taliban and its allies decide, it is important to note that most analysis of Barack Obama’s strategy published in the western media is severely constrained by its selective perspective. There is a pervasive assumption - even now, after eight years of war - that the insurgents are mere “recipients” of external policy changes: reactive but not themselves proactive," he writes.  

"This is nonsense - and dangerous nonsense. It would be far wiser to assume that these militias have people who are every bit as intelligent and professional in their thinking and planning as their western counterparts. They have had three months to think through the Obama leadership’s policy-development process; and much of this thinking will be about how the US changes affect their own plans - not how they will respond to the United States. Thus they may have very clear intentions for the next three to five years that are embedded in detailed military planning; and what is now happening on their side will involve adjustment of these plans in the light of the great rethink across the Atlantic."

from Photographers' Blog:

Those left behind: The legacy of Arlington’s Section 60

Larry Downing is a Reuters senior staff photographer assigned to the White House. He shares that duty with three other staff photographers. He has lived in Washington since 1977 and has been assigned to cover the White House, since 1978. President Barack Obama is the sixth president Larry has photographed.

“People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”  George Orwell

Veteran’s Day is a time to remember “All gave some....Some gave all.”

Before reaching the new gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery’s ‘Section 60’ it’s easy to recognize why a simple, quilted, patch of green grass and white stones buried alongside the quiet banks of the Potomac River troubles the heart.