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Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Revisting America’s war in Afghanistan

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File photo of Afghan riding a donkey past a destroyed tankI finally got around to reading Charlie Wilson's War (much better than the film and considerably longer) about the U.S. Congressman who managed to drum up huge amounts of money to fund the mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's.

George Crile's book - about how the CIA channelled money and weapons through Pakistan to defeat the Red Army in Afghanistan and helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union - was first published in 2002.  But it's even more relevant today as the United States struggles to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and realises it will never succeed as long as "the enemy" has sanctuary in Pakistan. It is the only war that the United States has fought on both sides.

This is a tale of how ill-equipped Afghan tribesmen were turned into "technoguerrillas" with American money and a romantic notion of defeating the "Evil Empire".  I realise this story has been told many times since 9/11. And I acknowledge the obvious perils of judging history with hindsight - back then U.S. policy was seen through the prism of the Cold War, whereas now it is defined by "the War on Terror". But there are still lines in "Charlie Wilson's War" that are worth repeating here:

1998 file photo of Russian special units officers at wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier"The basic law of modern guerrilla warfare," writes Crile, "is that no insurgent movement can survive without a sanctuary for its fighters. The Vietcong depended on Cambodia and North Vietnam ... Without Pakistan, there could not have been a sustained resistance (to the Soviet Union)."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Omar Sheikh, a childhood friend turned Pakistani militant

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Marriott Hotel in IslamabadThe weekend bomb which tore through the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing 53 people, was a reminder that Pakistan is entering the eye of the storm of Islamist militancy. But for me, it was also a more personal reminder of a childhood friend who went from a suburban upbringing in London to become one of Pakistan's most notorious militants.

Omar Sheikh, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of the Prophet) organisation which has been linked to the bombing, is currently on death row in Pakistan for organising the kidnapping and beheading of the brilliant Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in February, 2002.
 
I had long since lost contact with Omar since we both graduated from Forest School in north London in 1992 and the sight of a heavily bearded Sheikh flanked by Pakistani police during the Pearl trial came as a shock. My jumbled memories of Omar were of a tall, lantern-jawed adolescent with dark-rimmed glasses, a serious but polite demeanour, a childish sense of humour but an unblinking, fearless appetite for a fight. Even as a boy, he spoke feverishly and often of "My Country" and praised the authoritarian and strictly Islamic regime of General Zia -- who ousted and killed Benazir Bhutto's father and helped the mujahedin throw the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

Axis of rejection? U.S., Iran, North Korea snub nuclear test ban pact

Pakistan's nuclear-capable Hatf 4 (Shaheen-1) missile during a test launch 

There is a saying in English that people are judged by the company they keep. If this  applied to countries, the United States would not fare well when it comes to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
 
Although Washington signed the pact, which would ban all nuclear tests if it ever comes into force, in 1996, U.S. lawmakers have never ratified it. Eight other countries with nuclear activities must ratify the treaty before it can enter into force.
 
Those other hold-out countries are China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel and Pakistan. Two of those — Iran and North Korea — are members of a trio which U.S. President George W. Bush once referred to as the “axis of evil.”
 
Iraq, which was a member of Bush’s axis of evil until the U.S. invasion in 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein’s government, signed the treaty last month, though Iraqi parliament has yet to ratify it.
 
The treaty opened for signatures 12 years ago. Since then, 179 nations have signed and 144 ratified it. Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno Ugarte told a news conference on the  sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York that “these nine countries must not hold the international community at bay.” 
 
Ugarte was one of some 40 foreign ministers who issued a joint statement calling on the United States, Iran, North Korea and the rest to ratify the treaty. 
 
Even veteran Hollywood Actor Michael Douglas, a U.N. messenger of peace, appeared at the United Nations in support of the CTBT alongside former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry and the Costa Rican, Australian and Austrian foreign ministers. 

Michael Douglas
 
When the United States signed the treaty in 1996, President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was in charge, but the then-Republican-majority U.S. Senate rejected it in 1999. When Bush took office in 2001 his administration made clear it did not want its options limited by such a treaty and never resubmitted it.  It has has, however, continued to observe the U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing that began in 1992.
 
