Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Solving Afghanistan and Pakistan over a cup of tea

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cups of teaI have never read "Three Cups of Tea", Greg Mortenson's book about building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I tried to read the sequel, "Stones into Schools" and gave up not too long after the point where he said that, "the solution to every problem ... begins with drinking tea." Having drunk tea in many parts of South Asia - sweet tea, salt tea, butter tea, tea that comes with the impossible-to-remove-with-dignity thick skin of milk tea - I can confidently say that statement does not reflect reality.

So I have always been a bit puzzled that the Americans took Mortenson's books so much to heart. Yes, I knew he boasted that his books had become required reading for American officers posted to Afghanistan; and yes, there is the glowing praise from Admiral Mike Mullen on the cover of  "Stones into Schools", where he wrote that "he's shaping the very future of a region". But I had always believed, or wanted to believe, that at the back of everyone's minds they realised that saccharine sentimentality was no substitute for serious analysis. Just as hope is not a strategy, drinking tea is not a policy.  (To be fair to the Americans, I have also overheard a British officer extolling the virtues of drinking tea in Afghanistan.)

As a result of my scepticism on the miracle powers of tea-drinking, I find I am learning an awful lot more about the thinking of the U.S. administration than I ever did from Mortenson from the fall-out from the allegations of inaccuracies in his books. (Mortenson rejects these allegations in a statement on the website of his Central Asia Institute charity.)

Take for example the detailed account by Jon Krakauer (pdf) charting not only inaccuracies but also alleged irregularities in the finances of the Central Asia Institute. In his opening paragraph, Krakauer notes that President Barack Obama donated $100,000 of the award money from his own Nobel Peace Prize, which he received in 2009, to the Central Asia Institute. I had not known about the Obama connection until I read advance stories on Krakauer's piece.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan vs U.S. Dumbing down the drones debate

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tribesmen2If there was one thing the United States might have learned in a decade of war is that military might alone cannot compensate for lack of knowledge about people and conditions on the ground.  That was true in Afghanistan and Iraq, and may also turn out to be the case in Libya.

Yet the heated  debate about using Predator drones to target militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan - triggered by the spy row between the CIA and the ISI - appears to be falling into a familiar pattern - keep bombing versus stop bombing. Not whether, when and how drones might be effective, based on specific conditions and knowledge of the ground, and when they are counter-productive. 

from Afghan Journal:

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, a deterrent against India, but also United States ?

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Pakistan's nuclear weapons have been conceived and developed as a deterrent against mighty neighbour India, more so now when its traditional rival has added economic heft to its military muscle. But Islamabad may also be holding onto its nuclear arsenal  to deter an even more powerful challenge, which to its mind, comes  from the United States, according to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led President Barack Obama's 2009 policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan and the United States are allies in the war against militancy, but ties have been so troubled in recent years that  some in Pakistan believe that the risk of a conflict cannot be dismissed altogether and that the bomb may well be the country's  only hedge against an America that looks less a friend and more a hostile power.

Gbagbo and the crocodiles — can the cycle be broken?

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 IVORYCOAST-ELECTION/   Next to Muammar Gaddafi, Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo probably is one of the most vilified men on the planet, which makes it all the harder to remember he once was a shining hope for his country, and for Africa.

   That was more than two decades ago, in the late 1980s, when the French-educated, leftist history lecturer, cinema buff and mate of the late French Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand, returned to his native Ivory Coast to challenge the octogenarian post-colonial leader Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: practising peace

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Given the history of India and Pakistan, it is easy to be sceptical about the chances of their latest peace initiative. So let's start with the positives.

Unlike past peace efforts which have veered between ill-prepared personal initiatives by political leaders and technical talks between bureaucrats which foundered for lack of direction from the top, the current phase combines the two.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's impromptu  invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch last week's India-Pakistan cricket semi-final coincided with the resumption of the first structured dialogue between the two countries since the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai.  The foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan met in Thimphu, Bhutan in February.  In talks last week, the home secretaries of the two countries made progress in coordinating their investigations into the Mumbai attacks; the trade secretaries are expected to meet soon, as are the defence secretaries.

from Africa News blog:

Nigeria’s non-vote: Incompetence or sabotage?

