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Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Manmohan Singh’s Pakistan gamble

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has staked his political reputation on talks with Pakistan, earning in equal measure both praise and contempt from a domestic audience still burned by last November's attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants.

"I sincerely believe it is our obligation to keep the channels of communication open," he said in a debate in parliament on Wednesday. "Unless we talk directly to Pakistan we will have to rely on a third party to do so... Unless you want to go to war with Pakistan, there is no way, but to go step-by-step... dialogue and engagement are the best way forward," Singh said.

That may sound like fairly anodyne stuff. But to recap, Singh signed a joint statement with Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani at a meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this month in which both ordered their foreign secretaries -- their top diplomats -- to hold more talks to improve relations. Singh however also said the formal peace process -- the so-called composite dialogue -- could not be resumed until Pakistan took more action against those who organised the Mumbai attack.

The outcome was pretty much what was expected from the talks in Egypt, effectively forming a stepping stone between an ice-breaking meeting between Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of a regional summit in Yekaterinburg in Russia in June and the next international forum where senior politicians from both countries will be present -- September's U.N. General Assembly (though Singh is not personally expected to attend.)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan, Pakistan and the domino theory

In the eight years since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, political pundits have used, and largely overused, all the available historical references. We have had the comparisons to the British 19th century failures there, to the Great Game, and to the Soviet Union's disastrous experience in the 1980s. More recently, it has been labelled "Obama's Vietnam".

The latest leitmotif is the domino theory - the view that Vietnam had to be saved from communism or other Asian countries would go the same way.  In the case of Afghanistan, the argument is that if it falls to the Taliban, then Pakistan too might become vulnerable - an infinitely more dangerous proposition given that it is a country of some 170 million people with nuclear bombs.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the doomsday scenario

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the possibility in April of Islamist militants taking over Pakistan and its nuclear weapons, her words were dismissed as alarmist - and perhaps deliberately so as a way of putting pressure on Islamabad to act.

The problem with Pakistan is that it is almost impossible to come up with a view that is not either alarmist or complacent. It is such a complex country that nobody can agree a frame of reference for assessing the risk. It is the base for a bewildering array of militants including Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda and anti-India groups, yet also has a powerful and professional army which would be expected to defend to the last its Punjab heartland and nuclear weapons against a jihadi takeover.  Its potent mix of poverty and Islamist sympathies among a significant section of the population make it ripe for revolution, yet it also has a strong and secular-minded civil society which was willing to go out into the streets earlier this year to demand an independent judiciary.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The virtues of doing nothing: Why focusing on Afghanistan’s opium makes the opium problem worse

Joshua Foust is an American military analyst. He blogs about Central Asia and Afghanistan at Registan.net . Reuters is not responsible for the content - the views are the author’s alone.

It would be an understatement to call opium cultivation in Afghanistan America's headache. The issue of illegal drug cultivation and smuggling has vexed policymakers for three decades, and led to a multi-billion dollar campaign to combat the phenomenon.

from India Insight:

Xinjiang – the spreading arc of instability

China's troubled Xinjiang region shares borders with eight countries, which is perhaps one reason President Hu Jintao dropped out of the G8 summit to head home, underscoring the seriousness of the situation and the need to quickly bring the vast oil-rich region under control.

Xinjiang touches Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, besides the Tibet Autonomous Region.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On War in Pakistan and Afghanistan

If you were to apply the advice of 19th century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz that one of the objectives of war is to destroy the effective strength of the enemy, it is still not clear how that aim is to be achieved when it comes to fighting the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Predictably, the Taliban has melted away in the face of offensives in both countries, retaining its capacity to live to fight another day and to open new fronts in other areas.

from UK News:

Is Britain paying too high a price in Afghanistan?

The death toll among British troops in Afghanistan is rising fast.  The soldier who died on Tuesday was the seventh to die in the last week and the 176th since the war began.

Last Wednesday, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe became the highest ranking British soldier to die in the conflict in Afghanistan when he was killed in Helmand. British commanders are quoted as saying things are going to get worse before they get better.

from India Insight:

South Asia’s failing states

Foreign Policy magazine has just released its 2009 list of failing states or those at risk of failure and South Asia makes for sobering reading.

All of India's neighbours, except for tiny Bhutan, figure in the list of top 25 states that are faltering, although their rankings have improved marginally over the previous year.

Is Germany at ‘war’ in Afghanistan? Defence Minister says ‘no’

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Germany’s defence minister gets his tongue in a twist every time he tries to explain why the German army is not in a “war” in Afghanistan, even though more and more German soldiers are coming home in coffins.

“If we were to speak of ‘war’ then we would only be focusing on the military aspect in the region and that would be a mistake,” Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said after three more German soldiers were killed on Tuesday, raising the total to 35.

from The Great Debate UK:

From afar, G8 seeks a handle on Afghanistan

Luke Baker- Luke Baker is a political and general news correspondent at Reuters. -

The mountains and deserts of southern Afghanistan are far removed from the elegant charms of Trieste in northern Italy, but there will be a link between the two this weekend.

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations meet in the Italian city on the Adriatic on Thursday for three days of talks, with the state of play in Afghanistan, as well as developments in Iran and the Middle East, front and centre of their agenda.

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