Perry, who was in Clinton’s cabinet when Washington signed the CTBT in 1996, made it clear that he supports Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who Perry expects will push the U.S. legislature to ratify the treaty if he becomes president. Even Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, Perry said, might make a U-turn from the Bush administration on this issue in an attempt to reingratiate Washington with allies overseas.
 
Some analysts have said that if the United States fails to ratifies the treaty, it will most likely die. 
 
What do you think? Should the next U.S. president push for ratification of the treaty banning all nuclear tests or would it be better to keep the door open to research on new and improved atomic weapons in the interest of keeping the United States and its allies safe?

Tsunami of anger over financial crisis

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bush.jpg Today’s European edition of the International Herald Tribune is fronted by a photo montage of the presidents of Senegal, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Argentina, France and Brazil.

They have two things in common – all are attending this week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York and all see a global threat from the financial crisis that began on Wall Street and, in the words of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines, has moved “like a terrible tsunami around the globe”.

from Environment Forum:

Bush speech to U.N.: “terror” 32, “climate” 0

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U.S. President George W. Bush addresses the 63rd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York September 23, 2008. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES)U.S. President George W. Bush upset some delegates by failing to mention "climate change" or "global warming" in his final speech to the United Nations -- in which he referred to terrorism 32 times.

Exactly a year ago, the United Nations held a special summit about climate change -- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calls fighting global warming his "signature issue" and many governments see it as the biggest long-term challenge.

Afghan President gets unintentional laugh on Palin meeting

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai got an unexpected laugh on Tuesday for his straight-man reaction to a question about Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Karzai was speaking at the Asia Society on topics ranging from security to relations with Pakistan and the United States in a conversation with former Viacom CEO Tom Freston. The audience perked up when Karzai mentioned Palin, following their meeting earlier in the day. The McCain campaign drew protests from reporters after they were barred from a picture-taking session at the beginning of the meeting.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Choosing your friends: Pakistan, the U.S. and China

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President Bush meets President Zardari in New York/Jim YoungWhile Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is in the United States discussing U.S. military strikes across Pakistan's border, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is on a far less publicised trip to China to talk about defence cooperation. The timing may be coincidental, but the potential implications of the United States and China playing competing roles in Pakistan are huge.

Pakistan has always seen China as a much more reliable friend, while support from Washington has waxed and waned in line with U.S. interests (Islamabad has never quite forgiven the United States for using it to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and then dropping it when the Russians were driven out in 1989.) 

France and Darfur: Dirty deals over genocide or pragmatism for peace?

Sarkozy at U.N. General Assembly 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that if Sudan changes its behavior and actively supports growing international calls for peace in Darfur, Paris would back suspending any indictments the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Sarkozy made clear there would be strings attached.  In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, the French leader said Sudan would have to “radically” alter its policy towards Darfur, where international experts say at least 200,000 people have died since 2003. It would have to remove a cabinet minister indicted for war crimes in Darfur from the Khartoum government and stop delaying the deployment of international peacekeepers.

from Africa News blog:

Can Africa beat corruption?

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cpi_2008_cmyk-africa.jpgTransparency International's annual corruption report card is out and there is little surprise that many African countries are well towards the bottom of the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Somalia is at 180 out of 180. Six of the 10 worst offenders are African states. The best placed African country, Botswana, is at 36 (up from 38 last year).

Small farm financing looks secure despite Wall St meltdown

UNITED NATIONS – Small farmers feed nearly 2 billion people globally and the rise in commodity prices has put a crimp in their ability to do business as well as feed themselves.

The global credit crunch has taken its toll on banks and investors and caused a redesign of the U.S. financial system. With the easy debt financing on Wall Street gone and donor countries fighting for their own economic health, financing the development of small farmers might seem to be in jeopardy. But the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development says it has funding in place through 2009 and is hopeful for its next round of money raising.

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