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from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Bajaur bombing highlights conflicting U.S.-Pakistan interests

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damadola2Last week's suicide bombing in Pakistan's Bajaur region, which killed at least 40 people, had a grim predictability to  it.  The Pakistan Army cleared Pakistani Taliban militants out of their main strongholds in Bajaur, which borders Afghanistan's Kunar province, after 20 months of intense fighting which ended earlier this year.  But as discussed in this post in October the insurgents' ability to flee to Kunar -- where the U.S. military presence has been thinned out -- combined with a failure to provide Bajaur with good governance, suggested the security situation in the region was likely to be deteriorating. The bombing appeared to confirm those fears.

The implications go far beyond Bajaur. The Pakistan Army has resisted U.S. pressure to launch a military offensive against militant strongholds in North Waziristan until it has secured gains made elsewhere.  Pakistani daily The Express Tribune quoted army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas as reiterating that point after the Bajaur bombing and after fighting in the neighbouring Mohmand region. Until areas "cleared" by the military were consolidated, "it is impossible to rush into another campaign,” it quoted him as saying.

The Taliban in Bajaur also had historically close ties with militants who overran the Swat valley and caused worldwide alarm by pushing further into Pakistan's heartland before they were ousted by the Pakistan Army in 2009.  Any further evidence of the Taliban regaining ground in Bajaur would therefore be a cause for concern that military gains in Swat -- itself reeling from this summer's devastating floods -- could also be reversed.

In some aspects -- though not all -- Pakistan's problems in tackling militants are a mirror image of those faced by the United States on the other side of the border.  Soldiers can drive militants out of their strongholds, but they can't stop them melting into the local population or fleeing across the border. And they can't hold and build on those military gains without civilian back-up to provide people with governance. 

from Afghan Journal:

An address for the Taliban in Turkey ?

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has supported a proposal to open an office for the Taliban in a third country such as Turkey.  Such a move could help facilitate talks with the  insurgent group on reconciliation and reintegration of members back into society, and Kabul was happy for Turkey to be a venue for such a process, he said last week, following a trilateral summit involving the presidents of Turkey and Pakistan.

The question is while a legitimate calling card for the Taliban would be a step forward, the insurgent group itself shows no signs yet of stepping out of the shadows, despite the best entreaties of  and some of his European backers. The Taliban remain steadfast in their stand that they won't talk to the Afghan government unless foreign troops leave the country. More so at the present time when U.S. commander General David Petraeus has intensified the battle against them and the Taliban have responded in equal measure.

from Afghan Journal:

Suicide bombings in Pakistan: the bloodiest year

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Even before Saturday's horrific attack in which at least 40 people were killed in Pakistan's Bajaur region on the Afghan border,  the current year is turning out to be the most successful for suicide bombers in the country since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

According to an analysis by Amir Mir in The News, 1224 people were killed and more than 2100 wounded in sucide bombings during the year, slightly up from the previous year which was itself a record since Pakistan signed up for the war on terrorism. The number of suicide attacks, by itself, fell by as much as 35 percent, which means the attacks that took place had a greater strike rate.

The best reads of 2010

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As part of our 2010 Year in Review coverage, Reuters Editor Toni Reinhold chooses the most interesting, informative, eye opening and enlightening Reuters stories of the past year.

luxorBulldozers overhaul Luxor, city of pashas and pharaohs
By Alexander Dziadosz

In the dusty streets behind the pasha’s grand villa, bulldozers and forklifts are tearing into the city where Agatha Christie found inspiration and Howard Carter unearthed Tutankhamen. Egypt has already cleared out Luxor’s old bazaar, demolished thousands of homes and dozens of Belle Epoque buildings in a push to transform the site of the ancient capital Thebes into a huge open-air museum. Officials say the project will preserve temples and draw more tourists, but the work has outraged archaeologists and architects who say it has gutted Luxor’s more recent heritage…

UN victory for gay rights supporters

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Suporters of rights for gays and lesbians worldwide secured a major victory at the United Nations this week. The 192-nation U.N. General Assembly voted to restore a reference to killings due to sexual orientation that had been deleted from a resolution condemning unjustified slayings. The shift came after the United States submitted an amendment to restore the reference, which the General Assembly’s human rights committee removed last month from a resolution on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions that is adopted every two years.