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NIGERIA-ELECTIONS/POSTPONEMENTAccording to the shame-faced head of Nigeria’s electoral commission, one of the excuses given by suppliers who failed to get ballot papers to the country in time for Saturday’s parliamentary ballot was that there had been problems as a result of the tsunami in Japan.

Contractors in Nigeria tend to be pretty adept with their excuses, whether it’s about a failure to fix the plumbing or to build a highway on time, but this one stands out for its audacity.

from Photographers' Blog:

A tribute to journalist and colleague Sabah al-Bazee

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Reuters correspondent Peter Graff in Baghdad writes following the death of journalist Sabah al-Bazee:

For those of us who work in the Baghdad bureau, it is always a shock to look back through the collected photos of one of our Iraqi colleagues. We think we are used to those old scenes. But seen one after another, the images compiled over eight years of carnage by a single journalist like Sabah al-Bazee still have the power to freeze your blood.

What’s really behind Merkel’s nuclear U-turn?

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(German Chancellor Angela Merkel promises a more rapid shift to renewable energy sources during a speech in the Bundestag lower house of parliament on March 17)

(German Chancellor Angela Merkel promises a more rapid shift to renewable energy sources during a speech in the Bundestag lower house of parliament on March 17)

The consensus view in Germany is that Angela Merkel’s abrupt reversal on nuclear energy after Fukushima was a transparent ploy to shore up support in an important state election in Baden-Wuerttemberg. If indeed that was her intention (she denies any political motive) then she miscalculated horribly. Her party was ousted from government in B-W on Sunday after running the prosperous southern region for 58 straight years. But what if Merkel was really thinking longer-term — ie beyond the state vote to the next federal election in 2013? After the Japan catastrophe she may well have realised that her chances of getting elected to a third term were next-to-nil if she didn’t pivot quickly on nuclear. There are two good reasons why that is probably a safe assumption. First is the extent of anti-nuclear sentiment in Germany. A recent poll for Stern magazine showed nearly two in three Germans would like to see the country’s 17 nuclear power plants shut down within 5 years.  The nuclear issue was the decisive factor in the B-W election. And you can bet it will play an important role in the next national vote — even if it is 2-1/2 years away. The second reason why the reversal looks like a good strategic decision from a political point of view is the dire state of Merkel’s junior partner in government — the Free Democrats. It was the strength of the FDP which vaulted her to a second term in September 2009. But now it looks like their weakness could be her undoing in 2013.  Merkel probably needs the FDP to score at least 10 percent in the next vote to give her a chance of renewing her “black-yellow” coalition. Right now the FDP is hovering at a meagre 5 percent and it is difficult to see how they double that anytime soon. The nuclear shift widens Merkel’s options in one fell swoop. Suddenly the issue that made a coalition between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Greens unthinkable at the federal level has vanished. Her party set a precedent by hooking up with the Greens in the city-state of Hamburg in 2008. Now she has more than two years to lay the foundations for a similar partnership in Berlin. By then voters may see Merkel’s nuclear U-turn in a different light. And only then will it be truly clear if it was a huge political mistake, as the Baden-Wuerttemberg vote suggests, or a prescient strategic coup.

from Afghan Journal:

Standing on the warfront: when sport divides India and Pakistan

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In the run-up to Wednesday's cricket match between India and Pakistan, passions are running high on both sides of the border and in the diaspora which is following their teams' progress in the game's biggest tournament.

How to demolish Pakistan was the title of a programme aired by an Indian television network  where former players and experts discussed ways to win the high-voltage game that will be played in the northern Indian town of Mohali, within, in a manner of speaking, of earshot distance of the heavily militarised  border with Pakistan. 
  
Pakistan television in similarly wall-to-wall coverage ran a programme where one of the guests advised the team to recite a particular passage from the Koran before stepping out to play that day. There is even a story doing the rounds in Pakistan that an enraged Indian crowd put a parrot fortune teller to death for predicting a Pakistani victory, according to this report.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India-Pakistan – cricket, spooks and peace

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cricket  refugee"Cricket diplomacy" has always been one of the great staples of the relationship between India and Pakistan. The two countries have tried and failed before to use their shared enthusiasm for cricket to build bridges, right back to the days of Pakistan President Zia ul-Haq, if not earlier.

So when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced last week that he was inviting Prime Minister Yusuf  Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to watch the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup in Mohali, India, the temptation was to dismiss it as an old idea.

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