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Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In Afghanistan: fighting over the terms of a settlement

karzai londonAt last week's London conference, two of the great truisms of warfare punched their way to the surface. The first is that wars are fought as much on the home front as on the battlefield. With public support for the war in Afghanistan ebbing away, the United States and its allies in NATO have shifted from seeking outright victory to looking for an exit strategy that will allow them to start bringing home their troops next year.  Rather as the British did after their two failed invasions of Afghanistan in the 19th century, they are sending in reinforcements in a display of military might which they hope will secure better terms in an eventual settlement.

The other truism is that if you can't win outright victory on the battlefield, then you have to negotiate with your enemies. President Hamid Karzai set the ball rolling by announcing he would hold a peace council to which, according to an Afghan government spokesman, the Taliban leadership would be invited.  Karzai has made such suggestions before, and it is by no means clear the Taliban leadership will send representatives. What was different this time, however, was the context.  Karzai's suggestion no longer met with the same resistance from war-weary governments, who stressed that it was up to the Afghans themselves to lead the process of reconciliation.  He also coupled his call for a peace council with an appeal to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to bring peace to Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia is a trusted interlocutor between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership; Pakistan is the only country which still has some measure of leverage over them. Thus Karzai's call for a loya jirga, though not dramatic in itself, became emblematic of a broader shift towards seeking a political settlement to end the war.

What happens now is so complicated and so delicate, that no one can predict the outcome. Just as western governments have little clear idea about who might buy into a political settlement and on what terms, nor do the insurgents themselves. Contacts with various insurgent groups are expected to follow many  different tracks,  so that everyone -- on all sides -- is going to be watching what everyone else does to try to maximise their advantage.

The warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose men play a powerful role in the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan, has shown some signs of flexibility, according to the Wall Street Journal. In a video leaked to the WSJ, he said that "we have no agreement with the Taliban - not for fighting the war, and not for the peace."

Renewing trans-Atlantic ties Finnish-style


It’s not often that Finland takes the lead in calling for better trans-Atlantic ties, but as the Nordic country’s energetic foreign minister might say: there’s a first time for everything.

In a speech in London this week, delivered on the eve of the Afghan conference, which might perhaps have led it to garner less attention than it otherwise would, Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb laid out a bold five-point plan for closer EU-US relations.

Top budget retirement destinations abroad


Looking for a fabulous place to retire on a budget? GlobalPost picked 10 intriguing overseas locales where you can stretch every dollar.

Are you one of the Americans struggling to save for retirement who President Barack Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address? GlobalPost has put together a slideshow of some of the best places to settle down when you need to make your dollar last. We favored countries that not only have low costs of living but also offer beautiful, relaxing settings; access to good medical care; and a range of activities to keep you busy.

EU, NATO officials call for gender equality


By Sangeeta Shastry
     European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallstrom and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallstrom and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

European Union and NATO officials have joined forces in calling
for new efforts to ensure women are more involved in peacekeeping
and conflict resolution. But differences remain on how to do so, and
on whether gender quotas are the solution.

Obama, Susan Rice and the U.N. — The right approach or too cuddly?


U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, briefs press at the White House.

When U.S. President Barack Obama came to power, he announced a “new era of engagement” at the United Nations. He appointed his longtime friend and foreign policy adviser Susan Rice to be his ambassador to the world body. He also raised her post to cabinet level, as some previous Democratic presidents have done, and made her a member of the powerful National Security Council

Haiti: The journalists behind the story

The story:  When a massive earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, Reuters journalists raced to the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince. While Reuters has no bureau in Haiti, we have established long-time freelancers to help on our coverage and we go on assignment there regularly for major stories. Logistics post-earthquake became a challenge as commercial flights into the city were canceled and some of our journalists made their way into the Dominican Republic’s Santo Domingo airport and then journeyed several hours by car to cross the border into Haiti.

The journalists:  As you’d expect, our journalists reported on the devastation and witnessed the thousands of dead bodies and the suffering of many more. Behind the scenes, reporting conditions were rough as one of our reporter’s flak jacket and helmet for safety were taken by border guards. Communications was spotty even with satellite phones. Our team was split for the first week between the airport and the Hotel Villa Creole. While the hotel was mostly habitable, for aftershock fears that were later realized, most visitors and journalists chose the safer quarters of sleeping in the open near the hotel’s swimming pool.

Does Siemens’ move send a message on Iran sanctions?

nuclearWhen it comes to further sanctions on Iran, the clock is ticking relentlessly, even if those leading the drive – the United States, Britain, Germany and France — are giving little away in terms of timing or what might be targeted under any new, U.N.-agreed package.

Still, companies that do business with Iran appear to be getting the message that time is running out.

Fishing for chili and hamburgers


PORT-AU-PRINCE -  Two Haitian men and a boy rowing in a small boat in the Port-au-Prince bay had a lucky catch on Tuesday.
QUAKE-HAITI/A U.S. Coast Guard boat ferrying passengers out to the USNS Comfort hospital ship stopped briefly to toss them Meals Ready-to-Eat, a bottle of sunblock and assorted energy bars.
“I think you got the cheeseburger and chili mac and cheese. Let me know how you like it,” shouted the boat’s commander. The Haitians seemed to speak no English but smiled broadly and waved in return as they rowed around to fish out the food floating on the water.
The high calorie meals are designed for to provide nutrition for military men and women who burn a lot of calories. The meals should last them at least two days, the commander said.
Their small boat was dwarfed by everything else in the water, especially the 890-foot-long, 60,000-ton Comfort.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Eliana Aponte (Boaters near the USNS Comfort off the coast of Haiti)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On Taliban/AQ ties and the Afghanistan exit strategy

british soldierVahid Brown at the CTC Sentinel has a new article (pdf document) out arguing that the relationship between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden before 9/11 was considerably more fractious than it was made out to be.  The main source of argument was between the Taliban's Afghan nationalist agenda and bin Laden's view of global jihad, and in particular his determination to attack the United States, he says.

Based on an account by an insider, he challenges the assumption that bin Laden personally swore an oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar. The account by Egyptian jihadist Mustafa Hamid, better known as Abul-Walid al-Masri, was first published in jihadist forums in 2007 but gained little attention outside specialist websites.

Europe draws inspiration from U.S. Peace Corps

Carla Bruni, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, talks to a Haitian orphan

Carla Bruni, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, talks to a Haitian orphan

Much criticism has been heaped on the European Union — the vast majority of it by its own member states — for not being seen to do enough to help Haiti after the Caribbean state’s earthquake. 

Never mind the fact EU states and the European Commission have promised a combined 400 million euros  ($575 million) in aid and long-term reconstruction. In public relations terms, the sums have all but been eclipsed by images, beamed around the world, of  volunteer U.S. firemen pulling victims from the rubble, and emergency aid workers from the likes of Israel and Brazil running much-needed field hospitals.