The U.S. amendment that restored the reference to sexual orientation was adopted with 93 votes in favor, 55 against and 27 abstentions. The amended resolution was then approved with 122 yes votes, one against and 62 abstentions. (Saudi Arabia cast the sole vote against the resolution, and the United States was among those who abstained.)

from Africa News blog:

Africa’s trying tradition of sit-tight leaders

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Alpha Conde.jpgIt may seem odd to ask the question only a day after he was sworn in, but will Guinea’s President Alpha Conde go when the time comes?

Long-suffering opposition leader Conde is the first freely-elected president of a country that has known dictatorship, with varying degrees of brutality and oppression, for pretty much the entire period since independence from France in 1958. And French rule wasn’t that much fun for Guineans either.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan:the unintended consequences of U.S. pressure

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petraeus kayaniU.S. pressure on Pakistan has always led to deep resentment within the Pakistan Army, which has taken heavy casualties of its own fighting Pakistani Taliban militants on its side of the border with Afghanistan. But there are signs that this resentment is now spiralling in dangerously unpredictable ways.

The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency has denied  it was responsible for revealing the name of a senior Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official in Pakistan, forcing him to flee the country after threats to his life. But the suspicion lingers that the ISI, which falls under the control of the Pakistan Army, is flexing its muscles in response to U.S. pressure.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

China’s South Asia tour: win-win meets zero sum

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wenJust over a year ago, President Barack Obama suggested during a visit to Beijing that China and the United States could cooperate on bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As I wrote at the time, China — Islamabad’s most loyal partner — was an obvious country to turn to for help in working out how to deal with Pakistan.  Its economy would be the first to gain from greater regional stability which opened up trade routes and improved its access to energy supplies. And it also shared some of Washington’s concerns about Islamist militancy, particularly if this were to spread unrest in its Muslim Xinjiang region.

The big question was whether the suggestion would fall foul of the zero sum game thinking which has bedevilled relations between India, Pakistan and China for nearly 50 years.  India was defeated by China in a border war in 1962 and since then has regarded it as its main military threat. Pakistan has built close ties with China to offset what it sees as its own main military threat from its much larger neighbour India. China in turn has been able to use its relationship with Pakistan to clip India's wings and curb any ambitions it has at regional hegemony.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

From Thuggees to fake WikiLeaks

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lahore mosqueThe fall-out from the fake WikiLeaks cables in Pakistan continues to be far more interesting than the real WikiLeaks cables. To recap, several Pakistani newspapers retracted stories last week which quoted WikiLeaks cables ostensibly accusing India of stirring up trouble in Baluchistan and Waziristan, cited U.S. diplomats as ridiculing the Indian Army, and compared Kashmir to Bosnia in the 1990s.  Since the anti-India narrative presented in the stories chimed with the views of Pakistani intelligence agencies, the alleged cables were then dismissed as fakes and most likely an intelligence plant.

However, just to complicate matters, some of the information in the "fake cables" is also in the "real cables".  For example, the real cables do contain allegations of Indian support for Baluch separatists, largely sourced to British intelligence, according to The Guardian. The British newspaper, which had advance access to the cables, also cited them as evidence that India practiced systematic torture in Kashmir.

from Environment Forum:

Polar bears, sure. But grolar bears?

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RUSSIA/Most people have seen a polar bear, usually at the local zoo. And most zoo-goers know that wildlife advocates worry about the big white bears' future as their icy Arctic habitat literally melts away as a result of global climate change. But apparently more than the climate is changing above the Arctic Circle.

The new mammal around the North Pole is the grolar bear, a hybrid created when a polar bear and a grizzly bear mate. Then there's the narluga, a hybrid of the narwhal and beluga whale. The presence of these two new creatures and others produced by cross-breeding may be caused when melting sea ice allows them to mingle in ways they couldn't before, according to a comment in the journal Nature.

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