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Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan’s civilians caught in the middle

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Reuters correspondent Emma Graham-Harrison has written a moving and disturbing story about an 8-year-old girl badly burned by white phosphorous after being caught in the middle of a firefight in Afghanistan.  Like everything else that happens in Afghanistan, the question of who fired the shell that exploded in her house is in dispute. Her family said the shell was fired by western troops; NATO said it was "very unlikely" the weapon was theirs; and a U.S. spokeswoman suggested the Taliban may have been responsible.

But beyond the dispute, what comes across powerfully in Emma's account is the story of the girl. 

"Life as 8-year-old Razia knew it ended one March morning when a shell her father says was fired by Western troops exploded into their house, enveloping her head and neck in a blazing chemical," she writes. "Now she spends her days in a U.S. hospital bed at the Bagram airbase, her small fingernails still covered with flaking red polish but her face an almost unrecognisable mess of burned tissue and half her scalp a bald scar."

Do read the whole story.

And now to the broader question of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai has called on the United States to halt air strikes following attacks on two villages this week that Afghan officials said killed 147 people. Washington has acknowledged that some civilians died, but the U.S. military said it could not confirm with certainty which of the casualties from the fighting this week were Taliban fighters and which were non-combatants, because those killed had all been buried.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan: from refugee exodus to high-tech drones

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With Pakistan launching what the country's Daily Times calls an "all-out war" against the Taliban, more than 500,000 people have fled the fighting in the northwest, bringing to more than a million those displaced since August, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.After apparently giving the Taliban enough rope to hang themselves, by offering a peace deal in the Swat valley which the government said they then reneged upon, the government for now seems to have won enough popular backing to launch its offensive.But to succeed in defeating the Taliban, the government must also be ready with a strategy to rebuild shattered lives if the mood in the northwest is not to turn sour, Dawn newspaper says. It quotes defence analyst Ikram Sehgal as estimating the military could take up to two months to conclude its campaign, and that dealing with the impact on civilians will require more than 10 times the one billion rupees (12 million dollars) the government has so far announced.In a separate article, it says that refugees are already upset about the behaviour of both the Taliban and the military. 'We are frightened of the Taliban and the army. If they want to fight, they should kill each other, they should not take refuge in our homes," it quotes an 18-year-old girl as saying.Both Pakistan's The News International newspaper and the blog Changing up Pakistan warn against the onset of compassion fatigue, both for  the sake of the people affected and to make sure refugee camps do not turn into recruiting grounds for the Taliban."If the militants can provide services and offer more viable options for IDPs than the state, that is a dangerous phenomenon. The government and international agencies must therefore do more to relieve the plight of the ever-increasing number of displaced persons in Pakistan, not just for humanitarian purposes, but because we cannot afford to let the Taliban win any more," Changing up Pakistan says.In the meantime, more questions are being raised about the U.S. administration's policy of using unmanned drone aircraft to fire missiles on Pakistan's tribal areas. The missile attacks, meant to target militant leaders and disrupt al Qaeda's capabilities, cause civilian casualties, alienate Pakistanis who see them as an invasion of sovereignty and add to a perception that Pakistan is fighting "America's war" in one place, while being bombed by American planes in another.Foreign Policy Journal quotes U.S. Congressman Ron Paul as criticising the Obama administration for continuing the drone missile attacks first started under President George W. Bush. “We are bombing a sovereign country,” it quotes him as saying. “Where do we get the authority to do that? Did the Pakistani government give us written permission? Did the Congress give us written permission to expand the war and start bombing in Pakistan?” he asked.

It adds that he said there are “many, many thousands of Pashtuns that are right smack in the middle, getting killed by our bombs, and then we wonder why they object to our policies over there. How do you win the hearts and minds of these people if we’re seen as invaders and occupies?”

Dawn newspaper also urges an end to the drone attacks in a passionately worded editorial.

Back-slapping at the European Parliament – but also concerns

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Members of the European Parliament engaged in some mutual back-slapping at their final session this week before an election next month.

“Nowadays very few decisions are taken in the European Union without the express consent and participation of the European Parliament,” said the parliament’s president, Hans-Gert Poettering

A month after quake, gratitude turns to impatience

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A month after an earthquake killed nearly 300 people in Italy, the initial goodwill towards authorities for their swift handling of the disaster appears to be giving way to anger as survivors face an uncertain wait for promised funds and the prospect of a long summer in tents.

Italy’s government is promising to start providing the thousands made homeless in the central Italian region of Abruzzo with new, furnished houses by September — in what would be record speed anywhere. But continued aftershocks, rain and chilly temperatures have made life increasingly difficult for survivors in tents, which left-leaning newspapers have seized upon to issue long accounts of the “nightmare” of life in the 170 tent camps.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Two views on Obama’s handling of Karzai

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With President Hamid Karzai now looking all but unassailable in Afghanistan's August election, two articles out this week - one from Washington and the other from India - offer mirror-image analyses of President Barack Obama's handling of the Afghan leader. They should really be read as companion pieces since both offer insights into the workings of the Obama administration and the complexities of Afghan politics.  Reading both together also highlights how different the world looks depending on your perspective, whether writing from America or Asia.According to this article in the Washington Post by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (highlighted by Joshua Foust at Registan.net) the Obama administration had decided to keep Karzai at arm's length. It says Obama's advisers faulted former President George W. Bush for forging too personal a relationship with Karzai through bi-weekly video conferences and as a result creating such cosiness that it became hard for his administration to put pressure on the Afghan government."It was a conversation. It was a dialogue. It was a lot of 'How are you doing? How is your son?'" it quotes a senior U.S. government official who attended some of the sessions as saying. "Karzai sometimes placed his infant son on his lap during the conversations.""Obama's advisers have crafted a two-pronged strategy that amounts to a fundamental break from the avuncular way President George W. Bush dealt with the Afghan leader," the report said.  "Obama intends to maintain an arm's-length relationship with Karzai in the hope that it will lead him to address issues of concern to the United States, according to senior U.S. government officials. The administration will also seek to bypass Karzai by working more closely with other members of his cabinet and by funnelling more money to local governors."Retired Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, has a rather different reading on the wisdom of the Obama administration's approach. In this article in the Asia Times Online, headlined What Obama could learn from Karzai, (highlighted by Marie-France Calle on her French-language blog), he says the Americans allowed themselves to be outmanoeuvred by the Afghan President by keeping him at arms-length."In retrospect, United States President Barack Obama did a great favour to Afghan President Hamid Karzai by excluding him from his charmed circle of movers and shakers who would wield clout with the new administration in Washington," he writes. "Obama was uncharacteristically rude to Karzai by not even conversing with him by telephone for weeks after he was sworn in, even though Afghanistan was the number one policy priority of his presidency."But Karzai, he says, had the last laugh, as the opprobrium heaped upon him by the west raised his standing in Afghan eyes. Karzai had been able to manoeuvre himself into a strong position through weeks of Afghan-style backroom negotiations, capped by a decision by a popular candidate to pull out of the election race."The Afghan experience with democracy offers a good lesson for Obama: it is best to keep a discreet distance and leave the Afghans to broker power-sharing on their own terms, according to their own ethos and tradition," he writes. "However, Obama has a long way to go in imbibing the lessons of democracy in the Hindu Kush ..."(Reuters photos: President Karzai, and Karzai with President Obama and Vice President Biden. Photos by Yuri Gripas and Jonathan Ernst)

Pigs might fly, but swine flu!

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By David Fox

“I called the swine flu hotline, but all I got was crackling”.

The reference to “crackling”, or pork rinds, starts a host of Internet jokes and puns about the new H1N1 strain of flu that has the world on edge but fortunately, so far, has not reached the pandemic proportions feared originally.

The growth of the Internet – and more particularly social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Friendster – means that information about health issues can spread even faster than the most virulent epidemic. 

from Africa News blog:

What chance for democracy in Nigeria?

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Can Nigeria, the so-called “giant of Africa”, live up to its claim of being the biggest democracy in the black world? Not if its latest state governorship election is anything to go by, argue some in Africa’s most populous nation.

The re-run of elections for the post of governor in southwest Ekiti state were seen as a test of whether Nigeria’s electoral system has improved since flawed federal and state polls in 2007.

Post-Iraq, would-be militants eye Pakistan

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By William Maclean

The flow of foreign militants to Pakistan worries Western governments, which fear the south Asian country has replaced Iraq as the place to go for aspiring Islamists planning attacks on the West.

The camps will probably be smaller and the skills on offer less photogenic to al Qaeda’s online video audience, but that is no deterrent to Arabs, Central Asians and Europeans making their way to the turbulent northwestern tribal areas.

A Taxi, an accountant and his four sons

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By Edmund Blair

It was a simple question but it touched a raw nerve.

Mohamed, my 46-year-old taxi driver, had been wondering where I learnt Arabic. So I explained that I had been based in Egypt a few years ago and had now returned to take up a new post in the Reuters bureau. So, I asked, how’s life these days?

And then it began. He launched into a tirade about an economy where the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer,a government that only seemed concerned about staying in power and the difficulty of paying for the education of his four sons — the eldest of whom he is now supporting through university.

Mexico declares war on neckties

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Mexicans can start to relax a bit now that the country’s deadly flu virus appears to be under control. But the country’s health minister said on Sunday his countrymen shouldn’t loosen their neckties, they should take them off altogether.

Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova (pictured above with President Felipe Calderon last week; Calderon is the one wearing a tie) was visibly relieved by new data showing a decline in the number of people severely ill with the new H1N1 flu virus. He ranted lightheartedly about germ-filled ties and bottom-pinching theater seats on Sunday as he issued new health safety guidelines for Mexicans preparing to return to work and school after a five-day shutdown.

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